The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #62134   Message #1004121
Posted By: Don Firth
18-Aug-03 - 01:32 PM
Thread Name: how do you prepare to sing?
Subject: RE: how do you prepare to sing?
Treewind, Dick Gaughan is not entirely accurate. Some opera singers do sing as many as 200 performances a year. And more, especially when you take into consideration that singing in operas on stage is not all the singing that they do.

Many opera singers don't belong to companies like the Metropolitan, New York City Opera, or San Francisco Opera. And not all opera singers make $3,000 a performance. To make a living at it, the majority usually spend a lot of time on the road, singing five performances here, one performance there, and eight performances someplace else. In between, they spend time with a vocal coach working on new roles or polishing old ones. Add to this, consider that when a tenor, for example, finishes a gig at the San Francisco Opera singing the lead in Otello, then flies up to Seattle to do Manrico in Il Trovatore, he has to attend rehearsals and integrate himself with all the other singers he'll be working with. He may have never before sung with the soprano who is singing Leonora or the mezzo who is singing Azucena. He has duets with both of them and they can't just "wing it;" they have to practice together. And not all stagings of an opera are the same. The sets may be different, so he has to learn new blocking, attend costume fittings, and a whole bunch of other things that even a very busy folk singer doesn't have to do. In Il Trovatore, he has a duel scene with the baritone, which sometimes takes place off-stage, but some directors want it right there in front of the audience, so they have to choreograph and practice it so that one of them doesn't wind up with a sword up his nose. I don't know of any folk singer who has to do any of these things, even if he or she has gigs 365 days a year.

And although they are usually singing in acoustically good venues, not always. And dressing room facilities and other accommodations for the singers vary widely and wildly from one venue to the next. They may do five performances in a major opera house with superb acoustics and plush dressing rooms, and their next gig is in a recondition movie theater with no dressing rooms at all. And the next gig after that is at an outdoor music festival (complete with a tent for all the singers, complete with a Port-a-Potty). Often an opera singer will sing as many as three or four opera performances a week for many weeks in a row, then hit the roadagain—to do a tour of concerts and recitals.

As far as not having to sing non-stop for two hours a night, I've seen the entire Ring of the Nibelungs, and the bass-baritone who sings Wotan is on stage most of the time in these four four or five hour operas. In the third of these, Seigfried, I can't think of a time when the tenor who sings the title role is not of stage singing. And he has to kill a dragon, to boot. There are many operas where one or more of the lead singers are on stage for most or all of the entire performance.

Placido Domingo or Renée Fleming or Samuel Ramey can command top dollar for opera performances, concerts, and recitals. And they have sufficient clout to have stipulations in their contracts that ease some of the more rigorous demands of their professions. But not the vast majority of opera singers. Have you ever heard of Dennis Bailey? Carole Webber? Archie Drake? These are all superb singers who know dozens of opera roles and have had years of experience on stage and in recitals. But they have to keep working constantly to make a living at it. And they aren't "heavy" enough to be able to make contract demands for things like private dressing rooms or some of the other perks.

And while all of this is going on, the singer has to, somehow, keep his or her voice healthy and functioning. That's not exactly a walk through the park. Not everyone has the drive and the stamina—or the talent or the natural endowments—to do it. If they didn't love it, they wouldn't do it. It's a grueling life, even for the best known singers (e.g., a few years ago Luciano Pavarotti had to take some time out and treat his voice to a rest, not because of faulty vocal technique, but because his wall-to-wall schedule of operas, concerts, and television appearances was wearing him out, and even his voice was starting to show strain).

I don't mean to tread on the toes of somebody's idol, but I'm afraid Dick Gaughan doesn't know what he's talking about.

Don Firth