What No One Tells You About Success As An Opera Singer

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© Simon Pauly

You spend hours every day practicing. You put yourself out there for any and every opportunity. Your determination never falters and you have the drive to push through even the toughest moments. You experience a few setbacks as well as a couple of hard-earned accomplishments. You sacrifice things that most people don’t understand. And you keep hoping that someday, something great will happen.

Have you ever taken the time to think of what’s at the end of that rainbow? Of what success looks like and what your life will be like when you achieve your dreams?

There is no guarantee to following your heart and pursuing your dream, and who prepares you for the day that your life actually becomes the dream you pursued for countless years? No one!

So, what happens when your wildest dreams do come true? Will you be ready for it if it happens to you?

When Dreams Become A Reality

Just like any artist, I put in a tremendous amount of focused effort into my career starting from the get-go. I was willing to do anything and go anywhere at any moment. Having the drive and the flexibility to drop what I was doing at a moment’s notice pushed me to achieve every one of my goals.

My first professional goals were to be able to pay all of my bills with my singing, pay off my college debt, be respected by my peers, and make my Met debut by 30.

I’ve reached every one of those goals, and in those moments, I felt like I had made it (whatever that means).

The thing is… those moments quickly fade.

They fade because all of a sudden that drive that got you to that point kicks back in and whispers, “go further.”

That drive that gets you into college and helps you win a small competition, is the same drive that pushes you to get into grad school and established summer programs, and it’s the same drive that takes you to a major Young Artist Program or a fest contract in a small European house or has you singing small roles in major companies, and then gets you singing large roles in major companies. You get me?

That drive doesn’t stop when you achieve your goals because that drive is YOU.

That is part of your passion and part of your art, and all of a sudden it becomes so intertwined with your being that you can’t get away from it. Your drive pushes you further down the road, even after you’ve reached your initial goals because you’re used to the struggle: you’re used to the grind. And I know I said “opera singer” in the title, but this artistic drive is the same for all musicians.

What people don’t tell you is that this drive never goes away.

We’re left with this impression that one day, we’ll reach some magical point in our lives where there’s nothing more to achieve. That we have finally reached the mountaintop. But, that’s not the case.

For me personally, I think every single day, “there’s so much I haven’t accomplished yet!” Then I take a step back and realize I’ve sung at every major opera house in the world. Nevertheless, I still have so much to give as an artist. There are roles inside of me that I have yet to sing, and roles I’ve sung that I haven’t given enough of myself to yet. It becomes a delicate balancing act. I need to appreciate where I have come from while still working towards my future goals in a productive way.

So, just know that someone out there who you think has it all, still wants more.

For instance, I think my buddy Bryn Terfel has it all. He’s got the most glorious voice, a fulfilling career, and widespread recognition for his incredible talent. He, too, in his heart of hearts, wants something more. Who knows what it is but there is something he is longing to achieve. He isn’t kicking his feet up and thinking, “yea, I’m a badass (he is), there’s nothing left for me to do as a singer.” He thinks, “I’d love to sing this role, work with this musician, perform in this venue, record this album,” etc.

The truth is, everyone has room to grow no matter where they are in life.

When Does Practicing Stop?

Practicing in college is sooo different than it is professionally.

In college, I practiced and learned music because I had a deadline. When I first started my career, I practiced because I didn’t want to look like an idiot in front of my peers. Now when I practice I feel, “what can I give to this piece that’s unique and artistically fulfilling? How can I tell this story with a new perspective?”

I practice with the goal of being unique and being true to myself, in the way I sing a role, tell a role, and in the moments I choose to give more and make special.

So, practicing never stops. It just changes into something else and you do that over time.

An Artistic Pat on the Back

With the craziness of this career, I’ve learned that it’s important to stop, smell the roses, and give yourself a pat on the back, or else you may feel unfulfilled one day with this constant drive knocking on your door reminding you there’s more to achieve.

I give myself a pat on the back from time to time, but it comes and goes very quickly. I have to prepare for what’s next and I don’t linger in those moments.

For me, gratitude happens naturally in random moments. It’s when I see names like “Sherrill Milnes” or “Dmitri Hvorostovsky” on my costume and feel the history of a place on my shoulders. It’s when I hear silence in an enormous hall in between my phrases of a cadenza. It’s when I walk out and the audiences rise to their collective feet. It’s when I meet with friends and family after the show.

I’m so happy in those moments, and then a voice creeps in, “You have a gap in your schedule in 2020 that needs to be filled.”

That’s my goal these days: a full schedule and more concert opportunities. And that’s why in the back of my head, I keep thinking about it. It’s my unrelenting drive speaking. And I’m sure when I get to that goal, there will be another goal to replace it (for instance, more time off lol).

The Bow Tie

The artistic drive is a double-edged sword, both positive and negative. Don’t ignore the drive. Accept that it’s there and ride that drive rocket as far as you can.

There is no preset way to a career in opera, but that passion an artist has in their heart to succeed at this career is the same passion that they pour out to an audience on stage and use to change people’s lives. Audiences love to see performers lay it all on the line and they wish they could live just as fully. It inspires them and becomes a guide post for them to find the passion in themselves. It gives us all life, purpose, and the ability to make life what you want it to be.

 


What do you think? Did you find this article interesting, entertaining, or helpful? Feel free to chime in with a comment below.


3 thoughts on “What No One Tells You About Success As An Opera Singer

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