• Schyler Sheltrown

Etiquette: Talking to Opera Singers

Over the years, I've seen some nit-picking about what questions or comments professional singers hate hearing. Personally, I'm less concerned about the distinction between The Phantom of the Opera as a musical or an opera, or about Josh Groban and Charlotte Church being opera singers (thank you both, by the way, for being the "gateway" for so many folks to begin loving classical music!) There are some comments I've heard with a lot of regularity that I'd rather see in a list (and honestly, I can't even believe I have to even make a list about this stuff).

1. I fell asleep during your performance (LoL)

Yep. I've heard this one quite a bit, and without even a hint of apology. Listen, I get it - operas and symphonies are LONG. They require attention and an appreciation for the "slow burn." And some folks aren't up for it, or aren't prepared. Word to the wise - unless I see you sleeping, or unless you're going to at least pretend to be apologetic, then you can keep this one to yourself. Also, if you tell me you can watch the extended versions of Lord of the Rings, or even made it through the entirety of Game of Thrones, then you can make it through an opera.

2. Ugh, I hate opera.

Every time I ask someone why they hate opera, it's because they saw ONE opera they didn't like. Do you hate all movies because of ONE bad experience? I mean, especially considering the conversations I've had with folks who know I've dedicated 10 years of my life and two degrees to this... Big yikes.

3. How long is the show?

I'm not talking about the folks who are asking this because they are trying to plan their day - I'm talking about the people who don't even want to go in the first place, and make you know how put-out they are by having to go. Here are two suggestions I have for this instead: Please, for the love of God, don't go if you really don't want to. OR, if you want to go, maybe ask what happens during such a long performance. No one ever sits for 4 hours straight during a show - there are several planned breaks (the beloved intermission). My husband is not an opera person, but he loved that there was a concessions area at Michigan Opera Theatre when he saw Rigoletto where he could get some snacks, and they even had his favorite brand of bourbon. If you're not willing to submerge yourself in the experience, then maybe catch another show.

4. You have a master's degree and you're a waitress? That sucks.

An old classmate said this to me while I was serving one day and we were catching up. My thoughts? "Uh, yeah. I KNOW. Trust me." You how no idea how badly we want to be singing full time. Getting into full-time singing is not a linear path for everyone. Of course, the plan is almost always to be one of the lucky folks who DO get on that linear path, but then there are a million other journeys. There is no reason to be ashamed of working hard, whether or not that is in your field. I may work a full-time job in an office or serving tables, but then I am also hustling up auditions, submitting applications, etc, which puts me at well over 40 hours per week. Before you judge the person who isn't working in the field which they studied, make sure you know the full story.

5. Have you ever sung at the Met?

When most folks ask this, the implication is that you aren't legitimate if you haven't sung at the Met. Can you imagine how many great singers would be excluded if that was our bar for success? It is a complicated and long process to become a singer at the most prestigious opera house in the world. There are MANY who don't end up singing there, and for many reasons. Of course, I'd love to say I have sung at the Met - maybe someday!

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