“As far as the laws of mathematics refer to reality, they are not certain; and as far as they are certain, they do not refer to reality.” - Albert Einstein
Living life and working in this business, only one thing is certain: uncertainty.
Opera companies, symphonies and arts organizations everywhere seem to be in a time of crisis. More shutdowns, more strikes, another company ceasing operations, still more predicting loss and downturn.
I've had two recent lessons, two reminders this year that nothing is fixed and anything can happen at any time. I arrived in Vancouver for Don Giovanni rehearsals on a Tuesday morning in February, completely unaware that less than 24 hours later I would be on a plane headed to Oslo, Norway to jump into performances of L'Amour de Loin, taking the place of an ailing colleague.
You never know. One day you replace the ailing colleague, and the next, you ARE the ailing colleague.
In March, after opening night of Don Giovanni, I caught the virus that took down my entire family in one fell swoop. By the second show my voice was failing, and I was forced to cancel the third when I woke up completely voiceless the morning of the show. I haven't canceled a performance due to illness in twelve years, and it was humbling. Instead of a triumphant and celebratory final performance, I left my old hometown defeated and miserably ill, only able to say goodbye to my castmates via text, email, and Facebook. Not exactly how I imagined it, and a major letdown.
We think we know. We schedule, we sign contracts, we plan, we book travel, we learn our music, and we work. We show up, we rehearse, and hopefully we perform. But nothing is ever certain. Companies shut down. Contracts get canceled. Bad weather sends travel plans into tailspins. We get sick. Our loved ones get sick. We get pregnant. We have kids, and our lives change to accommodate them. Our dreams change. The world changes.
As long as I can remember, the arts have been said to be in peril. I'm a child of musicians. As a child, I saw strikes, lockouts, and bankruptcy plague their organization and many others. Somehow, these challenges were met, and the musicians and organizations alike found a way to continue. It was a childhood introduction to the reality of a life in the performing arts business - so much can and will go wrong. There is never enough money. Has there ever been a time when there was enough? I entered the business with my eyes open to this reality, so it doesn't seem like a new problem.
I began my professional career - earning my living as a singer - in 2001. Of course, we all know what happened in that year. I often hear people in the business cite that event, or the financial crisis of 2008 as the beginning of the end, as the points of no return. Is it true? When have the arts not been in crisis? Not during my lifetime.
In the face of so much uncertainty, how do we carry on?
I have no idea if I'll still be singing in twenty years, or even ten years. My life right now looks so different from how it did ten years ago - who can say? As young singers we all imagine for ourselves a perfectly linear career path where things just keep getting better and better and more exciting, and we accomplish more and more as our career reaches a high and higher level. Oh to be that young and that stupid again! Real life and real careers are rarely that simple. Life is so much messier - and far more interesting.
Right now, I'm preparing for a performance. It's over a month away. If all goes well, if I don't get sick, if I don't fall down the stairs or get hit by a bus or have a family emergency, I'm pretty sure that this performance, this chance to sing Arabella at the Met will be one of the highlights of my entire career. It's hard to know or predict if I'll ever get to do something like this ever again. I should feel a lot of pressure, and yet, as I walk down Amsterdam Avenue every morning on my way to work, I can't do anything but pinch myself and smile, resisting the urge to jump up and down like an excited little kid. I get to go to the Met every day and sing Strauss, beautiful, life-affirming Strauss, with the best colleagues I could ask for! The rehearsal process for opera is often stressful, but this time, I'm thankful for every minute I'm on my feet singing this exquisite music. I wake up excited and ready to go, and I come home thankful. Thankful for this chance, thankful that after two long, silent weeks my voice came back, thankful for my colleagues, thankful that I get to keep doing this mad thing for a living for another day, no matter what the future may hold.