The first week of August in Santa Fe can be nerve-wracking for some singers. “The reason”, you may ask? “The World”, would be my answer. The month of August, but this first full week specifically, is the point at which all the opera productions are now on-stage. Rehearsals have ceased, and only performances remain. Sounds relaxing; right? Wrong!! Now comes the invasion into Santa Fe of the ‘international press’, members of ‘Opera America’, the ‘Artistic Directors’ and ‘Artistic Administrators’ from every major American opera company and their regional counterparts, as well as ‘General Directors’ from abroad, and all the ‘super-agents’ and ‘artist managers’ that you can think of.
They file into Santa Fe because they can now see all of the scheduled operas within a one week time-frame. A daunting task for anyone; even for the professional movers and shakers in the industry. They search for new, up-and-coming singers that appear on-stage, they audition apprentice singers who are here in entry level positions, they stroke the egos of the singers that they represent or whom they have already hired, and they pontificate with one another in Santa Fe’s private Opera Club (located just steps outside the theater auditorium, audience right) over the current state of, and of course, the future of opera in general. Last, but not least…and not unlike any other industry in the commercialized world….they come to enjoy a nice business related junket/vacation week here in beautiful Santa Fe, New Mexico. We warmly welcome them, to be sure!
However, this drives some of the singers crazy; they fear a bad performance during this week could cost them jobs in the future. As the wonderful Stephen Lord used to counsel us: “All performances are equal…but some are more equal than others”. A veiled attempt to advise singers: “For your own sake, try to do your best this week” (This was advice that I recall him giving to us during his days as Music Director of Opera Theatre of Saint Louis when the same “industry invasion” takes place in mid-to-late May, or thereabouts).
Well that was the early 90’s when I first heard this advice, and we are now into the second decade of the new millennium. And quite frankly, while I ALWAYS attempt to put my very best efforts on the stage every night, I don’t really care who is watching me anymore–so long as there is someone watching! I am, of course, thrilled to see so many folks still coming out to see this magnificent art form during these difficult financial times, but for the first time in my career, I can truly say that I no longer fret about which power-player may be sitting in the house.
There they were, outside the dressing rooms after last Tuesday’s performance….oh, how I used to scan the crowd of opera executives buried three deep outside in that hallway hoping to catch someone’s eye…well, not last Tuesday. I walked out of the principal men’s dressing room, my mind tired and my body exhausted after this rigorous staging of Hoffmann, and walked straight ahead, eyes fixed on the exit area, moving purposefully right past ALL of them. Not that any of them were trying to get to me….not the point; the point is that I was not trying to get to them! Down the stairs, through the orchestra area, through the doors, to the outer walkway that leads to the staircase that brings us to our cars….and what did I see????….several of my other cast-mates who had also quickly gotten out of costume and make-up and were headed home, just like me!!!! What a feeling…..freedom to just allow yourself to go home!!! (Erin Wall and I confirmed our quick and purposeful exit at lunch a few days later with a bit of a chuckle.)
In summary, it is this simple: I basically am not going to be anything more (and hopefully nothing less) than I am right now–been doing it the same way for 20 years in the opera biz, 10 years previous to that on the night-club circuit. Sometimes singing a bit better, some nights a bit worse, depending upon many factors. But all in all, I am NOT TRYING to impress anyone any longer. If my talent speaks to them; fantastic. If it doesn’t, there is nothing I can do about it.
So thank you Albin Mougeotte (and you too, Jerry!); I now understand–although you both were singing/writing about something else!!
Life’s not worth a damn til you can say, hey world, I am what I am!