The Introvert's Opera

The Introvert's Opera

Jenna Simeonov

Opera has this air about it that screams, "I am grand! I am big and loud! I am epic and serious!" Even comic opera has a dignified energy about it, and the singers onstage have no choice but to command the audience's attention. A similar idea exists about the people who make opera, like the spotlight-loving singers, the excitable directors, the magnetic conductors. They're all larger-than-life, and people like Jessye Norman, Carlos Kleiber, and Christopher Alden are examples of opera's extrovert personality.

The last time I attended a COC event to cover an upcoming show, it occurred to me how lucky I was to have found not one, but two ways of involving myself in opera without having to absorb much of the attention. I'm an introverted person, and I think it's one of the reasons I was so drawn to being an opera coach and répétiteur. I could witness every single rehearsal, work with the singers and put a bit of my own musical aesthetic into the show, and then stand back and watch it all happen. Since I've started, I've been able to sit in on even more rehearsals, ask questions of the creative staff, and show all the fascinating backstage stuff to readers. On top of it all, I still get to see the show.

Actually, opera is a fantastic industry in which to be an introvert. Those flashy singers are a small proportion of the team of people it takes to put up an opera. Assuming people fit into two broad groups, extroverts and introverts, I'd put most of the coaches, stage managers, designers, and orchestra musicians into the latter group. It's not even that hard to think of a few opera directors and conductors that are really introverts at heart. Of course, not every opera singer needs everyone's attention all the time, but part of their skill is the ability to turn on that side of them while at work. Not everyone can do that, and lots of those people are working behind the scenes of an opera, doing jobs that are pretty cool in their own right.

Designers get to create costumes, sets, lighting, all without setting foot onstage, and music staff get to do most of their fun work before opening night. Stage managers get to cue entire shows, all while backstage, dressed in black, because they have to stay invisible, inaudible, and unobtrusive. Doesn't that sound amazing? I may be wrong, but I doubt that the majority of people who work behind the scenes of opera actually wish they could step onstage and take a bow.

When I've done opera school tours, they include Q&A sessions where the students can ask us questions. Inevitably, the questions lead to some permutation of, "Can I do opera, too?" It's a perfect chance to talk about becoming a singer, but myself and our stage manager also get a chance to speak up about our roles in creating opera. I'm not one to discourage budding singers, but I assume I wasn't the only quiet, shy kid in elementary school; those shy kids might love the idea of working backstage in theatre.

Consider all that grandness, the next time you go and see an opera, and how it is so often born not out of flashy, loud folks, but out of the minds of quiet, thoughtful people. Shy pianists, designers, organized people, the opera probably needs you all.

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