Next week marks my first anniversary with my wife, Irina, and I can’t help but write about love. I’ve learned a lot about this juicy topic over the years, especially the difficulties with love and relationships that come with being an opera singer.
In my blog post 10 Truths About Life On the Road, I lightly touched on the subject. Here, I give an in-depth and deeply personal look into romance and relationships in the opera world, my own relationship, and what it takes to make love last.
What is Love? (🎵Baby, Don’t Hurt Me🎵)
When you find true love, it’s the most glorious time of your life.
So how do you know if you’re in love? The cheesy maxims don’t lie: you want to spend all of your time with that person, and you don’t want to date anyone else.
This person checks all of your boxes, and when you’re with them, that sense of inexplicable magic is alive. It’s a connection. It’s chemistry. And it’s hard for you to believe that you could find someone so interesting and fulfilling. They love you back, they respect you back, and they want to commit to this crazy thing, too.
For opera singers, it can be a little tricky. Love may knock on the door at an inopportune moment, and we have to jump on a plane to rehearse in Madrid. Our intense work and travel schedule is by far the most burdensome part to fostering true love.
If you’re not present for a relationship, it won’t turn into anything. Especially at the beginning of a relationship: you need that foundation to be built by time together. Experiences need to be shared by two people and memories need to be made.
So how do we make it work? We have our ways.
What’s Your Love Lifestyle?
Many opera singers enjoy the natural distance and space in a relationship that their career provides them. Even when they aren’t with their significant other all the time, they are actively a part of each other’s lives. Emotionally, they can be there for each other. Physically, it takes a larger toll, but for them the wait is worth it.
Skype has revolutionized long-distance relationships. There once was a time when I had to buy a 600-minute phone card for 20€ and call a 15-digit code in order to get in touch with a loved one. Nowadays, FaceTime, texting, etc., make it possible to fuel your love for your partner and your entire family by being present. Being able to say goodnight and blow a kiss is a game-changer.
Another option for making love last is for the couple to travel together to all of the singer’s gigs. This is what I do, but more on that later…
Whether you prefer a relationship where you and your loved one are inseparable and hang out all the time, or the independence that a long-distance relationship can provide, the important thing is to find someone who shares that same preference in lifestyle.
That’s why you have to know yourself and what you want before committing to a relationship. And you have to know the other person, too, and accept them for who they are, no matter how much you love them.
The three combinations of couples in the biz are these:
1. Singer and Singer
This is a complex couple, and I don’t mean this in a bad way. The obvious benefit of two artists dating is the deep understanding of each other’s lifestyles and priorities. They have endless material to relate with each other and they share a very intense passion and creative life. An added plus? They can sing duets together!
But be careful: ego may threaten this type of relationship.
Think of it this way. Opera singing is, in many ways, a selfish career. We, as performing artists, set out to succeed individually from a very early age. “I need to be better than everyone else” is a common way of thinking for us. This mindset can result in a self-centered approach to life, which is deadly for a successful relationship of equal partners. I’m not saying that it’s impossible, but a relationship with two of this same mindset has its challenges.
2. Singer and “Normal” Person
On the other hand, dating someone who isn’t in the arts (what I like to call a “Normal” person) has its pros and cons, too. We opera singers are a vulnerable breed, and can be sensitive to the demands of a highly-emotional job. We can become anxious, lonely, or stressed out from various factors of the singing life. And these emotions can be misunderstood if the partner has never experienced what it’s like on the road or on the stage. Empathy from a partner is essential in creating a strong bond and fulfilling relationship. The uniqueness of what we do is at once both a burden and a beautiful thing. And as a result, it’s hard to explain what we go through to “Normal” people.
3. Singer and “Semi-Normal” Person
Quite often the couple combo I see is the singer with a partner who is artistically inclined. These can be instrumentalists, former performing artists, artistic administrators, painters, dancers, etc. This makes for a very understanding and empathetic relationship, while also providing some differences in perspective and interests (though I might be a little biased 😉).
No matter what type of person an opera singer dates, they need a supportive partner.
Striking A Balance
In any relationship, you have to give part of yourself to another person. For opera singers, it’s difficult to find the emotional balance between work and personal life. Too much of either is not a good thing.
For instance, during a 3-week rehearsal period, a singer can’t bury their head in their work that entire time, and expect their partner to be available when they decide to surface. There needs to be some give and take. You can take time for yourself around demanding rehearsals or performances, but afterwards make sure to return that love and patience that your partner gave to you.
The same thing goes for doctors, teachers, or any profession that demands a large amount of your time and energy. You must continue to make your love a priority when you’re out of the office.
My Fair Warning
The opera world can be incestuous.
People you’ve been in a relationship with will keep coming back into your life even though you broke up with them. It’s a little bit like high school: you see your ex walking through the halls or at the school dance and awkwardly try to avoid them, except that now they are in your professional world.
You have to make that switch in your brain and think of them solely in a professional manner. So before you ask someone on a date in the opera world, or start a relationship with them, know that they may be in your life a lot longer than you planned.
Now for the good stuff!
Let me begin by saying something very honest: I am clingy. I want my loved one around me all the time and I’m lucky enough to have found a woman who is willing to do just that. She puts my happiness and my dreams first, as I do for her. She checks all of my boxes and fulfills me in every way. Her views of life and love match mine. Which is a good thing… because I am CRAZY about her!
My career allows us to travel together all of the time. This means that she comes with me to all of my gigs and we spend all of our free time together, too. She freelances as a pianist/vocal coach wherever we are, and she preps me for my gigs. She also fosters her own hobbies in her free time and makes her schedule as she sees fit. This makes a big difference for the relationship, in that one of us is more flexible than the other (hint: it’s not me).
This year, we will spend two nights apart: one for a dress fitting she had for the Grammy’s in Los Angeles earlier this year, and one for a wedding this fall that I can’t go to because of a gig. We joke about how much it kills us to be apart for just 2 out of 365 nights, but it’s kind of true. At the same time, we appreciate the time that we do have apart and how it will only help our relationship in the long run.
An added layer to our relationship is that she is a pianist and opera coach. This is especially wonderful because she understands me on a very deep level: we don’t have to explain too much to each other. We’re perpetually on the same page about life choices, since she understands the business. Plus, we respect and admire each other more because we both have an appreciation for each other’s musical talent. And when it comes to music-making… it’s almost telepathic! There’s nothing I love more than singing with my wife at the piano.
At the same time, spending so much time together can have its downsides. When we’re in a new place, it’s hard for us get to know people right off the bat, and so we’re each other’s only social outlet for a while. As fun as it is to isolate ourselves in our couple bubble, we really should try harder to go out and meet new people when we travel, instead of doing everything with just each other.
The most important aspect of our relationship is that we don’t miss out on any life experiences together. (Not to mention it’s kinda great that I get to come home to somebody after rehearsal!) Because she usually has the time, and enjoys doing it, Irina helps to keep order in our lives. And we both make sure that her needs are being met, too. I know that a lot of opera singers aren’t in this position, so I am very very grateful.
From Sage Meachem
Now for some advice from Ol’ Lucas.
I’ll warn you that this may seem a little weird: taking love advice from a person who’s madly in love with someone is usually unrealistic. When you’re in love, you don’t always see straight.
Real love advice is only good after you’ve loved. That’s when can you look back and realize that the advice is accurate or helpful.
SO! What I’ve learned from my marriage is that love is possible. I love someone with my whole heart. She respects me, trusts me, understands me, humors me, and satisfies me beyond belief–and I do the same for her! Crazy! I literally didn’t think it was possible, and I settled for much less for far too long before Irina came around.
So trust me when I say: that person is out there for you. And not only will they love you, but they will share an understanding of your art and complement your “love lifestyle”. I feel like I need to say this to opera singers in particular, because they have an exceptionally tough battle.
For some real life examples of opera singers who are making love last, here are some couples that I am a big fan of:
1. Bryan and Irini Hymel
2. Paul and Allison Groves
3. Susan Graham and Clay Brakeley
4. Alek Shrader and Daniela Mack
5. Jen Rowley and Ray Diaz
6. Brian Jagde and Jenna Wolf
7. David Portillo and David Lawrence
8. Heidi Stober and Simon Pauly
Whether you’re single, broken-hearted, or happily in a relationship, there are certain pivotal points in your life where you can look back, and take in your experience as a chance to learn.
You come out of every situation, good or bad, more knowledgable about yourself, and about what you want from this beautiful life.
What do you think? Did you find this article interesting, entertaining, or helpful? Feel free to chime in your thoughts on this subject with a comment below.