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Thursday, July 16, 2015


REGRETs I’ve had a few…

Actually, I have no real regrets, only a few half regrets; more on those later.

I’ve wanted to write this blog for quite some time now, but regretfully have been hyper busy doing nothing. Well, almost nothing. The months of May and June were filled with looking for a new home outside of Quebec, looking for a new colleague to become the head coach for Opera McGill, and planning for the next season, which includes five operas at McGill: Adamo’s Little Women, Ching’s Buoso’s Ghost / Speed Dating Tonight!, Donizetti’s L’elisir d’amore (which I’m conducting instead of directing) and Handel’s Rodelinda. Plus we are doing a special performance in September “Sondheim on Sherbrooke” and I’m cooking up a special extra project for May, 2016. I’m also looking forward to a return to Fargo for my 4th opera production there: Suor Angelica / Gianni Schicchi (conducted by Michael Ching). Hopefully there will be one or two more outside gigs down in the states and/or here in Canada as well. At least 7 operas between late September and next June!

So back to regrets…

Each year around May or June, I receive letters of thanks, emails of thanks, or messages of thanks from students about their experiences with Opera McGill. These are always wonderful to read, and make all of the hard work and effort seem like it has meaning to many individuals. There are themes that run through most of these messages of thanks – how holding them to high standards helped them realize their potential, how the program’s professional bent helped them on their career path, and how giving them opportunities to grow artistically meant so much. But there is another theme that runs through these messages of gratitude, one of regret.

The main regrets seem to be that they wish they’d taken advantage of all the opportunities provided by Opera McGill, that they wish they’d not worried so much about what their colleagues or teachers thought about them, and that they wish they’d not judged their experiences so harshly because now that they look back on them, they see just how extraordinary those experiences were.

I have to say that I especially agree with that last bit. So many young singers today really over judge and over think their experiences instead of just experiencing them, fully committing to them, and bringing into their rehearsals and coachings a sense of joyous discovery.  Too often I see young singers sit back and quietly remove themselves from the moment in order to judge it. From time to time, I receive a few complaints that there isn’t enough this or that, or too much of this or that.  Some even comment that there is too much rehearsal (how can there ever possibly be too much rehearsal?!) In what operatic world – outside of the German system of 6 years of rehearsing one recitative – can a singer ever be bored in a rehearsal? There is so, so, so, so, so much to learn and listen to and watch. If you find yourself thinking that rehearsal is the thing to “get through” so that you can get your costume on and sing in front of an audience, then I think you should rethink pursuing a career in opera. The life is rehearsal. The life is endless learning – new roles, new stagings, new ways of collaborating with new/old colleagues. The amount of time one spends in front of audiences is extremely small. It’s like the vast expanse of space in between the planets in our solar systems – it takes years to travel to Pluto, but then BANG WOW: Pictures of Pluto crowd Facebook and Twitter for a few days; then people move on… 

That’s what it’s like to work in opera.

So my advice is to jump in with both feet, go to every rehearsal you possibly can! See every single recital, get to every masterclass and ask as many questions as you can! Take your professors and mentors for coffee and grill them for answers about the questions that are on your mind. Work with new pianists, read through your aria books and those musical theatre anthologies. Get out to hear concerts – classical and popular. Do as much as possible to avoid surfing on the internet or watching YouTube videos or posting on Facebook. You can do that later, after school ends.

Sounds simple, but sadly it is truly hard to do.  One could start with putting away the smart phone for hours at a time. Maybe just check FB every other day. Maybe save YouTubing until a Saturday morning. These are just thoughts. There is tons of expert advice on that subject available on the interweb… Oh…

My “half” regrets?
1) Not learning enough piano concertos back when I had the chops. Oh well.
2) Not spending enough time learning certain opera scores back when I was younger and had more time. By “learning” I mean being able to play the scores and storing their texts in memory. Scores by Wagner (Tannhäuser, Lohengrin, and Meistersinger) and Verdi (Ernani, Otello, and Luisa Miller), learning the big Strauss works (Ariadne, Arabella, and Rosenkavalier are the only three I basically know), and some of my favorite 20th century operas: Pelleas, Grimes, and Lulu – love them, but I only can play certain sections now; the sections I learned back during my Juilliard days.

I really had the time back during those summers when I was playing at the Lyric Opera of Chicago, plus I was playing for the god of opera choruses Donald Palumbo. What was I thinking not working on these scores and then talking to Mo. Palumbo about them, or asking to maybe work on one or two with him? Imagine what I could have learned! I had oodles of time during my masters degree now that I look back and think about it. I had tons of time while an apprentice coach at DMMO when Stewart Robertson was running that program. He’d have been fantastic to work on Grimes or Ariadne, for instance. I could have conquered the big Donizetti works all at once when I was at Juilliard instead of waiting to learn them as the jobs came along.

Those sorts of regrets. Otherwise, my life’s journey has been charmed and wondrous! I hope everyone out there gets as exciting a journey for themselves!