Sometimes when I hear an opera overture, I get excited. And I miss it. It makes me emotional. Remembering bouncing around, being nervous, being excited, trying not to giggle and bother other people, behind the door on set or the curtain about to run on stage and start singing. I feel incredibly lucky to have been able to sing with orchestras, to have done what I loved, in so many different places all over the world, for so long. To have brought beauty and joy and emotional release into people’s lives. To have had such wonderful talented colleagues. To have had the adoration of audiences.
I’ve had so many experiences in my life. Really special ones. They came with difficulty and rejection and struggle. I put myself out there over and over and over again and sometimes I suffered. The number of times I dragged myself through the streets of some city, homesick, broke, and rejected, out of phone minutes, out of bus fare, hungry and unsure of where I was, not knowing anyone at all…. begging the hot dog stand person at Times Square or Dundas to give me some food for a song… finding a quarter on the ground so I could call my mom and cry to her for 5 minutes. The universe would always step up, step in- at my worst moments, someone would approach me and turn everything around.
All of this made me feel so alive. People believed in me. As long as I had my voice, I knew I had something to give.
Once in awhile, I’d get the call that I got the gig. We would celebrate- me and whoever I was with at the time. I’d call my mom and scream-cry. I’d go to the first rehearsal, sing my first note. Generous colleagues would tell me how special my voice was, how beautiful. Long nights of tech run throughs, breakouts from the makeup, not ever knowing in my body what time it was from being in a dark theatre from dawn till dark every day. Costume fittings across town and sometimes finding someone’s name on the tag that I knew, a colleague or a teacher or someone who is famous now. Opening night. Drinking. In-between nights, matinees, trying to keep the energy up, trying not to read the reviews, but not being able to resist.
Closing night. Gifts, flowers, tears, not being able to stay out too late because of an early flight home. Not knowing whether I’ll see these people again, these people who have become my family. Being able to sing everyone else’s parts through the entire opera. Singing two notes and everyone losing their shit with laughter because those two notes are an inside joke. No words needed. Getting the bartender to put on Bohemian Rhapsody and the whole cast singing along and the rest of the bar patrons realizing what is happening and who we are, knowing they’ll keep this moment in their memory.
Cracking open a new score to learn for the next gig on the plane. Wishing I had started weeks ago. Going home, doing laundry, re-packing it all in an hour, a day, a week, for the next gig. Sometimes not going home at all between gigs. Auditions, constantly. Always the next thing. Hustling. This was the life. For so many years.
At some point, I ran out of money for real. The hardship, the rejection, became too overwhelming to continue. People said they loved my voice, loved my presence, thought I had something special. Teachers, established singers. Arts patrons. Beseeched me not to quit but, no one ever offered to fund an audition trip, cover my rent or buy some groceries. Companies loving me and choosing me but paying me $1000 (mostly less, though) plus hotel and airfare for a month or more of full-time work. It was worth it, but it wasn’t possible to continue. You can’t live on joy, on applause. You can’t eat adoration. You can’t live in a concert hall. And my heart couldn’t bear losing another family after every gig. The universe did her best to keep me going. Who knows, maybe my big break was around the corner, and I just had to hang on a tiny bit longer, just one more audition. I guess I’ll never know.