If you’re like me, you’ve had that moment - I had mine on my very first day at the Sarasota Youth Opera. The air was electric; the excitement buzzing through the air was so tangible I could’ve reached out and grabbed it. Our director at the time was circulating the room, welcoming everyone with gentle smiles and warm greetings. Eventually, we settled in our seats with fresh copies of Va Pensiero from Verdi’s Nabucco. Maestro began to play, the chorus began to sing, and I began to cry. At six years old, I had never heard anything so beautiful, so rich and full of life. This was the moment when I realized there was a way to communicate that did not involve my native tongue. This was the moment I fell in love with opera.
I’m a big-picture person. I like impressionist paintings, grand gestures of affection, and occasionally indulging in perfectionist fantasies of the future. In contrast, my (difficult, draining, overwhelming, etc.) undergraduate experience allowed me to understand that an operatic career is not made in grand gestures and perfect high notes, but in small, consistent efforts made in the everyday. I was encouraged to enjoy the rush of opening night as much as the rush of little victories earned in practice rooms, libraries, and studios.
In my degree, I was shown time and time again that opera is not just a performance, but a consistent demonstration of discipline, driven by an unyielding passion for an art form that has the power to move audiences from laughter to tears in the span of a single measure. It is not simply a performance, but a display of the artists’ entire self, left onstage at the drop of a curtain.
Sheesh, can you imagine a more demanding career? Talk about pressure.
If you’re like me, you’ve been looking at our industry with fresh eyes since Covid. You’ve seen artists reach 1 million followers on Instagram, opera houses buckle under financial strain, and massive strides being made in calling out the inequalities in our industry. The question we all seem to be asking is “what’s next?”. We’re waiting in the wings, crossing our fingers and hoping that our industry will move forward with the rest of the world.
What we seem to forget here is that opera needs us. This industry needs our voices, artistry, and dedication if we are to continue doing what we love most. If you’re like me, you see what needs to be changed and know that this generation of singers is the one to change it. Finally, we are asking the right questions, making moves towards a big picture to try and give someone else their “moment.”
The life of an opera singer is tumultuous and unpredictable, and I’m not witchy enough to divine the future from a crystal ball. But we know that there are details we have missed, pieces of our big picture that can no longer be overlooked. We are staring a huge opportunity for change in the face, and fellow artists, it is time we took it.
- Camden McLean