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…