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Wednesday
Oct022013

What It’s ACTUALLY Like To Be An Opera Singer: An Interview With Heidi Melton

> First posted on Ms. In The Biz, on October 2, 2013

People ask me all the time what it’s like being an Opera Singer. I have my standard answers that I recycle and reuse whenever necessary. They ask me all sorts of things, and I’ve noticed that strangers have absolutely no problem delving into the most personal of information immediately upon meeting you.

“Oh wow! You’re an opera singer? Don’t you have a real job? How do you handle moving around all the time? That must be really hard on your personal life. You’re not getting younger are you? Don’t you want kids?”

Holy Mary. Cut to the core of me, you bastards. Unfortunately, most of time the people who are asking these invasive questions are people who fund our livelihood so you better come up with an answer and you better come up with it quick, and it better be interesting and funny and a little self deprecating and it better make them feel like they’re spending their hard earned inheritances on the right art. Champagne helps. I usually say something like, “Well, singing opera is my real job and I feel very lucky to travel the world and meet new and interesting people like you!” Then I deflect. I don’t want to screlt at people for inappropriately asking my plans for procreation so I turn it around on them. Getting people to talk about themselves is a sure fire way to avoid having to answer these deeply personal questions.

Lately, I’ve been asked by a lot of young singers what it’s ACTUALLY like to be an Opera Singer. I think they want to know if they’re going to go from College to Young Artist Program to instant fame and glory and glamour. I feel dishonest giving them my sugar coated standard answer, so I’m using the phone a friend lifeline.

Ms. Heidi Melton is one of my nearest and dearest friends and we are both figuring this crazy career out as we go along. You can read all about her seemingly unstoppable career here: www.heidimeltonsoprano.com. From outfit choices to travel plans, and from career decisions to boy problems…there isn’t anything we haven’t talked about in great length. No matter where we are in the world, we always find time to connect with each other, and so I’d like to share my mostly unedited interview/conversation/gab session with the one and only Heidi Melton!!

 

Rhoslyn (R): Heidi, you’re clearly on your way to becoming a legendary operatic superstar at the young age of thirty-something. If you could, what are 3 things you would tell your 13-year old self about being a woman in the Arts? Pick 3, Chatty Cathy.

Heidi (H): You are clearly aware of my rambling capabilities. One: Be kind to yourself. You’re going to have enough distracters and nay-sayers in this world and you need to be your own ally and not your own enemy.

Two - Glamour is an attitude, and not an actual thing you can purchase. I used to wear heels, dresses and spanx every day and I was sweaty and uncomfortable. Now, I wear leggings, oversized tunic tops, scarves and flats. Don’t let anyone tell you that you have to be anything other than yourself. Yourself is enough.

R: This new-found glamour of yours is called the “Eileen Fisher” era. Bring on the drape-like cardigans. Welcome, my friend.

H: Don’t distract me! But yes. Number three! Not everyone is going to like you and that is OK. It doesn’t seem to matter if you’re the nicest person, or kind to everyone, or if you’re always optimistic and cheerful. In fact, that seems to make people want to punt you. There will be people who don’t like you and they will be mean behind your back and to your face. I would tell my 13-year old self to just keep being you and that the people who are supposed to be in your life will be there. Everything will be ok.

R: I’m so proud of you for only picking three things.

H: People aren’t going to be able to read your biting sarcasm Jones, but I’m outing you.

R: Whatever. Next question! What were you like as a 13-year old? It sounds like you needed a hug…as I’m sure most 13-year old girls do.

H: Oh Lord. I felt like I was in a constant state of Post Traumatic Stress. I was so awkward.

R: Past tense?

H: Shut it. I was bigger and taller than everyone and had super duper curly hair that my mother cut into the shape of a Chia pet. I would desperately try to straighten it but it just ended up looking like a triangular Brillo pad.

R: Insert picture for verification here, please.

H: Absolutely not. I will hurt you. I was also plagued with an eyebrow trait that left each outer half my eyebrow blond and therefore invisible. I would try to fill this in with a colored pencil and would either draw mismatched lines which would leave people guessing my emotional status all day and/or I would get the nervous meat sweats and they would slide off my face. I just looked surprised and sweaty all day. I wasn’t great at making friends and just wanted to spend my days playing piano with my Grandma or listening to Celtic music with my sister.

R: I still think we’re going to need to see a picture for verification. I mean, I’m a real journalist.

H: You’re a real something, that’s for sure. No. Next.

R: Fine. Besides aspiring to be the newest member of the Celtic sensation Riverdance, what kind of music were you listening to as a teenager?

H: Oh heavens. I had so many teenage feelings that were best expressed through the music of Tori Amos, Dave Matthews, and Heart. Also, the entire Romeo and Juliet Soundtrack.

R: Yes! The Baz Luhrmann masterpiece. I feel like that was pre-requisite listening for all angst filled teens of the mid-nineties. Who are your top 3 favorite bands/singers now?

H: This is like Sophie’s Choice. At this exact moment? Beyonce, Stevie Wonder and Otis Redding. And Heart. Always Heart.

R: We do a pretty mean road trip karaoke version of some of those Heart songs, if I do say so myself.

H: Correction…YOU do a mean road trip karaoke version because you have a freakish unending chest voice. I just sing in full vibrato and enjoy the screlting.

R:  I can’t argue with that. Alright, back to important stuff. What are you most afraid of in terms of your career?

H: Can I say that I’m afraid of everything?

R: No.

H: Well, I am. I’m afraid of jobs drying up tomorrow. I’m afraid of missing out on things because I’m busy working. I’m afraid of being completely alone except for dozens of cats, and I hate cats. I’m afraid of being 90, living in a dilapidated apartment on the Upper West Side, wearing mumus and reliving the glory days while talking to my hated cats. Actually, the mumu part of that sounds good.

R: Way to keep it positive for the kids, Melton.

H: Well, it’s the truth. That’s what the youth need. They need the truth about life.

R: OK then. What are you most afraid of in terms of your personal life?

H: If after this interview I end up in my bathtub crying into my glass of wine listening to Bon Iver, I’m going to call and sob loudly in your ear. I’m afraid of missing out. I missed the passing and funeral of my Grandmother this past year. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to go through and I will regret not being there for the rest of my life. I’ve had relationships end because of the nature of my career. I’m afraid of missing out on my nieces growing up and I’m afraid of them resenting me because I’m not there. I’m afraid of missing births and weddings and celebrations and life in general. I feel like I’m going through all of this by myself, even though I am so thankful for the amazing powers of Skype, FaceTime, texting, and email. It’s not the same. It’s really hard, and sometimes it sucks big time.

R: Alright, Debbie Downer. Let’s change the subject because you’re making me sad. What is a Heidi Melton guilty pleasure?

H: TV. Or maybe carbs. They make me feel guilty, and they’re a pleasure.

R: Absolutely. Moving right along oh wise one. What are 3 things you would tell young singers about pursuing a career in Opera today?

H: Number one – don’t put anything on the Internet that you don’t want people to find. Number two – keep your receipts. Getting audited is no fun. They don’t teach kids enough about handling their finances in school, and they definitely don’t talk about self-employed artists making money in all sorts of different countries at sporadic times of the year. This stuff is important. Take a business class. The more you know, the better off you’ll be. Lastly, put your blinders on. It’s a marathon, not a sprint. Don’t compare yourself to other people. That’s a sure fire way to lose. You have to run your own race.

R: Such good advice! What are your thoughts about singers being pressured to look a certain way to further their careers? How do you think that pressure affects young girls looking to pursue a career in Opera?

H: Oh boy, here we go. I just want girls to be healthy. I want everyone to be healthy! To me, opera is first and foremost about voices. It is about incredible voices that have taken a lifetime of devotion, sweat and tears to train. It is about voices and bodies being able to communicate with the audience. Trust me, I have seen and heard plenty of horrible skinny opera singers. I’ve also seen a lot of fantastic ones. All humans are capable of portraying, expressing and communicating. There is the argument that we have to modernize and make opera more believable and relatable and appealing to the masses. First of all, I wasn’t aware that only thin people fall in love or have interesting stories to tell. This is news to me. As a woman who is not categorized by the rest of society as “thin,” I can tell you that men have fallen in love with me, and that I have fallen in love with men. The fact that I have some wobbly bits hasn’t made that experience less real or less important to me or to them. In addition, I think talent is HOT. Really hot. Sexy comes in all sorts of different packages and what is sexy to me, may not be sexy to you and that’s the way it should be. That makes things interesting and dynamic and HUMAN. I think our boundaries need to be expanded. I don’t think we need to conform to what we are supposed to think sexy is or isn’t. Can’t we come to those decisions on our own? Opera needs to showcase talent. If it comes in a thin package, fine. If it comes with wobbly bits included, also fine. Just sing the crap out of it.

R: Well said, my friend. I think it’s so important for that voice to be heard. Pun intended. How else are we going to empower young girls and help steer them away from things like eating disorders and low self esteem?

H: Totally. Also, if you want to be a singer, then bulimia isn’t going to help you. Acid burns. Your vocal cords are going to fry. Anorexia? You won’t make it through the Ring Cycle with no food. Have a burrito, go to the gym, and sing your face off.

R: Mmmmmm…burritos. Alright, let’s wrap this up because I’m getting hungry. You have a day off from rehearsal. What is your idea of a perfect day off?

H: I love this question. Stretchy pants, no makeup, hanging out with people I love. Foggy, rainy, stormy weather outside, couching, baking, a yoga class, maybe a little shopping, and seeing a movie with a diet coke that is bigger than my head.

R: That’s a big diet coke.

H: Your head is exactly one inch smaller than mine, so take it easy.

R: You’re my favorite. Thank you for taking time to answer these deeply personal questions. I owe you one.

H: You owe me nothing. That’s what friends are for.

R: Wanna watch Vampire Diaries online together while we skype? So we can enjoy teenage vampy angst together?

H: Um…yes. Immediately.

Thursday
May232013

“You Look Like An Opera Singer”

> First posted on Ms. In The Biz, on May 13, 2013

Photo by Kevin Steele for Opera Santa Barbara
 (Location: Casa del Herrero)People tell me all the time that I “look like an Opera Singer.” As a closeted self-conscious woman, I automatically assume that means I look like a combination of a bearded Luciano Pavarotti, and a viking with long golden braids holding a spear. Is that so bad? Not really, but I happen to be a woman and I spend money to get rid of any extraneous facial hair.

“Perhaps,” says the tiny optimist in my head, “they think I look glamorous and well put together. Perhaps they think my face is the kind that belongs on the STAGE! Perhaps they think I was born to be draped in long gowns and furs and jewels, and if they know anything about opera in this day and age, then maybe they think I look like a model-type glamazon star!” Then I roll my eyes at myself and come back to reality.

In fact, I am neither of these people. Much like every woman out there we have our good days and bad ones. We have days where we feel like a million bucks and our hair is awesome, and our clothes feel great on our bodies, and we feel like every other person on earth is forced to stop in their tracks to stare and marvel at our fierceness.

The next day you literally could not pay me to put a bra on. (If you have met me, seen me, and have two working eyeballs, you know that bras are a must for me. I am not one of those women who can throw on a napkin-sized tank top and just go casual or easy-breezy. I have what we call a full balcony.) On those days I’m not going to do my hair, or wear anything other than an oversized cheek-to-toe-mumu-tent. That’s right. Cheek to toe. I envision the perfect mumu-tent daily. It hangs from my cheekbones and drapes out to the floor leaving everyone guessing what’s going on underneath.  All I want to do on those days is close the drapes, make a bed-nest, a plate of cheese and crackers, and hate-watch episodes of Smash. God I hate that show. I pray that a few of you are smiling and nodding right now in some kind of mutual understanding. Otherwise I’ll be over here rocking back and forth in the fetal position in my cozy bed-nest-mumu-cracker-crumb-cave throwing things at my television.

I digress. Back to Opera. Usually, the people who tell me I “look like an Opera Singer,” are about to ask me if I sing The Phantom of the Opera.

Note to everyone: Phantom of the Opera isn’t an Opera. It’s a musical. There. Now you know. I like musicals! But it’s not an Opera. You really wanna make an Opera Singer squirm? Ask them if they can sing this for you right now. Don’t be fooled, we can sing the crap out of it, but we don’t like it and we don’t want to sing it for you on the street right at this moment. Wanna see them go postal? Ask them if they can sing Phantom of the Opera and Celine Dion’s hit “The Prayer” at your nephew’s Bar Mitzvah, with payment in the form of an all you can eat seafood buffet and one drink ticket. (Yes that happened, and yes I did that gig). Then sit back with a bag of popcorn and watch it get awesome. The Real Housewives of New Jersey have got NOTHING on a real life opera diva fit. Are we offended if you ask us if we can sing for free? Or for a souvenir mountable silver wall plate featuring your city’s skyline? (Yup again. True story). Yes. Kinda. I mean, wouldn’t you be offended if I asked you to perform an emergency C-section for three hugs and a case of diet coke? You went to school to learn how to be a doctor. You put money into it. You’ve memorized stuff. You are an expert in your field. We are too. I have 3 University and College Degrees in Music and Operatic Performance.  I spent 8 years in post-secondary education, 2 years in an apprentice program, most of my 20’s, and a whole crap load of money, blood, sweat and tears into learning how to be a professional opera singer. I’m not even a special case! Most singers in my age group and at my level have done EXACTLY the same thing. In truth, most working opera singers have at some point sung under those conditions and/or much worse. We will pretty much sing anything, anywhere, and for anybody. We’d like to get paid, but we’ve all literally sung for our supper. I once sang over two hours of music for a 10 dollar Starbucks card. You know what? I like Starbucks. I’ve also had the privilege of being remunerated appropriately for the years of study and hard work I’ve dedicated to the craft of singing. Those gigs are wonderful. The other kinds keep me humble and make for great stories.

Along with the Phantom of the Opera question, here are the top five questions about to come out of the mouths of those curious individuals:

“Can your voice break glass?”

No. 

“Don’t you have to be, like, really fat to be an Opera Singer?”

Nope.

“Can you sing something for me right now?”

I could, but I’m not going to.

“It must be wonderful to do something that you love and are passionate about right?”

Yes. 

“I just went to an Il Divo Concert! Don’t you love them?”

Inside answer: I’d rather remove my own spleen with a dull butter knife than go near that concert.

Outside answer: I love that YOU love them and that they’re introducing you to Classical music! Ever been to an opera? It’s pretty rad!

(Disclaimer: I don’t EVER judge these curious people. I am entitled to my own opinions about Il Divo but I make a concerted effort to not impose any operatic snobbery on an innocent individual who is merely trying to make a musical/personal connection. There’s no harm in that. I welcome it. Talk to me…I’ll chat your ear off about the coolness of all kinds of music all day long.)

I also think most people are under the assumption that opera is only for the elite and wealthy.  It scares people a little. I’m here to tell you that some of the people who go to listen/watch opera ARE snobby, elitist, and rich. They may look down their nose at anyone not wearing a gown and furs in the box seats at the opera house.  You know what? I don’t care about those people. (Except that some of them fund entire productions. Thank you wealthy people. Your jewels are sparkly and I like them. I like you too). If I’m going to an opera, you better believe I want to be wearing lululemon pants and flats. There’s no way I’m going to be sitting for hours at a time in heels and spanx. The gas pains…oh the gas pains! My advice to people who are interested in opera but are intimidated by opera snobs: Suck it up. Give it a try. Your money is as green as theirs. Also, you’re probably old enough now to care a little less about what other people think about you, and a little more about trying something new and different. I guarantee that no opera company is going to turn you away at the door for wearing jeans and flip flops. We want an audience. We need an audience, and chances are that the artists on stage have a comfy pair of shoes and stretchy pants in their dressing room that they can’t wait to put on. For the most part, we’re normal people. Normal people who can sing really, REALLY loudly. (My husband calls us professional yellers.) Give those gorgeous fur wearing queens a wink and a smile and be comfy wearing what you want to wear while you watch one of the most amazing art forms come to life on stage in front of you.

Back to Opera. Again. In case you were unaware, opera has had a makeover, and we in opera land want the rest of the world to know about it. We’re everywhere! We’re on your tv, on movie soundtracks, on the interwebs, we’re being broadcast live (in HD…yikes….close up singer faces), on the radio and in movie theaters…oh, and we also sing live in opera houses all over the world. We’re also in the main stream social media scene, as explained by this super cool article featuring some of my super cool opera friends:

http://www.buzzfeed.com/uhohspaghettio/what-happened-to-opera-9mn7

Did I forget to mention that we do not use artificial amplification or microphones? No Madonna mics for us. We compete with anywhere from 40-120 orchestral musicians all while pretending to pay attention to the conductor waving their baton in front of us. I think the human voice is pretty awesome. I think opera is awesome. Does that make me a big nerd? Hell yes it does. That’s another cool think about the art form. We welcome the nerdy. The geniuses. The curious. The over-dramatic. The divas and divos, the shy, the unsure, the band geeks, the Trekkies, the old, the young, the goth, the hipsters and everything in between and beyond. We wave our freak flags. We wave them hard and loud. You have to if you’re going to buy into the fact that we are singing the text of a story that would take twenty minutes to read, but 3 hours to sing. We love to languish and bask in the unlimited potential of our imagination. How else could we rationalize the fact that some characters play a magical flute that safely guides them through water and fire on a quest for love and a membership to an exclusive Men’s Club. (True plot of Mozart’s Magic Flute)  Ever been to a production of Wagner’s Ring Cycle? It makes a Star Trek Convention look like cheerleading camp.

What is the point of all this you might ask? Good question. I find myself wondering numerous times throughout the day, “WHY THE %$#& AM I STILL TRYING TO DO THIS????” Why after so many years of training and schooling and traveling am I still on my own quest to have an international operatic career? How do I have a husband and a family and be an aunt, a sister, a friend, a daughter and get to the gym and get my taxes done and practice music and research and coach and self-promote and teach and audition and get rejected again and again and again? How do I do all of that while on the road away from home? The answer is pretty complicated but it comes down to the fact that I am completely in love with what I do, and the rest is a balancing act. Nobody ever said that loving what you do would be easy. It takes work. Life-long work, ups and downs and everything in between. I suppose I didn’t really know that until I was so far into it that I couldn’t go back. Oh, the beauty and blind stupidity of youth.

The most important thing to me about doing something that you love for a living is to constantly remind yourself of that core fact. If I hold on to the fact that my love of music and performance will win out over being rejected a zillion times, and that my work ethic, dedication and perseverance will eventually overthrow any doubt that creeps in, then I can keep going. What makes me special and unique is what will make that difference, and not what makes me look or sound like everyone else. The fact that I don’t look like either of those women I described at the beginning of this blog is the exact reason why I have the faith that I am on the right path. My own personal oomph-ness. My Roz-ness.  These things can overcome pretty much anything I put my mind and heart into.

So, even if some days I can’t see how it’s going to work out I know, deep down, that some day all of it will make sense and fit together in some form of divine hilarity and sequence of events. Until then I’ll be plotting and scheming in my bed-nest wearing a make shift cheek-to-toe-mumu-tent yelling (LOUDLY) at my television.

Wednesday
Apr182012

End on a High Note

People have been nagging me to write more often on my blog, and just like a rebellious teenager; the more people nag, the more I dig my heels in. That’s mature isn’t it? The problem is that I’m not a teenager…I’m thirty-errrrr..something.

Part of the problem is that I often feel I don’t have anything good to write about. I’ve been keeping busy, and there are many exciting things coming up in my life, but every time I sit down to write, it ends up being about the hard stuff. I figure that people don’t want to read about those times. The times when you’re not sure what you’re doing, or if you’re on the right path, or about how you wonder if you should have gone into astro-physics because it would have been an easier life. All of these thoughts and MANY more pass through my often cluttered mind, but I have recently found some clarity.

THOSE ARE EXACTLY THE TIMES WHEN I SHOULD BE WRITING.

I should be chronicling this time of my life and career. If not just for me to look back on when I’m old(er) and grey(er), but for the next generation of willful and blindly confident young musicians. God willing, I’ll be able to pass at least one bit of information or inspiration on to one person. That would make me feel happy and useful.

People have been asking me a lot lately about what advice I’d give to them as they begin their journey as singers. It’s a tricky thing to give that kind of advice. Those who are brave enough to ask will often take your word as the word of God. That’s a lot of pressure. I try my best to offer encouragement, self-awareness and self-sufficiency. If I sit down and think about it carefully, as I am right now, this is what I would say to those embarking on a life as an artist: Hold on to your confidence and fearlessness.

Turn up the volume on that tiny inner voice that whispers, “Go for it. You can do it. Turn it up and leave it on as loud as you can. Hold on to it with every fiber of your being and do not let anyone or anything or any situation take an ounce of it away from you. Guard it like you would your sibling, or favorite pet, or partner. Hold on to it tightly, because everything in this world is going to try and take it from you. Choose to excel and not compete with others. Choose self-esteem, not self pity, and listen to that inner voice and not the random opinions of others. Most of all, pursue things that speak to your heart and do not let anything get in your way. Also, be aware that things change as we change. You don’t have to have the same goals as you did 1, 5, 10 years ago. Be open to change and try your best to live in the moment. Let the past go, don’t worry about the future, and just be thankful you’re here now.

Cue the teenagers running as fast as they can in the other direction toward astro-physics. That may have gotten too heavy. Whatever. It’s good advice…I think.

Moving on.

These past few months, ok…years, have been pretty challenging. There have been a lot of unforeseen changes, a lot of hard decision making, and a lot of really humbling, patience-testing, character building situations. Along with all these difficult times, there have been AMAZING things. I have a niece AND a nephew, I have a wonderful and supportive boyfriend, a handful of friends who haul me out of what feels like the depths of despair, a select number of family members who actually try to understand me, and I have my health. These are not things to take lightly. These are things to be treasured, nurtured and to be thankful for every single day.

Me & Mom in Santa Barbara

My Mom has a brain tumor. She fell down the stairs and broke her toe, mangled her leg, and gave herself a concussion. They did a CT scan to make sure her concussion wasn’t something worse and they found a small tumor. That’s right, it’s small. Thank God. When you’ve had some hard times in your life (as my mother certainly has) it forces you to realize that everything happens for a reason, and that we should be thankful every day for small things in our lives. So, even though it sounds odd, tonight I’m thankful that my Mom fell down the stairs. Would we have ever found that tumor if she hadn’t? Maybe. Maybe not. It’s all part of some kind of plan that I am (unfortunately) not in charge of.

As the Countess (Photo: Kevin Steele)I am committing to writing more. There it is in writing. There are plenty of good things to celebrate and commemorate. Stay tuned for my next entry (which I promise will be more light hearted and fun) about my incredible experience at Opera Santa Barbara. I just finished performances of The Marriage of Figaro as the Countess, and I have lots of fun and exciting things to report. See? I ended on a high note. I’ve been known to do that.

— Roz

Saturday
Apr092011

This Bohemian Life

I’m in a post show slump. In the business we call it post-show depression, or show withdrawal. Yes, just like the severe medical conditions, finishing work on a show can be like giving up a drug. Coming down afterwards isn’t fun or pretty and once you’re hooked on opera, you’ll never really kick the habit. I would never dare compare how I feel to the battle that actual drug abusers have to go through, but I definitely exhibit some of the signs. I crave singing. On days when I don’t sing, I miss it. I love it. Sometimes I hate it. I feel lucky and blessed to do this job one day, and the next day wish I had gone into medicine. Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE my job. I’m in this for the long haul…but it is more apparent every day that it is exactly that. A REALLY LONG HAUL. Then, when a show is over…I get a case of “the sads.” So that’s where I am.

Anyways, enough “Debbie Downer” talk. Blech. Why am I in a post-show slump? Recently, I was lucky and fortunate enough to be in a production of La Boheme at Pacific Opera Victoria. Having the opportunity to be in this wonderful show is always a treat. I have sung Musetta a number of times, but this was my first crack at Mimi. (She’s the one with the extra pretty music who dies at the end. Bring your tissues). The most special thing about this Boheme was that it was close to home. Victoria, British Columbia has got to be one of the most beautiful places on earth and it was a real treat to be able to perform for many familiar faces and to make new friends as well. A little trivia for my American friends…Victoria is the capital of British Columbia. It’s located on Vancouver Island off the west coast of British Columbia, and it’s a fun boat ride from Vancouver! There you go! We’re learning!

 

Back to Boheme. It is not often that you get to work with a company like Pacific Opera Victoria. On top of that, there was a dream team of cast members, designers, artistic staff and stage management. Everyone I met confirmed the stereotype of Canadians. We’re just really nice! I forget this sometimes when I work abroad. I sometimes forget that politeness and kindness really do get the job done. That was definitely the case here. I know that everyone says this after most jobs, but my cast members were truly remarkable. Every single one of them. Generous in spirit on stage and off. That’s another happy stereotype of Canadians….we can party. This cast would hang out into the wee hours and chat and cook and play music and drink good Canadian beer. It was fantastic. We all became fast friends and I miss them now that we don’t see each other every day.

Besides making new friends, we did actually do some work. This was a memorable production for many reasons. My dear Rodolfo, the sensational Canadian tenor Luc Robert, was battling a cold for the duration of rehearsals. After a long struggle with this sickness he ended up in the hospital on the day of the final dress rehearsal. We were all devastated. My new friend and wonderful colleague had a very serious medical issue and ended up staying in the hospital for nearly a week. However, the show must go on! The final dress at Pacific Opera Victoria is attended by hundreds of high school students. This is most often the rowdiest and most fun performance for us as singers, and we were all looking forward to it. With Luc in the hospital, I was unsure how the show was going to proceed. We had no cover. No understudy. Plus, we’re in Victoria. It’s not like we’re surrounded by choices of nearby professional operatic tenors. We’re surrounded by water. Fortunately, our fearless director, Michael Shamata, had a plan. He would walk the part of Rodolfo on stage and in costume. The local University of Victoria happens to employ one of Canada’a most acclaimed tenors, Benjamin Butterfield, and he sang the role of Rodolfo from the pit. Yes, this was all a little stressful for everyone. Benjamin had never sung the role of Rodolfo and I was on stage with a fantastic, albeit mute, Rodolfo. I tried to just sing and have fun and get through it. The crowd LOVED it. They went crazy for this spontaneous, creative way to put on a show for them. You would think that the drama would end there. But this is opera. There’s always more.

With Luc Robert as Rodolfo

Our poor tenor Luc is still in the hospital the day before opening night. Management is trying to find a tenor close enough to fly in who has recently done the role and who is willing to jump in at literally the last minute. They came up with a former colleague of mine, Gerard Powers. Gerry and I were in the San Francisco Opera production of La Rondine with Angela Gheorghiu in 2007. It is a very small world. Gerry flew into Victoria the morning of opening night. We went through the show musically with our conductor, Timothy Vernon and then we walked through most of the staging. He had a costume fitting, a nap, and I tried to remain calm and just went through my pre-show rituals as best I could. Gerry was amazing and the crowd loved our newest hero of a tenor. Gerry did the first two performances and Luc was finally feeling better and able to return for the third show.

The management also brought in a cover at this point as a safety precaution. Smart move if you ask me. So, we staged him into the show as well….and that leaves me with FIVE Rodolfos over the course of one show. Not too shabby for one lady. Heehee.

Overall, this was the first of (hopefully) many Mimis I’ll sing in my career. It is memorable for many reasons, and I hope to return to this amazing company soon. I made a new “bosom friend,” as they say in Anne of Green Gables. The astonishing soprano Marianna Fiset performed the role of Musetta and as the only two women in the main cast, we really bonded. I really think that is the thing that drags us out of the post-show slumps.

Knowing that this experience has changed me in ways I wasn’t aware of until it was over, and the connections you make with other singers and staff. I get to carry these wonderful memories of one of the most beautiful scores ever written, and the production we created, and I look forward to when I see my new friends again. If not for them, this long haul of a career wouldn’t just be long, it would be incredibly lonely.

— Roz

(Production photos: © Emily Cooper)

Monday
Nov292010

My Mother’s Daughter

I hate blogs. I find them pretentious, whiney, and worst of all; full of poor grammar and spelling. That being said, I also understand the importance of them. The need for people to express how they feel is something I sometimes take for granted. I am an Opera Singer. We express ALL DAY LONG.

Having a bad hair day? Vent your frustrations by singing some Strauss lieder. So beautiful, and full of love and line, you’ll forget about the rat’s nest on top of your head. Angry with your boyfriend? Take a crack at Donna Anna’s “Or sai chi l’onore,” and you will feel a WHOLE lot better. Broken hearted? Just stand anywhere near a Madama Butterfly recording, and you will find a friend in forlornness. Don’t even get me started on Janáček, Dvořák, or Tchaikovsky. We’d be here all day with a box of tissues and several rounds of stiff cocktails.

However, knowing that I am so very lucky and blessed to be able to sing this kind of music on a daily basis helps me understand why singers pour out gratitude in their blogs. We’re artists. In the words of a dear friend, “we feeeeeeel!” Ugh. All of these feelings! I find myself constantly torn between my Canadian upbringing and my American life. Do I just keep my head down, work hard, and remain quiet about my emotions, letting them come out in my work? Or, do I take a chance, put my money where my mouth is, and try something new and scary? The answer I’ve come up with is the same one I often arrive at. I do a little of both.

My aim for this blog is to shed a little light on what it is like to be an Opera Singer today. Everywhere I go, people ask me what it is like, how I got here, and my least favorite question, “what is a normal day in your life?” There is no normal. We don’t fit in any box. We make our own plans, our own schedules, our own rules, and it can be both terrifying and exhilarating. The one question I always find myself coming back to when I think about what I have achieved, and what I have yet to accomplish is: How on earth was I brave enough to even begin this journey? The answer is two fold. Sheer lunacy, and my Mom. I was too naive to realize what I was getting into. I love music. I love to sing. I want to be an Opera Singer! Easier said than done. There are lessons, coachings, gowns, headshots, school, auditions, flights, and a whole lot more to think about. My Mom has been there every step of the way. She has been there to cheer for and support me, and has attended almost every show I’ve ever done. More importantly, she is there when it’s not going so well. When I lose, when I don’t get in, when I need advice, and when I need help to pay my phone bill. When I say, “Why didn’t I go into med school?” She replies, “You are meant to be a singer, Rhoslyn.”

I try to 'repay' her with my commitment to and passion for my roles and performances. To keep working hard at what I love to do, and make her proud. To continue to be kind, polite, and courteous, like my Canadian mother taught me to be. To be brave, adventurous, and put myself out there. I can do all of these things because of her.

Remembering where I come from and who helped me become the person I am, arms me to deal with what lies ahead in my life and career. As singers, we are constantly told to be a certain way. Be confident. Be brave. Be thinner. Be more like (fill in the blank with famous singer name). It can be exhausting. I know how to be one thing. It may be cheesy to quote the movie Spanglish, but I don’t care...here goes: “My identity rests firmly and happily on one fact: I am my mother’s daughter,” and that is more than enough.

Thank you, Mom.

— Roz