Erika Sunnegårdh

Geneva, 15 November, 2010

Today I almost fell prey to the tasteless choice of writing about the writing…About when I write and why, and when I don’t and why not… Thank goodness I stopped myself:-)

It’s time to write, however.

We just opened Elektra here in Geneva. It’s a fun experience – nice colleagues, a lovely house to work in, really wonderful musical leadership by our conductor, Stefan Soltesz,… and, I look like an overgrown child dressed in a meringue! And what’s not to like about that?! (and yes, it’s on purpose!!)
Chrysotemis is proving to be a good role for me. It feels good to sing it, and, it’s sort of a relief to be the side-kick for a change. I still get to sing some great music, and have some serious drama to sink my teeth into, but not being the lead has its advantages. However, I must say, that no other opera I have been in has wiped me out to this degree. There is something inherent in this music, I think. It sort of sucks the life out of you. It’s amazing and exciting, but it leaves you mortified by the end. Maybe that’s why Strauss did a 180 and never wrote anything like it again…

The past few months have been so good. Not good as in “easy”, or good in that it’s all felt or looked good all the time; but you can feel when the river is picking up speed and bringing all things into alignment and flow into the same direction. It’s sometimes really scary to cast off from shore, when everything “out there” seems unfamiliar or fast; but, by definition, you can’t move, grow, change, expand, advance, arrive, spring into, transform or become anything “new” if you are attached to the feeling of being tethered… Even when feeling that gentle, consistent tug of attachment gives you the sensory illusion of safety… or, predictability!

But sometimes it is difficult to distinguish safety from predictability. Fulfillment from familiarity. Satisfaction from the suppression of fear. And the cost of choosing predictability, familiarity and suppression is… Passion. Passion for anything, especially life itself. It dies a fast death in the absence of uncompromising faith, trust and truthful self-expression. And all of these things are risky, uncomfortable, and quite often looked upon as reckless. However, it doesn’t make them less true, or right!

I like the story of the wise men trying to figure out the nature of God. Each of them blindfolded, placed around an enormous elephant, they held out their hands and described what they felt – convinced that their vantage point gave them the truthful and complete “vision” of the Almighty… Isn’t that just a story of what all of us go through every day in every little situation? Aren’t we all just groping around thinking that our experience of the tail, or the leg, or the flank, or the ear, or trunk is the whole truth, and nothing but…?
Most of us don’t sit around thinking we know the complete truth about God, but, most people I know do pontificate their self-prescribed absolute understanding of themselves, their friends, their children, their boss, their spouse or colleague… And sometimes it is a little hard to stand up in the face of everybody’s opinion – if their opinion is about you!

It takes courage. Self-reliance. And being willing to be uncomfortable for a bit, while someone else adjusts to your non-compliance… It takes patience. Patience with the need for predictability that many find in the expression of their opinions… Opinions that may or may not be “the truth”, and very rarely are complete or comprehensive…

Obviously some opinions are good and healthy, both to hear and express – But rarely when they exclude all others, all alternatives, or all other means of expression. It’s a skill, and a supreme display of good intentions, to express an opinion responsibly.

I love the word “responsible”. Playing with it, you could break it down to mean response-able. And expressing an opinion about someone else responsibly could, in a perfect scenario, leave them response-able. As opposed to leaving them defensive – as if they were just attacked:-)

It’s fear vs. freedom. Every minute of every day.

8 August 2010

Airbus 380 from Sydney to London.

I am once again caught fascinated by the turns and developments, or in the case of the past few months, the subtle shifts that can occur that simply alter the entire landscape of one’s life.

If you had asked me when I wrote last – from my horizontal position on my mother’s couch – what is your focus, where do you see yourself in a year, how do you feel about work and career, and most of all, how do you feel about picking up your suitcases another few hundred times…? … You would have gotten a blank stare, I’m afraid.

Frankly, my answers to myself were not only inconclusive, but a bit frightening for someone who has had their sights set clearly for years, and whose entire sense of purpose has sprung from a profound sense of personal will.
What to think when the Will is cowering in the corner, scared to come out to play for fear of the inevitable cuts, bruises, setbacks and confidence busters? And more importantly, how do you convince It that life is worth all the trouble it actually is to meaningfully participate in it?

Why do dogs put their faces out car windows, getting flies in their eyes and a mouth full of dust? For the thrill of it, I guess. To know what it feels like to be alive.
So, bring on the flies and the dust???

My ten weeks in Glyndebourne brought me to a fountain of blissful living and compelling and successful work, but also camaraderie. The combination of which not only soothed my soul and healed my body, but reminded me of some of the things I used to know I needed and wanted and valued; how my system functions at its best. Perhaps it pointed out that I have been too exhausted to provide the very thing I am most about providing – A different way to do life; taking a personal path and allowing it credence on its own merit, finding ways to be authentic in the midst of artifice, and maybe most of all, insisting on remaining a player of the game of consciousness regardless of the arena.

I have realized however, that even I need to learn and build strength in phases and waves, and that my iron will quite often leads me straight to banging my head bloody against the wall when it would be better to back off and re-boot. Growth might be brought on under the heat of pressure, but it is best directed and formed during periods of rest and allowance.

Partially because of being immersed in the American mindset for a long time, and partially because of how my career started, my frame of reference for success has been unduly defined by association with the biggest opera houses. And I guess I am learning that each “type” of house has its own set of features, capacities, strengths and weaknesses. I would like to liken the “top five” to an environment much like a large, deep swimming pool in which everyone is playing water polo. You CAN stay in there and just keep playing and playing, occasionally swimming to the edge of the pool for a quick rest – But ostensibly you’ll need to tread water ALL the time, while trying to perfect your game too.

I’m not a very good water treader, literally or figuratively. It’s good to know this about myself. I like drying off and treading firm ground, feeling the grass between my toes and getting close to other humans whose arms and legs aren’t always busy flailing about trying to keep them afloat. Sometimes some other game is nice – still intense, fully engaged and requiring comparable excellence, but with time to enjoy the breeze and the sun, and even the occasional encouraging hug or pat on the back from people whose focus is not entirely on their own survival of their environment…

Sound like a cop-out?

I think that’s what I’ve been struggling with over the past year – My own judgments about where the “real” game is being played. What I’m beginning to see and appreciate is the vast offering of playing fields. And the people who are keeping their eyes on a different set of balls. Wanting to play a tough game of polo is actually enhanced by time out of the pool. And admitting that, even to my harshest inner critic, is a breakthrough.

I recently heard Brian G Dyson, CEO of Coca Cola quoted from his Georgia Tech Commencement speech. He said something like, life is made up of categories represented by balls that you juggle – one each for health, spirit, family, friends and work/career. The most important thing to recognize is that while the work/career ball is made of rubber, all the others are made of glass.

In the case of an artistic career, I would venture to say that the stakes get even higher, as the career rarely is a ball that bounces back easily, and in the case of many of us, it appears as much made of glass as any other. But, I agree with the basic idea though – without the other balls intact, trying to keep work afloat mid-air is meaningless and hopeless.

Another lovely result of working at Glyndebourne was the continuous experience (4 weeks rehearsal+12 shows) of how the voice responds so easily to a perfect acoustic of the right size for me. The equation “role+house=result” is always true. Singers with a more traditional career path have the opportunity to learn this early in their careers before the stakes are terribly high, but when you start at 38 and time is limited, and the market is what it is, you make some choices that a longer career wouldn’t need to risk.
It’s always a need/opportunity/risk/gain consideration, isn’t it?
The past few months of re-examination have brought me to a place of great appreciation for the vast majority of the choices I have made – and an even greater appreciation for how, and that, I handled and survived the ones I could have made differently.

I truly believe there are no “wrong” turns in life. In a career with a particular projected path, sure…. But not in life! And I always try to see my career as part of my life path, not the other way around.

I recently saw a talk by a 40-year old Indian woman who has dedicated her life to saving women and children out of the sex-slavery trade. She, herself, was gang-raped at the tender age of fifteen. To date she has saved more that 3000 women and children (as young as 3-4 years old), and she believes it is her own nightmare experience that gives her the ability to empathize, create trust, and ultimately provides her with credibility in transforming the conversation surrounding the sex trade – both politically and from the inside perspective of the most vulnerable victims of violence and a stigmatized topic.

Not all of us go out and save the world in such a clear and easily recognizable way. But all of us affect change and build futures. All of us have to be responsible for what comes out of our mouths and what the result is of our actions. And one way for me to try to be and do all that I can, is to learn the greater lesson available in each experience, and to transform whatever negativity I may carry into positive thought, feeling and action.

In the arts, it is so very easy to buy into one of two prevalent patterns: One, that the classical arts are an expensive luxury sport with little or no social value, or two, that the only way to be socially conscious as an artist is to give it away for free in all the situations where politicians and budget makers have deprived humans of all of the softer values in life. Both of these leave artists misunderstood and grossly undervalued.

Great art cannot be free any more than food, shelter, education or medicine. It does not appear out of nowhere. And it is not generated out of, or in the service of, the lowest common denominator. It is as advanced in its structure and preparation as is science or finance or for that matter, the war machine. We keep the military machine going even in peace time – just in case… Well, we might want to keep the arts going too – just in case we come to our senses and raise more of humanity out of the gutter.

The classical arts are less elitist now than ever in history. More “common” people are enjoying our public theaters than have ever had the opportunity before.

Hans Rosling, a Swedish expert on population growth, third world development etc, gave a great speech at the TED.com conference this year. He talks about all the parts of society we deem either necessary or not. He talks about means vs. ends. And makes a great case for the idea that while education and health care etc., are means of forwarding the interests of human survival and development, the arts and culture are the ends. I love his ability to see the severity of the tasks that lie before us as humans trying to create a better world, without losing his sense of humor, appreciation and focus on the goal; as well as his own personal participation in the very thing that will need to be expanded in scope, not diminished – Culture!
Go to www.ted.com to watch his talk.

Very recently I met two men who restored an experience to me that I haven’t had in a very long time: Being supported, seen and appreciated as “girly” female friend, as an artist, and as a feminine force of nature, all at once. Not sure that’s what they meant to do, but that’s what I felt. And I am most excited about that. It’s a self-image that leaves room for both heavy-hitting water polo AND exploring the softer processes.
And ultimately, the balance I am seeking lies somewhere in the combination of fulfilling my ambitions and allowing the Universe the freedom to teach me how to be more complete, full, soft and present – Something that willful ambition alone cannot provide.

It’s a good place from which to start a new season. I am excited!

Anything is possible!

Stockholm, 5 May 2010

Yup. I’m still sick. In fact, as soon as I thought I was out of the woods, it got worse. And I can’t even really claim ash-cloud asthma or three-day train rides through Europe as my excuse. I drove and flew, and arrived in Stockholm for concerts – just in time for strep throat and a relentless fever.

Canceling. Hm. I’ve never done that before, and frankly, IT SUCKS LEMONS! And I’m not just saying that because of the loss of revenue (Ouch!!!); or for that matter because I have some morbid fascination with reliving questionable job situations, in my case Vienna. Though actually, I had come up with a bunch of reasons for why it would be a great learning experience and was sooooo ready to throw myself right back in there. (Nothing like brain-washing yourself into an adrenalin rush!)

Nope. None of that can hold a candle to the intense sense of failure and worthlessness one feels when one cannot make a sound with those odd little fleshy things in the throat. Considering that they slam together about a million times on any given day, it’s a miracle they’ve never protested before.

But, let’s face it — Sick vocal cords do not get a lot of sympathy from normal folks…

On the other hand, lying in the emergency room with fever chills, throbbing headache and exploding stomach pains due to the medication – being told by a 12-year-old doctor that there’s nothing he can do for you — well, that can really take some of the air out of your sails. Absolutely nothing like it for making you feel like an ordinary citizen. (Just in case you’d thought yourself special…!!)

In any case, I finally woke up this morning fever-free for the first time in what feels like weeks. It didn’t last all day, but at least I actually felt some sense of hope even though I still have to grab on to things when standing up…

Being sick, and particularly being forced to rely on the help of other people just to manage the basics (Thanks brothers and mom!) is a very humbling experience. A kind of re-boot of the computer. It resets all the gauges and makes some of the finer and softer qualities in life come into focus, and other, more punchy ambitions are reduced to their proper and proportionate place.

But also, I was reminded today – by my mom’s dentist (!!) – that only people with a special talent or inner purpose get to do this kind of special creative job in life. That it is not a normal job — and not one to be taken for granted. She asked, “After everything, are you content?”…

So what is this fragile and precious balance between strength and sensitivity, vision and acceptance, ambitious competence and humility, relentless self-expression and generosity… ferocity and love?

I know I need it all. Some of it to survive the world, some of it to survive my conscience. All of it to learn and teach and live a life worthy of itself.

Yes. I am content. I was content years ago. Everything else is icing…

Venice, 11 April 2010

The sun is shining!
That’s always a good sign, isn’t it?

I am battling through what must be the worst cold and flu season to date. It’s actually easier to count the weeks I’ve been well than those completely dominated by my runny nose, achy body, hoarse throat and complete lack of momentum. I’m sure there are people out there who know how to push through these kinds of things — I am just so unused to being sick, I feel like a fish out of water.

But I also think that sometimes our bodies do stop us dead in our tracks when in fact we need to stop dead in our tracks…

I’ve been trying to listen to that part of me. Taking stock of the year that has passed, and looking forward to what’s ahead.

A few things come to mind.

I took a self-development course years ago (10, actually. Wow!) at Landmark Education. It had everything to do with leadership (in your own life and at large); about achieving results with integrity; about living your life informed by the past, but not bound by it; and about creating a future that turns you on and calls forth the best and most organic “you”. About setting yourself up for the amazing ride that life can be, when you have goals and wishes in mind, but also have the audacity to ride the wave of inspiration with freedom from expectations.

Anything can happen.

I remember one of the teachers there explaining how your past can get in the way of a happy future with the following analogy:

When you are born you are like a kid in a clear, blue swimming pool. Happily splashing around, jumping in recklessly, taking the risk of an occasional gulp of that clear and clean water. There is no fear, but only joy and playfulness and an insatiable desire to BE THERE!

As time goes by with all life’s little gifts — teenage-hood, school, hormones, dreams and failures — you end up sharing the pool with randomly scattered unprocessed piles of poop.
Each pile representing the feelings of inaptitude, regret, sadness, fear, humiliation, anger or whatever else which life, without fail, bestows on each of us.

The question is not how we can avoid getting poop in the water, the question is, what do we do with it once it’s there…?

One way to deal with it is to simply get out of the pool, and give up swimming, and playing, and having fun — and retire to sitting in the stands and watching others float and splash and dive with abandon…

The other involves taking on the temporary discomfort of getting close enough to each pile of debris to scoop it out and deposit it where it doesn’t inhibit or spoil any of the play the pool can offer.

Easier said than done, apparently.

I didn’t really understand until recently just how disillusioned I became in Vienna in December. “I should be over it by now”, I’ve told myself.
And yet, here I find myself, four months later, feeling like there’s a GIANT pile of poop in my near future — one that seriously inhibits my sense of fun around the prospect of going back to Vienna to sing Lady Macbeth again.

It is not the singing of the part that scares me. I love her. And I love singing this music — even with its challenges and pitfalls.

It has been said that only two things seriously motivate human beings in a fearful way: Death and Humiliation.

Death we cannot do anything about. It will be when it is. As Eckhart Tolle says, “When it comes, it will be Now”…

But humiliation is another thing. We CAN go through life trying to avoid it. And, for many people humiliation comes in small forms — they seem big to us, but they go away relatively quickly.
As a performer, the threat of humiliation is rather big, however. And as much as we can train ourselves to ignore our fears, most of us have at least a few of the classic recurring nightmares of music not learned, clothing missing, being late, trap doors opening at the wrong time, or, simply being booed.

Welcome to our world.

It is only when knowing your own emotional wiring, and keeping your own expectations well directed, that you can regenerate your sense of play and childlike enthusiasm for the job. And that elusive yet absolutely vital, sense of humility in the face of doing a blessed and never to be taken for granted task. Singing for a living. Praise be!!

(I will get around to my point soon…)

I was recently reminded of the very prevalent tendency in our business of seeing any success in the present as a stepping stone to something else – something bigger and better in the future. The colleagues I know who have been in the business a long time don’t do this. Obviously because they have an enormous frame of reference of what it means to be successful in the business, but I think more importantly, they have come to understand the importance of being exactly where you are when you’re there! For the good of the art form. And for your own sanity and peace of mind.

I did an interview in the US a few years back, and one of the things the journalist was the most interested in was where I could take this role next, now that I had tried it out at a small regional company. That to me is absurd (and I told him so!). Not because it’s not possible or even wise to take on a role for the first time somewhere sort of off the radar, but because there is a paying audience wherever you go. And, in some of those places, the most important work you ever get to do actually takes place. Like inspiring new audiences, or keeping great opera happening in a small town. Not to mention that you get paid to do a job – one that is sorely coveted by hundreds, if not thousands of other, by definition more painfully struggling artists. A lot of whom are pretty great…

The only thing that matters to the audience is ultimately that you are committed to being where they are — HERE NOW! And it should be the only thing mattering to any of us too!

It’s life’s biggest lessons and cliches:
– The grass isn’t ever greener anywhere else!
– Wherever you go, there you are!
– As your potential for success grows, so does your potential for failure.
– AND, the air is hotter the higher you go…

OK. So this brings me back to my own sense of disillusionment.
First, you have to be ILL-usioned in order to be DIS-ILL-usioned.

So, thank God for the grace of being disillusioned.

Somewhere in life I (and many others with me) picked up the completely useless idea that circumstances in life make you happy. And if they don’t, then change them. Or blame them. Or damn them. Or just use them as an excuse for the perpetual state of bitchyness that for some strange reason exists in many circles as a cool end in and of itself.

Maybe, just maybe, the trick is to be happy no matter what…?

We are shaped by our circumstances — And our beliefs about ourselves are too. But, there is always another way to interpret.

Close up, any circumstance can be overwhelming. But, if we can take the time, and have some faith in the process, we can also allow ourselves to pan out, to see the bigger picture — to attempt to inhabit our life as a whole — and then get a greater sense of the purpose, or depth, that a particular set of circumstances give us access to.

I really hated my circumstances in December. And I’ve resisted seeing the point of them ever since (although there have been moments of light and clarity revealing a hint of something bigger).
But when I think of my life as a whole — of my future into old age (yup, it’s going to happen…!) — I see myself as a teacher, writer, a person in some sort of leadership position in the arts and culture. And, how could I possibly speak or have insight into the nature of any of that without personally having experienced light and dark, success and failure, admiration and rejection, friend and foe, trust and deception, comfort and dis-ease?

I have had an amazing number of great successes in my career. And I feel grateful for those. And the same must apply to the difficult experiences. I know my part in each of them — and I appreciate the part that other people play — both in giving me a boost, as well as giving me the opportunity to grow and deepen. And to continually soften my core — no matter what!

Being in a defensive mode of resistance doesn’t really blend well with being happy, does it??

The criticism I received over singing Lady M has led me to reevaluate many things, and certainly, one is my choice of repertoire. And that led me down another interesting path of self-discovery.

I noticed during my shows in Vienna, that first of all, the booers were men. There may have been a few women in there, but, the really pesky ones that came back more than once, were men.
However, among the people who came to the stage door, most particularly the novices of stage door etiquette (i.e. the ones that patiently waited outside, away from the doors, for a quick word as I was walking home — not asking for an autograph!!) — those were mostly women. And, bless them, they gave me strength to go on, as they expressed, teary-eyed, that they’d never seen a Lady M that broke their hearts before. That they were moved, not disgusted.

This is a comment I have gotten more than a few times over the past few years, for characters that rarely solicit a charitable response: Salome, Turandot, Lady M.

I also realize that there is something in the iciness, the brutality, the wretchedness of these women that attracts me. Somehow, I think I’ve decided that because they are difficult and so often depicted as ugly, it would be “safe” to take them on, with my particular blend of voice, vulnerability, feistyness and abandon…

I have completely backed away from trying to compete among the beautiful, sweet, womanly voices that grace opera houses all over.
And yet, here I find myself bringing those very qualities to these rough characters. They are, after all, feminine first. Scorned and damaged, second. Redeemed or unraveled, third.

I sort of know something about all of those things.

Hm.

After my two wonderful and successful experiences singing Salome at the beginning of the year, in Bologna and Munich, I went on a three-week long vacation to South Africa.

With friends, I traveled by car out to the Indian Ocean to go camping on a beach in Mozambique and go dolphin swimming. The nature there is astounding and beautiful — and so completely wild and undisturbed. It was a feast for the senses, and a shocking reset of the gauges of how nature should be treated and valued.

I am a water person. I am happiest by the sea, and I really do not fare well during long absences from it. However, I have never thought of myself as a strong swimmer, or terribly comfortable in the water. But I grew up by the North Atlantic. And the Baltic.
I don’t know if you’ve ever spent any time in these, but they are cold, dark, massive, often riddled with ice. The Atlantic particularly, is fierce in a very uninviting way — unless you are strong, proactive, fierce, knowledgeable, competent, and lets face it, fearless!

The Indian Ocean however, is transparent, clear and warm. It is still huge and fierce and completely awe-inspiring, but its attraction lies in its enveloping warmth and playfulness. There is time and space and safety. People and animals go to PLAY there!

On the first day, we encountered a super-pod of dolphin, about 35-40 of them. As I slid into the water (although I fear it was more of a pfloomfpshhh!!), and swam along, about 6 or 8 of them swam about one meter below me, swimming toward our guide for an unadulterated fun romp — twirling and circling and jumping happily at the joy of reuniting with her.
They were enjoying the sea all on their own, and they welcomed us for playtime when we came along too. It’s their space, and they either choose to share with you — or not!

But, there was never a moment of fear or discomfort in being in this body of water. It is, in its essence, inviting. Comforting. Attractive. Enfolding… Feminine!

I realized that, in the right waters, I am not a bad swimmer at all.
That in clear, warm waters I easily use my flippers and snorkel to dive down to participate in the world below, only to return to the surface and blow the water out of my snorkel and keep on going — Just like the dolphin do.

Having the capacity to buckle down and navigate the dark cold waters on its terms gives you a certain level of raw confidence. What doesn’t kill you… doesn’t kill you! — as my therapist used to say.
But, it is also good to become acquainted with your own most sweet and easy gifts, in their own habitat.

Merging masculine and feminine in a dance of self-expression is at the core of all creativity. And to do that one can’t hide or put aside one aspect in favor of another.

I found my girly, playful heart in the warm and forgiving hands of the Indian Ocean. Nothing to prove. Just be.

And I have faith that if I can bring my Atlantic masculine fierceness and ambition, as well as my Indian feminine heart and warmth with me into these next few months, I will be able to give what I came to give — to sing to those individuals sitting in front of me – now!

I love my job. And I am so appreciative of ALL the opportunities I continue to be given. I really do always give all that I am to it. That’s just how I am wired. And I am so tickled that it’s all ever expanding!

Venice, New Year’s Day, 2010

I am appreciative of the simple and gentle things!

It’s been an extremely challenging and trying final month of the decade, and I am ever so glad to have come through it, with relative sanity intact and what I hope is not too many nasty or lasting bruises.

I write this as a commentary on my first ever experience of being booed. The recent production of Verdi’s Macbeth at the Vienna Staatsoper was no hit with the premiere audience or with the critics, to say the least. Nor was I.

There are a million variables one could bring up in such a discussion: everything from daring to debut a new role in Vienna, to taking on a role traditionally sung by heavier voices; having a novice conductor, to a disliked director; political outbursts against management, to opera house rivalry… The list goes on…

After the opening night (a night after which the Sun still miraculously rose!!), someone said: Oh, the only thing worse would have been if you actually couldn’t sing!

Yes, I do console myself with the deepest knowledge in my bones – that I know how to sing and act this role. Apart from the premiere, during which all of us felt like Gladiators fighting it out under the constant roar of the Romans, the show grew and developed in every way. Newsflash!! We sing better while not being yelled at!!!

After six performances, I know that this part fits my voice from my perspective; I don’t get tired, it keeps getting easier, I can play with it vocally, and most of all it’s fun!
I may not have the size and color voice that some people think they want (or in fact DO want!), but that’s the whole point of opera, isn’t it? Hear ten different sopranos sing it, and let yourself be moved, or not.
I still contend that if you could actually find ten sopranos with gigantic, dark-hued voices who were able to sing all the notes in this score, it would not have taken three world class opera houses so long to find me… I am NOT a traditional Lady, but I don’t take casting advice from the stands. Sorry!

At a dinner a few nights ago, when the subject of audience violence upon performers (in the form of booing) came up, one of the people at the table said: “Tough! If you get up onstage, you’d better be willing to take whatever the audience gives you — That’s your job!”

I could not disagree more. Not because I don’t think the audience has a right to have any opinion they choose — they do! And not because I think performers should be protected from audience feedback — I don’t. But, I question the wisdom and expertise of these particular, so called theater and opera lovers, who vomit their discontent and political agendas, without any regard for the fallout or consequences.

I believe there are many, far more creative ways to show ones’ discontent with what goes on onstage. Resorting to non-verbal, or at best monosyllabic grunting, must be the least cultivated, civilized, and attractive behavior imaginable.

But, as uncultivated, and certainly in my experience, non-viable and non-respectable as these “shows” of opinion are, they damage the very art form they profess to champion; and they terrorize the remaining vast majority of the audience into a guarded and passive state at worst, and a violent opposition at best.

No one is really there, present, experiencing the performance in all its glory — or all its mundane mediocrity — whatever the case might be.

The effects on the rest of the audience have been clearly displayed to me, through friends and the playing out of professional circumstances. Professionals, with a less than developed personal set of eyes and ears, are influenced in negative ways, wherein they are incapable of actually discerning what really happened and why.
And family and friends are, in a word, heartbroken.

But, the view that I have come to know personally in the past month is that of the individual performer who gets yelled at. Or booed, as we so flippantly call it.

I would like to call it what it is: An attempt on the artistic life and heart of the performer; a deliberate action to humiliate, subjugate, control and ultimately violate the artistic abilities and future aspirations of the performer.

It is a public execution of the artist.

It breaks your heart – or to be more specific – it broke mine!

It does not make you stronger — it makes you a survivor at best, and an ex-singer at worst.
It does not open your heart to the depths of self and vulnerability that are necessary for true artistic expression — It beats you within an inch of your life and causes you to never want to share yourself again.

If we want performers who are too scared to take interpretive risks, too shallow to dive into the unknown and uncharted versions of a score, too aware of the pain of falling — not just in a risky artistic moment, but for fear of being ridiculed as well…. Well then, please, let’s ALL just scream at anyone of whom we don’t like the color, size, age, nationality, vocal color, coloratura articulation, posture, name, voice teacher, husband, wife, boss, etc, etc, etc….

And if we indeed want more hardened and guarded artists, artists who can “successfully” sing while simultaneously giving the audience the virtual (middle) “finger” during performance, then by all means, let’s continue this madness.

I am not one of those people. And I refuse to succumb to the defeat that so many people around me keep preaching: “Just sing and go home and cash the check!”
That got me through shows #2 and #3, but ultimately leaves me cold and corrupt in spirit.

I did not come all this way, through all those jobs in which I spent less than all of who I am, to this career of privilege and joyous creation, to see my heart and purpose crumble beneath the selfish and misguided outbursts of a pitiable group of individuals.

The world is full of ugliness and murder, destruction, small-mindedness, hatred and strife.

I think most of us can agree that the world of music and theater should not, and cannot afford to have such low standards.

Our “job”, contrary to what I was told over dinner, is not to “take whatever the audience gives us”.
Rather, we are here to be the interpreters, vessels and conduits of inspiration. To be the instruments of the creative vision of directors and conductors. To lend our hearts and spirits and bodies to the task of embodying the very life force that “normal” people need as sustenance for going out into the real world, and SAVING IT from the worst of our human condition.

Consolation, beauty, provocation, reprieve, entertainment, catharsis, joy!
THAT is our JOB!

But, we must, and have every right to demand something in return:

Respect for the instrument of creativity — Our souls and hearts!
Faith in, and acceptance of, our process!
Enthusiasm and anticipation for what we can offer in the future!

For THEIR sakes, not our own!

Yes, I am an idealist. But you can only be an idealist if you truly comprehend what it means not to be. We cannot afford one, single more person to buy into this nonsense. And believe me, just simply standing still in the face of it is not the path of least resistance.

I will keep deepening and expanding my own powers of forgiveness and mercy. And just to be clear, that does not involve any virtual, or real, f*** you’s!

No matter how tempting…