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The same but different

I've been very lazy today as I prepare for the final dress rehearsal of Barber here in Portland, and I started thinking about how certain things in this career are so incredibly variable, and how some things always stay exactly the same.

My colleagues and I were just chatting the other night about how one of the most difficult parts of this career is how little control you have over your life. You really want San Francisco Opera to hire you for their productions of X? Too bad, there's nothing you can do about it. You really want to go to your sister's wedding? Too bad, you have a dress rehearsal in France that night. You would really like to plan some big things in your life in the next few years? Too bad, you have very little idea where you'll be in the world, or how much money you'll be making, unless of course you're a big star who is booked way in advance, and that is only a very select few. And when you're at the level that I'm at, things vary so wildly, you cannot even believe sometimes that it is all part of the same career. Sometimes, things are bliss - as they are here in Portland - but not always. Here in Portland I have a big dressing room all to myself, with a couch and a chair and my very own bathroom. But I've been in situations where I shared a dressing room with 16 other women and one co-ed bathroom with the entire cast. Yesterday, the opera company picked us up in a Limo(!!!) in order to bring us to our tv interview, but I've been in a production where I literally had to spray paint my own pair of shoes, or driven myself to a performance in a huge cargo van after slamming my gown in the door. Fees vary amazingly as well - sometimes I get way more money than I think I can possibly deserve to run around the stage and have fun, and sometimes the fee doesn't even cover the amount of money I have to spend on coachings and lessons in order to prepare for the project. Sometimes the opera company puts you up in a great hotel, sometimes they put you in a terrible apartment, and sometimes they leave you completely to your own devices to find a place to live and to pay for it yourself. Sometimes you know 3 years in advance where you'll be singing, and sometimes the contract isn't completed until a month before you're supposed to arrive. One day you might wake up and for no reason, your voice is really rough and doesn't want to do anything, and other days you wake up and feel like god himself curled up inside your throat and is ready to extend his golden rays through your mouth. Some gigs you arrive at and you instantly bond with all of your colleagues and spend 4 weeks having fabulous dinners at wonderful restaurants and getting to know incredible people in a deep and real way. Other times nobody talks to you, and you spend every night in your hotel room reheating food and watching reruns on tv. And you have absolutely no control over any of these factors - you just have to be willing to accept them all, and know that your life is almost never going to be boring (except maybe when you're watching those tv reruns).

But then, there are some things that remain the same. For me, I always get a little nervous, whether I'm performing at the opening of La Scala (okay, that's never happened, but you know what I mean) or for 1200 school kids (like I will be doing tonight). I always warm up with the same set of exercises (pretty much) and I never want to eat much before the performance. I always get nervous when I first look at a review, and I am always overly critical of my own performances. I always have that same feeling the day of a performance - like I have to conserve my energy, but am not really sure how to fill the day, and can't decide when the best time is to eat. And I always feel more relaxed if no one I know is in the audience before the performance, but disappointed after when nobody I know saw what I did. And I always get that same sense of great purpose mixed with fear and excitement just before I step out onto the stage.

And since I'm not religious, I always say a little prayer to the composer whose work I'm about to perform. I say, "If you're up there (or out there, in the case of the living ones), and you can do anything about it, help me do what you would have wanted for this piece of yours tonight. Deal? Wolfgang, or Gioachino, or Georg, or Bob?" And hopefully they hear me and say "Pshaw, you're fine. I've gotta attend to this weird eurotrash production where they have everyone standing on their heads and wearing spacesuits while singing MY music."

What happens next varies wildly, and that can be pretty wonderful.

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Reader Comments (9)

Such a wonderful, wonderful post, Jennifer. You nailed it. Not a life for the faint-hearted, but you have the stuff, without a doubt. This is one for the book, absolutely :-).

May 5, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAnonymous

I think this could be my favorite blog entry of yours. So funny, so true, so real!! Hope the dress went fab - I'm sure you did Rossini proud. And he's probably glad you aren't in a space suit.

May 5, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAnonymous

You really did describe the life, the ups, the downs. Very poignant. Hope the dress was great and you were running around the stage having fun and wondering how you got to be so lucky to do this for a living.

May 5, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAnonymous

Beautiful post! And so, SO true...
You were fantastic tonight - it's an honor to be on stage with you, and I am really looking forward to the next ten days. And you look AMAZING in your spacesuit. Especially when you are standing on your head. I wish I could stand on my head like that. ;-)

May 6, 2010 | Unregistered Commenternick

Your performance last night was dynamic and beautiful! I was there with some music students from Vancouver, and we loved the entire production. Besides your incredible instrument (such open, rich tone--you are so technically proficient and wonderfully musical!), you are wonderful physically on stage. The humor helped the performance to be accessible to us all. It was lovely to hear kids talk about how great the opera was!!! Kudos to you and the company. Enjoy Portland and the whole run!

May 6, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJer

merci :-)

May 6, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterjmz

Great post, Jenny! :D Toi, toi, toi tonight, I'm thinking about you and wish I were there to cheer you on!

May 7, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterKatypracht

Jenny whenever you write,, you writes awesome,, this post also very nice. I wish i could be there to wish you....

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May 31, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterCareer

Oh, my. When I read the line about eurotrash productions, I couldn't stop laughing!

More seriously, thank you for sharing the ups and downs of an operatic life. As an opera fan, I admire how singers are able to create beauty and moments of emotional catharsis that touch people to the core. This in spite of such unpredictability in their own lives! So thank you for everything you do.

June 17, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterEmi

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