I’ve been struck in the last few weeks at the number of blog articles addressing the competitive nature of the field, and the relatively low odds of “making it” in opera. There are also a corresponding number of positive articles. (You’ll notice that two of the “you’ll never make it” and one of the “you’ll totally make it” articles all come from mezzo-soprano Cindy Sadler – who has a great perspective on this crazy art form and the accompanying lifestyle.
I’m reading these while we’re interviewing applicants for internships and seasonal positions. Let’s be honest – I’m getting older, the applicants are getting younger, and the things that seem obvious to one party are not at all obvious to the other – and vice-versa. I will say that many of these people are much more put-together than I was at their age. (I’m both thrilled and thankful that Facebook and camera phones did not exist when I was in high school or college…)
I keep returning to several themes:
- Perspective & experience. Start your education in broad brush strokes, learning as much as you can with a view towards breadth. Narrow that perspective down as you gain experience. (If you decide that you’re going to be an architect but can’t pass calculus, suddenly you’ve got a decision on your hands that feels life-changing. If punking out on calculus happens early enough, it helps you to self-select out of fields that rely on it. (Or gives you time to conquer it, I suppose.)
- Defining success. One person’s success looks like gigging at the local company so they can have a house and a family and a garden. Another person’s might be a career that takes them all over the world – and they’re cool about keeping their non-travel life in a storage locker or at their folks’ house. For some, performing is a life-long goal, for others it’s a chapter. Knowing what parts are important to you – and why – will make decision time easier.
Personally, I loved the collaborative aspect of rehearsals. I found performances stressful and anticlimactic. I wanted to be known for my brain more than my pipes (not quite sure that worked out… #blondmoment). And I wanted to have a home, to be known in my community. It took me a long time to separate my professional desires from my chosen field, and I’m lucky (oh so lucky) to have found a great niche. Had I been more honest with myself earlier, though, I might’ve found my path a little more directly. It’s often easier to follow someone else’s path, to cede your energy to someone else’s expectation when you feel that they have your best interests at heart. But ultimately, it’s your path….it should look like you.