18 July 2014

An Open Letter to Young Singers

Dear Young Singers,

Lately, a lot of other singers — some of them even younger than you — have been writing open letters. They tell you about what a career in opera is really like. They tell you about what to expect — and what not to expect — as you make your way in opera, which is either a.) dying; or b.) not dying, depending on which letter you’re reading.

But there is one thing you will not read in these open letters. It is perhaps the most significant truth you will ever learn about your future as an opera singer. It is the thing nobody else has the guts to tell you.

It is simply this: no matter how hard you work, I will never be an opera singer.

It’s true. You can study for years, develop flawless vocal technique, impeccable dramatic skills, and the body of an Abercrombie model; you can master five or six languages and a messa di voce that makes strong men weep. But nothing you do will ever change this fundamental fact: I will never be an opera singer.

You’ve made sacrifices in your career, and you’ll make more before you’re through. You’ll be separated from home and loved ones for weeks at a time. You’ll miss birthdays and school plays. You’ll miss weddings — possibly including your own, because there is no schedule more demanding than the one you have embraced. You will have to ask patience and forgiveness more often than anyone should have to.

You can ask, yes. But you know what no one will ever ask? They won’t ask me to sing. This is the cold reality. No one has ever asked me to sing. They’re not going to start now.

But your sacrifices don’t stop there. While friends are out partying, you’ll stay in — “to protect your instrument.” You’ll suffer through endless auditions without any chance of getting hired, because nobody told you they’d already heard “O! quante volte” three times this afternoon before you got there.

None of this matters. Because I am not going to sing.

No matter how hard you work, no matter how many low-paying engagements you accept, just for the exposure, no matter how many prizes you win or ovations you earn, you are never going to look across the stage and see me singing back at you. I can’t do what you do. Nobody — not even I — wants me to try.

Do you dream of hearing me in the greatest roles in the repertoire? You yearn to hear me as Cavaradossi? As Siegfried? As Azucena? I’m here to tell you: it’s never going to happen. You make all the right artistic and professional choices, you can be guided by your inner voice — but you will never hear mine.*

I know that some of you will protest, others will deny it. “What is opera,” you will ask, “if Bill Madison can’t sing? What is the point, even?”

But this is the truth. And it’s about time you learned to accept it.



*NOTE: Except maybe in a speaking role. That could happen. But my acclaimed Don Giovanni? No.

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