This week was a whirlwind and I don’t say that lightly. Opera singers are often faced with tough decisions and I was hit with one of my biggest. Even now, I’m still dealing with the repercussions.
As many of you know, my wife Irina and I are expecting our first child. The due date is June 3rd and we both couldn’t be happier.
As an opera singer, it’s incredibly hard to plan time in your schedule for much of anything, let alone a baby.
I turned 40 last year and I’m finally having a baby now because 1.) I found the perfect woman 2.) I’ve finally reached a point in my career where I can balance my family life with my work. Both of which were important to me before having a child.
In order to do this, I had to take an official paternity leave from my career. After my last show with the Canadian Opera Company on May 11th, I planned to stay at home until my next gig with San Francisco Opera starting August 6th (with one concert in July).
After having doggedly endeavored to achieve a full singing schedule for so many years, scheduling this break was very difficult for me to do. This summer will mark my first summer free of work since I was fourteen years old. However, I could think of no better reason to not work.
Another difficult thing for me to do was to cancel an upcoming concert in Dortmund, scheduled for May 31st, in order to be present for the birth. I haven’t canceled a contract in over 10 years.
Turn of Events
Yet in true operatic fashion, the moment I stepped off the plane from my last performance of La bohème in Toronto to my hometown of Minneapolis to start my summer off and get ready for our baby, I got a call from my agent.
He asked if I was interested in singing Zurga (one of my favorite roles) in Bilbao (a major European opera house which is important for an international career) for my full fee (a stress-reliever in providing for my new baby). It seemed like an incredibly important opportunity, but also a huge risk given the timing.
And the kicker? If I was going to take it, I had to catch the next flight to Spain. I looked at my 8 1/2 month pregnant wife in the car next to me. How could I leave her now?
We talked about it thoroughly and within half an hour, I had booked my flight to Bilbao. It was the ultimate sacrifice for both her and me, but we both knew it needed to happen. I left her knowing that I would be 13 hours away from her should the baby decide to come early.
So, now I am here in Bilbao, hoping every day Irina doesn’t go into labor and I miss the birth of my child. We have one more week to go before I return, but this has been one of the most challenging experiences of my entire life.
The Bilbao Effect
With these life-changing events happening in my personal life, I was thrown into a magnificent production of Bizet’s Pearl Fishers at the Bilbao Opera.
During my trans-Atlantic flight, I crammed the role of Zurga (a role I haven’t sung in 11 years!) back into my head and slept as much as I could. After my trans-Atlantic flight, I unloaded my bags at my hotel and then headed straight to the opera house. I rehearsed the staging for 30 minutes, then hit the ground running with a staged orchestra rehearsal. More hotel room cramming and two rehearsals after that, we opened the show.
The pressure was high for me to deliver a world-class performance and I’m happy to say the opening night went exceedingly well. Yet my mind was constantly in another place, and of course, still is.
It greatly helps having a supportive spouse. With every productive rehearsal and successful performance, Irina is there to tell me how proud I make her and our baby.
It motivates me to do even better knowing that I have a family to take care of: that it’s about more than just me. It’s just the spring in my step that I need to finish strongly with these last performances at this incredible house, and then head home to prepare for the birth of my first child.
Signing Off, For a Bit
I’d also like to announce that not only am I taking a break from my career but from this blog for my paternity leave. I’ll be back to regular posts this September.
When I come back, I’ll be a father and I’ll be navigating this career with a baby by my side. In the meantime, thank you for all of your continued support and readership. Wish me the best and hope that baby stays put until I return. I can’t wait to fill you all in!
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