Re-defining myself – again

When I came back to Milwaukee in 1996, I thought I had a pretty good idea of who I had become. I was an opera singer. Period. I also had decent skills as a legal secretary, but that was something I could do, not something I was. It paid the bills for awhile – and when I got a tired of typing, I thought I’d give teaching a shot. I figured it would be a little supplemental income between gigs, but that of course I would continue to audition for things and go off and sing wherever I could.

It didn’t happen that way. I found, much to my surprise, that I really enjoyed teaching. And more than that – I was good at it. Really, really good at it. And as time passed, my performing slowed down. Partly because I wasn’t putting myself out there – partly because this is Milwaukee (’nuff said) – and partly because I got married and changed my name and discovered that people thought I’d left town.

I haven’t sung in an opera in 2003 and everything I’ve sung has been either in English or an English translation. I stopped singing in choruses or church choirs because it interfered with my teaching.

So my definition changed. If someone referred to me as an opera singer, I corrected them and said I was a classical singer. As my interest in contemporary commercial music and the cabaret genre increased, I started to define myself as a singer, as a cabaret artist. And above all that, my professional definition was “teacher.”

I no longer thought of myself as an opera singer and I wasn’t even sure if I could sing in that style anymore, and wasn’t sure that I even wanted to. It is a lot of work to be an opera singer – I would liken it to being a professional athlete (without the salary). You are at a very high level of technical achievement, and you have to keep on top of it consistently. You need to keep in shape and my singing was largely limited to demonstrating scales in other people’s lessons. I thought my opera life was over.

And then – Alan Nathan came to UWM to play for a recital for Melanie Helton. Alan had been my chorusmaster at Washington Opera and a major musical figure in my life. I hadn’t seen him for 14 years and as I watched him play, I remembered, “Oh yeah… I was an opera singer. I sang at the Kennedy Center Open House, I had roles in operas and sang in the chorus of two of the country’s best opera companies. I forgot. That’s who I was.”

And I missed that part of me. So I started thinking about doing a recital next year, just to see if I still had it and thought about it as possibly a farewell performance, at least to the classical repertoire.

In the meantime, I was asked to be on an Opera Plus program this Sunday with the MacDowell Club. I decided to sing two of the Rossini pieces I was contemplating for the “farewell” recital.

Much to my surprise, it all came back. Despite not having sung in Italian since I don’t know when, not having sung in an operatic style since 2001 (there was not enough singing in Viva la mamma to count, really), it all came back to me and boy, did it feel good. I felt at home in my classical voice for the first time since I left Washington. I have no doubt that I will feel the same way in Sunday’s performance.

I am an opera singer. I am also a teacher. I am also a director. I am also a cabaret artist. I am a wife and a puppy mama. I have organizational skills I never dreamed I had.

I don’t know where I’m going with this new (again) definition. Do I go out and audition again? For opera chorus, for roles? I don’t know if I need to do anything. But I know one thing.

I am an opera singer and don’t you (or I) ever forget it.

Published by Mezzoid Voice Studio

Christine Thomas-O'Meally, a mezzo soprano and voice teacher currently based in the Baltimore-DC area, has performed everything from the motets of J.S. Bach to the melodies of Irving Berlin to the minimalism of Philip Glass. As an opera singer and actress, she has appeared with companies such as Charm City Players, Spotlighters Theatre, Chicago Opera Theater, Opera Theater of Northern Virginia, Opera North, the Washington Savoyards, In Tandem Theatre, Windfall Theater, The Young Victorian Theater of Baltimore, and Skylight Opera Theatre. She created the role of The Woman in Red in Dominick Argento’s Dream of Valentino in its world premiere with the Washington Opera and Mary Pickersgill in O'er the Ramparts at its world premiere during the Bicentennial of Battle of Baltimore at the Community College of Baltimore County. Other roles include Mrs. Paroo in Music Man, Mother Abbess in Sound of Music, Dorabella in Cosi Fan Tutte, Marcellina in Le Nozze di Figaro, both Hansel and the Witch in Hansel & Gretel, and many roles in Gilbert & Sullivan operettas. Her performance as the Housekeeper in Man of La Mancha was honored with a WATCH award nomination. Ms. Thomas-O'Meally received an M.M. in vocal performance from the Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore. She regularly attends master classes and workshops in both performance and vocal pedagogy, and is certified in all three Levels of Somatic Voicework™ The LoVetri Method. Her students have performed on national and international tours of Broadway productions, at prestigious conservatories, and in regional theater throughout the country.

One thought on “Re-defining myself – again

  1. thanks christine. have been in a similar situation of not only starting to sing again, but of also getting back into singing opera. quite an interesting endeavor, especially after having been out of the 'field' for so long and not knowing quite what to do with this newly awakened/reconnected ability. look forward to hearing more about your journey…

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