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.