We can do better. We can espouse and proclaim the value of vocal health, technique, and efficiency, while recognizing with great respect and awe the beauty in non-traditional voices, and overcoming the professional and territorial myopia that threatens to rob us of our innate desire to hear the gift of a great voice raised in song.
From the perspective of my relatively secure, European composer bubble, the amount of exposure I received between the announcement of, and participation in, Frontiers bordered on empowering and overwhelming, with a dash of terror for good measure. The response I received from audiences, colleagues, and the staff of Fort Worth Opera affirmed my Brand — "I am becoming a better opera composer" — for the foreseeable future.
I've always been amazed how the rehearsal process produces in me a higher awareness of what I have written. To think that I know every motivation behind every note and gesture is, for me, conceit. I need another's inquiries to drag out the nuggets of meaning and all the things I didn't know I knew about the piece.
I could easily represent myself as a safe choice, saying, in effect, "I'm not going to be a problem for you. I’m not one of those crazy egocentric composers who is going to make ridiculous demands and make you sorry you wanted to work with me." I can assuage these preconceptions with a picture that pretty much sums me up: "I'm normal! I'm a nice guy! I'm wearing tweed, for God's sake!"
I can a) quit doing this thing I love and just sit in a corner, or, b) do a diffident, guarded, joyless job of it because I'm hyper-aware of their negative opinions, and making room for their big important opinions is more important to me than my own fulfilment and mental health. (The latter is my default — that's where I'm most likely to go when the self-doubt gets to me.)
I soon learned that cold-shopping an out-of-the-box stage work is a thorny, if not downright impossible, proposition. In the autumn of 2015, I reached out to roughly 200 small- to medium-sized American opera companies. In a 100-word email, I introduced myself and asked for a five-to-ten-minute phone conversation about trends in the commissioning and production of new opera (a subject that obviously interested me but was benign enough for an initial discussion).
Oftentimes, the singers who spend most - or all - of their time singing the tragic operas by Puccini, Verdi, maybe a bit of Donizetti and Gounod, tend to have acting skills that are less well-honed. That's in comparison to singers who perform a lot of new opera, Baroque opera, and subtler stuff by the likes of Britten, Janáček, Shostakovich, and even Wagner and Strauss.
We may feel a bit miffed, but for the people who did find Roker's joke blatantly funny, we are not going to change their minds by shouting "disrespect!" and tsk-tsking them for laughing. If the feared stereotype is that opera is uptight and snoozeworthy, we are not proving them otherwise by telling Roker that he's "embarrassing".
Throughout my freelance life, more often than not, the workload-to-compensation ratio was astronomically out of balance, but it soon became apparent that this was more of the rule than the exception. And of course, most of us accept these conditions because this is how we get work and experience, in the hopes that it will lead to bigger and better gigs where that ratio will hopefully seem a little more civilized.
Unless you are fortunate enough to be a star in high demand you don't have to worry right? WRONG! Even then, you've got bills not limited to agent commissions, AGMA fees, health insurance, travel, rent sometimes in multiple locations and those dreaded gigs that don't line up in the calendar year in a foreign country... even out of state poses challenges depending on your official place of residence.