I have been asked on occasion to write a few articles for our trade publication: The AGMAzine. Below is a copy of the article which has (or will) recently appeared. This may be a good way to kick off the year 2014…since I have rehearsal later this morning to start the post holiday season!
A day in the life of an opera singer has many permutations depending upon the time of year, or where in the performance calendar one happens to be. On this particular day in late September, I have only begun my daily processionals into the opera house by a week or so… in this case, the Lyric Opera of Chicago. As a multi-decade principal artist of this august organization, I have by now seen almost every post, from General and Artistic Director right down to the fine doormen and service staff, change hands. There is an old saying: “Hang around long enough and you will become part of the establishment”. I know just about everyone here, and everyone knows me (for better or worse, in the case of the latter). But make no mistake, in the dynamic environment of a major international opera company; some things are always changing, while others never do.
I am up early on this day (6:00 a.m.) since the schedule indicates that I’ll be rehearsing some of my big scenes today. Those paper rehearsal slips located in our artist mailboxes in the rehearsal department, have now become a thing of the past. I head to my iPad to look at the new online schedule that we now receive daily via email while the morning coffee percolates. A quick glance through my emails, then it’s right to that schedule. Yes, I remembered correctly, an 11:00 a.m. start… and I had better warm up my voice this morning! A few sips of half-caff coffee as the WGN Morning News plays in the background. Can’t stand the damned iPad keyboard when I must write an email to my manager/agent about a free time period that I would like filled on my calendar; so it’s up and out of my comfortable lounge chair and into my office to get my laptop. I write that snarky email, read it over and over again, send it off to my agent, and then perseverate over it for the next 20 minutes. “Why won’t they hire me?” I ask myself. “Am I too old?” “Have I gotten too expensive?” “Do I not sing well anymore?” “Did I do something wrong?” …wait a minute… “I have never even sung there, how could I have done anything wrong!?” I finally tell myself. Look at the clock; I’m going to be late for my 7:15 a.m. spin class at the gym. Out of the chair, into my gear and out the front door. Leave the gym by 8:15 and back home by 8:25. Pour another cup of coffee and take a quick look at MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” before heading into the shower. Lip trills while shampooing gives me confidence… ”lots of resonance in here”, I say to myself.
It’s 9:15, but I wait until 9:30 to sit at my piano and start the vocal exercises. Easy does it at first. Computer ‘ding’ tells me I have email. I glance through the junk correspondence and focus like a laser-beam on the reply from my agent. He promises to call Houston again… (yeah, yeah, that’s what they all say.) I want to be out of the house by 10:15 but thankfully I have a contract in quadruplicate that I must sign for a future engagement before I depart… one copy for me, one for AGMA, one for my agent, and one for the company. “Well, at least I have somewhere to work in the future” I tell myself. Envelope, stamp, return address? ‘Check!’ Got ‘em all; and into the outgoing mail on my way out.
I enter the Stage Door, and there he is, security doorman extraordinaire Mr. Holliday (one of the great things that hasn’t changed)!! “How ya feelin’???” he says with a smile, and comes around to give me a hug. “You know, just trying to stay busy my man”, I reply. Into the building and say hello to Gabby and Sal in the rehearsal department (two new members of our Lyric Opera family). “You have mail in your box, Mr Cangelosi!”…“Please, call me David… ” How nice, an invitation to the opening night party for the Madame Butterfly cast. No time to deal with that, as I must rush up to the music library on the 6th floor. Wendy, the Librarian, helps me pull several scores that I need for current and future reference. I duck into one of the practice rooms for five more minutes of warm-up, then on to rehearsal room 200 right on time!
It is the start of a four-hour rehearsal with so many familiar faces in the stage management staff, with hugs all around almost every morning. Everyone is in a good mood (Maestro Armiliato, James Valenti, Amanda Echalaz, Christopher Purves, Mary Ann McCormick, just to name a few), including our wonderful understudy/cover cast; and I think how lucky I am to be working with such great colleagues. A break after 90 minutes sends most of us to the washrooms, or the coffee pot. Hello to John Coleman in the elevator and Lucy from wardrobe in the hallway, a hug to Marina whom I have just seen for the first time since arriving back, a schedule clarification from Ben, a favor to ask of Josie and Amy in the rehearsal department, a shout out to ‘Junior’, Mack, and Charlie (stage-hands)… all on the way to the coffee pot. DAMN, no one has made any fresh coffee!!! Stage manager Caroline Moores calls over the system-wide intercom (in her ever elegant English accent): “The Butterfly staging rehearsal will resume in 5 minutes, all principals and maestri to Room 200 please.” (Didn’t really need coffee anyway, I tell myself.)
Back in the rehearsal room:
I am surrounded by delightful people, stunning vocal talent, fabulous pianists, and outstanding conductors, directors, and choreographers. We laugh as we make mistakes, compliment each other as we work, ask for a costume piece or prop that we have forgotten, lumber up the raked stage, trip up a stair, or lose our balance slightly on a ramp. The set is new, and we are getting our bearings. “I love this job”, I sigh to myself. “Thank you Lord”, I whisper in virtual silence, as we all attempt to stay relevant. We check our cell phones for emails, sneak out a text message to our friends and loved ones, or look at photos on these hand held marvels and wonder what we did before they existed as a ‘palm accessory’.
We finish our work after 4 hours (but we usually rehearse for 6); there is more to do, but I am done for the day at the opera house. I stop by the FedEx Office to make a few copies of items I need, then head home. I live two short blocks away, by design. Sometimes we have 2-3 hours of break in between rehearsal periods, and commuting long distances in between became too much for me about 10 years ago. Because I’m so close, no matter the circumstance, I never have to worry about being late and can always run home in between rehearsals or for lunch.
I arrive home by 4:00 p.m., but my workday hasn’t finished. Seated in my study chair… the one that faces away from the television, I crack open that score of Cunning Little Vixen. Czech isn’t my best language, and I struggle mightily trying to put the text to the rhythm. I’ll be singing it with the Cleveland Orchestra in the Spring, and it’s got to be perfect. That’s what a lot of folks simply don’t understand; we work at home in silence, or at our pianos for hours on end, and do not get paid for it… that’s just part of our profession. I grow weary, frustrated, and angry because the text just won’t come out!! C’mon David, c’mon!!! I slam the score shut and curse my lot…
I make a light dinner, pay a few bills online, check in on the news of the day, FaceTime my fiancée, and call my parents. But still I see that score sitting on the piano… it taunts me. I hate you, you ‘Cunning Little Vixen’; I can bear you no more today. The phone rings at 6:30 p.m. (7:30 in New York), I recognize the number. It’s him. “Yes John”, I answer without saying hello. “Daaaviiiid, Houston just hired you for back-to-backs in 2015… what do you think? ”
“I love you John… and thanks for this.”
I guess I CAN study that Janacek score for another 45 minutes before ‘calling it a day’ after all… .