I Will Survive : Why Opera Singers Will Thrive and Survive COVID 19

COVID 19 is having a profound effect on our daily lives. Simplest things we only recently took for granted are now completely impossible: taking a walk in the park, visiting friends, eating out, going to school, going to work or even shaking someone’s hand. With that, one of the greatest human tragedies is unfolding worldwide with financial, psychological and physical suffering multiplying daily. Things are looking impossibly grim and no amount of binge-watching “Friends” or facetiming your mom seem to dispel the gnawing anxiety that now pervades this new, altered existence.

All that is scary and horrible and true, but…positively speaking – who is better equipped to get through this ordeal with flying colors if not the opera singers?! If you think about it, opera singers have amazing life skills: we’ve been training for this our entire lives and we are equipped to thrive and survive:

  • We know how to stay healthy physically and mentally
  • Isolation? How do you think we learn our roles?!
  • We are entrepreneurs
  • We are risk takers
  • We are very flexible, creative and adaptive
  • We know how to develop great support and fan networks
  • We are used to being positive about the future and toughing it out at times

I’ve reached out to my international colleagues who also offered their thoughts on this. Some of them were doing okay because they were on a contract with an opera company and although had some concert cancellations, were still getting their company salaries. Some were completely freelance and lost all work, some had teaching positions that continued to pay and some had a combination of the above. Whatever their individual situation, all these singers were keeping themselves extremely busy through online teaching, online performance or using their time to catch up on learning roles and languages:


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We are also used to the isolation.

Kiandra Howarth, soprano (UK):

“We freelance performers always have down time: months or weeks without contracts in our schedules, so it’s been positive to use this time in quarantine to catch up on all of those pieces we never have time to learn. I must say that I’ve got about four different roles on the go at the moment. I have also started learning a new language (Russian),     which has always been a goal of mine, that I now have time to realize. I know some other friends of mine have taken this opportunity to do the same!”

Jane Ede, soprano (Australia)

“We are used to working autonomously and self-motivating to get tasks done by a certain deadline.”

Anke Hoeppner, soprano (Australia):

“Singers’ work is solitary. I impose self-isolation as part of my work-routine by spending countless hours at the piano, learning new and maintaining familiar repertoire. The intellectual, emotional, and physical interaction with my music is both stimulating and calming. In a sense, I have all my friends there with me in my practice room.”

We were wearing masks before it became a thing.

Amelia Farrugia, soprano (Australia):

“Before COVID 19 singers were already wearing masks on planes and observing good hygiene, losing a performance means losing a fee, good health is vital.”

We know how to budget for the tough times.

Laurence Meikle, bass (Italy):

“Many times we will be paid large fees one month, only to have no income for several months thereafter, so hopefully we’re used to developing good money management skills to see us through lean times such as now.”

We are resilient and we know how to cope with stress and anxiety:

Igor Vieira, baritone (USA):

“By the nature of our profession and what it requires, singers are highly creative, adaptable and resilient.”

Jonathan Yarrington, tenor (USA):

“We deal with anxiety all the time. Anxiety about auditions and rejection. Anxiety about money. Anxiety about health because our instrument is part of our body. Anxiety about long term employment, retirement, etc. When you learn to live and thrive in the realm of that much anxiety, adding one more to the list isn’t as daunting as it might be.”

But of course, it was a conductor who summed it all up perfectly.

Lidiya Yankovskaya, conductor (USA):

“Opera singers are some of the most resilient and adaptive people I know. Under normal circumstances, a singer has to prepare for any scenario, and arrive ready to sing their role impeccably–even when asked to perform in a corset and hot winter coat, while doing somersaults, in a production set in space. A singer’s performance is judged equally harshly no matter how sensitive (or insensitive) the conductor, director, designers, etc. are to their needs, and in every situation, the singer does their job with a collaborative and positive attitude, solving each problem that comes their way. It’s exhausting just to think about it. While many people are losing jobs that they thought would be stable no matter the situation, singers are also more used to sudden major loss of income due to a case of laryngitis, a change in company leadership, or an unexpected fach adjustment. Did we mention that singers already often wear facemasks, self-isolate, and know every remedy for a respiratory infection? We cannot underplay the terrible plight of artists who have just lost all their income for the foreseeable future. However, given the extreme challenges of a singing career, the pandemic is a grotesque magnification of what singers already deal with on a daily basis. I cannot imagine a group more prepared for this crisis.”

 

Stay home, stay safe and use your amazing skills – this world needs your talent!

Dr. Maria Briggs

Dr. Briggs-Okunev is a Russian-born, Australian soprano. She has a Bachelor degree in piano performance, Sydney Conservatorium of Music; Masters in vocal performance, Newcastle Conservatorium and DMA in opera, Sydney University and Northern College of Music, UK. Dr. Briggs’ research is focused on training of young opera singers tertiary opera training. Dr. Briggs has sung with Opera Australia, Pacific Opera and Glyndebourne Opera Festival, UK. She joined Fresno State in 2016 as Assistant Professor of Voice. www.okunevmusic.com