I can a) quit doing this thing I love and just sit in a corner, or, b) do a diffident, guarded, joyless job of it because I'm hyper-aware of their negative opinions, and making room for their big important opinions is more important to me than my own fulfilment and mental health. (The latter is my default — that's where I'm most likely to go when the self-doubt gets to me.)
I soon learned that cold-shopping an out-of-the-box stage work is a thorny, if not downright impossible, proposition. In the autumn of 2015, I reached out to roughly 200 small- to medium-sized American opera companies. In a 100-word email, I introduced myself and asked for a five-to-ten-minute phone conversation about trends in the commissioning and production of new opera (a subject that obviously interested me but was benign enough for an initial discussion).
Oftentimes, the singers who spend most - or all - of their time singing the tragic operas by Puccini, Verdi, maybe a bit of Donizetti and Gounod, tend to have acting skills that are less well-honed. That's in comparison to singers who perform a lot of new opera, Baroque opera, and subtler stuff by the likes of Britten, Janáček, Shostakovich, and even Wagner and Strauss.
We may feel a bit miffed, but for the people who did find Roker's joke blatantly funny, we are not going to change their minds by shouting "disrespect!" and tsk-tsking them for laughing. If the feared stereotype is that opera is uptight and snoozeworthy, we are not proving them otherwise by telling Roker that he's "embarrassing".
Throughout my freelance life, more often than not, the workload-to-compensation ratio was astronomically out of balance, but it soon became apparent that this was more of the rule than the exception. And of course, most of us accept these conditions because this is how we get work and experience, in the hopes that it will lead to bigger and better gigs where that ratio will hopefully seem a little more civilized.
Unless you are fortunate enough to be a star in high demand you don't have to worry right? WRONG! Even then, you've got bills not limited to agent commissions, AGMA fees, health insurance, travel, rent sometimes in multiple locations and those dreaded gigs that don't line up in the calendar year in a foreign country... even out of state poses challenges depending on your official place of residence.
Frankly, a "bravo" best follows an aria with a great high note near the end, or some stellar coloratura, or one of those spinning-to-the-bitter-end final notes that singers love to do in bel canto. In other cases, where an aria should leave you sunken in your seat, fading out into the sounds of a pin-drop silence, shouting "bravo" is just obscene.
I've heard countless responses to this request, from the benign, "I'm not warmed up," to the passive-aggressive, "Will you perform your job for me afterwards, then?" to the downright aggressive, "I'm not a performing monkey," and have admittedly offered a few of my own responses when I haven’t been in the mood to sing.
Go ahead and get rid of all the music on your phone and elsewhere. When you go into stores, no music will be playing, and you won't be hearing any while you work out at the gym. If you've got tickets to a concert of any kind, throw those out. Musicians are artists, and you won't be needing any of that.
So is it enough to simply lay down Bernstein's words every time tragedy strikes? No. And while beauty is important in art, art also must challenge, alert and stimulate its performers and listeners, opening our minds to new, diverse thoughts, connecting us to our common humanity, reflecting the darkness of our times and motivating us into action. Activists have already started their marches worldwide: the Women's Marches, most recently the anti-wall marches in Mexico, and anti-Islamophobia marches in Toronto.