Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Preparing For a Role: What to Expect of What’s Expected

The excitement is in the air, a ray of sunshine is shining brightly upon you, and some people may even think you’re glowing. Could it be … you’ve accepted a role with a young artist program, new company or, better still, a compramario or main stage role with a professional company? Now the ball is in your court; someone has taken an interest in what you could bring to the table, but do you know what that means you’ve agreed to?

Performance fees are low, and young artist training programs are expensive. The expectations of those who have put their faith in you to bring their audiences an amazing production now lie in your ability to commit fully to doing just that. Think about this for a minute: The people, who have hired you or invited you to perform for them, trust you to be outstanding. Their jobs and reputation depend on you holding up your end of the bargain.

So what’s expected? First of all, you must be prepared. This word may mean many different things to different people, depending on where you are in your life experience, so let me lay it out for you. Being prepared musically means having the score memorized. Not just your notes, but the rhythms, tempos, style, technique, language and interpretation. In order to achieve this type of preparation you must have the drive to work with those who can help you reach this goal. Train with the best. School is only the beginning of your training as an opera singer. Practice everyday and record yourself.  Be intensely and constructively critical so that you can fix what needs to be fixed. Practice smarter, not harder.

Every minute you’re not doing these things to prepare, someone else is. Someone else in the very minute that I am writing this article is practicing with intense focus and determination to be the best.  It takes extreme dedication and sacrifice to really give it everything you have and be the most prepared that you can be, and this is what is expected. Becoming prepared will inevitably cost money. Scores, recordings and coaches are not cheap, but they are necessary in helping you achieve these goals.

Sing because you love it, not because you can afford it. Once you’ve memorized the score, test yourself. Opera singers need more than dedication in order to perform a role. Your brain has to be able to no longer think about the music, but concentrate on the staging, props, costumes and other performers. Singers are expected to come with the skill set that allows them to adapt to change quickly. It is necessary to have thought about your character and have your own ideas about how you would like to play that role, but it is expected that you can, and will, adjust quickly to match and collaborate with the director’s vision. Musically, you need to be able to receive a note from the conductor and make a change to your ornamentation or other style choices in the very instance they’ve asked for the change. That brings us to the next point.

 Be a good colleague. Read your emails and respond in a timely manner. Be ready to provide headshots, bios, costume measurements, shoes, costume pieces, hairpins and your own make-up — whatever is required to make the show a success. If you’ve agreed to sing a role, then you’ve agreed to do whatever is necessary to make it the best show the audience has ever seen.

Show up on time; be courteous and grateful for the opportunity. Opportunities are few and far between. If someone has crawled out on a limb for you and handed you a branch, be grateful and mindful of the people behind the scenes making everything possible for you to live out your dream as an opera singer.

It is a gift and a responsibility to ensure that you show up fulfilling your end of the agreement. Do you want to be re-hired or recommended for other work? This business is too small and too demanding not to make sure you do everything in your power to be the best you can be. 

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Five Tips for Flying on a High Note

It’s that time of year again! Summer programs are right around the corner and many of us are trying to keep a tight budget while traveling. Luckily, Sexi Soprano has plenty of tips to keep you savvy in the sky. We all know how costly cross-country and abroad flights can be, especially if your gigs or summer programs are pay-to-sings!
1. Booking Websites. Sign up for a monthly newsletter with a website such as, and/or has a fantastic “Mix and Match” button that allows you to pick and choose your flights to find the cheapest ones, regardless of airline.

2. Booking Tips. Booking your flight eight to six weeks out is always the best window for finding a cheap deal, whether you buy directly from an airline or from an online travel agency like Expedia. Always fly on a weekday if at all possible. Weekday ticket prices are always much cheaper. Prices for tickets can change up to three times a day, but some websites will raise prices if they see you returning and searching a flight twice in a row. Always remember to clear your cookies before returning to a site. Just remember that to win, you should fly and buy on Tuesday and Wednesday (to win: Tue/Wen - get it?). If you have to fly while overseas (especially Europe), use a native airline. Companies like Ryanair can get you great deals.

3. Airline Benefits. If you fly frequently, find an airline you love and join their frequent flyer rewards program. I have personally found Delta’s SkyMiles plan to be a lifesaver (and money saver)! Those miles can add up. “Like” or “follow” airline companies on social media outlets such as Facebook and Twitter. They often post deals on their pages.

4. Pack a Snack. If your flight isn’t providing a meal or a snack (or if you hate stale pretzels), bring a snack to keep you going for the duration. You never know when you will be hungry! Always pack a reusable water bottle (empty, of course) to take with you on the plane and in the airport. You can save up to $5 per refill by avoiding buying a drink at the airport.

5. Communication. In the event of a cancelled flight or a pushed back audition time, call your airline. It is possible to exchange your flight time for free. Just put a smile on, take a deep breath, and sweet-talk your way into a free ticket exchange!

Hope this little guide helps every Sexi Soprano when booking flights to every competition, summer program, and audition coming your way!

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Elizabeth Caballero, Soprano: A Diamond Now Polished

When The Mariel boatlift exodus left Cuba some years ago, it carried a young Elizabeth Caballero to American soil.   The emigration seemed to plant her in just the spot in which she was meant to be: Miami, Florida. Her musical journey in the sunny city began with high school choirs and glee clubs, followed by working the box office selling tickets at Florida Grand Opera. From the box office she climbed her way up the ladder and sang in the chorus and a few years later, the well-known and prestigious young artist program. Finally at the top, FGO began to hire her as a principal artist, singing dream lyric soprano roles such as Countess, Liu, Mimi and Magda. This is her truly fantastic story, of starting at the very bottom and working hard to reach the top.   

 After seeing, in person, her delicious interpretation of Cio-Cio San, I can see why there is so much attention being given to this gifted soprano. I was delighted to find out that she not only captivated me on the stage, but in person as well. Listening to her speak, with hints of a Cuban accent and a fun loving, and infectious laugh, I was again left captivated as she took me through stories of her career. When I asked about her favorite moment of her career, she didn’t even hesitate before telling me about applying for the Pavarotti competition.  

 “I don’t know what I was thinking, with one year of voice training and here I am filling out this application to sing for this guy who I heard was a big deal in opera. I didn’t even know what I was doing!”

Her courage paid off. Out of 2000 he chose her to be one of 100 finalists that went to sing for him in the finals in Philadelphia. Elizabeth watched as her colleagues took the stage with Pavarotti listening in back and speaking into his “god microphone”. He would let the singers sing their first piece and then he would coach them a bit and give comments.  

“When he came to me, I remember at one point in my second aria he said ‘Elizabeth, you are a diamond that just needs to be polished.’ Whenever I have a bad day I just remember that this man who was probably one of the greatest tenors ever to walk on the face of the earth, who had a voice that sounded like sunshine; thought that I was something special. ‘A diamond that needs polishing? How much better does that get?”

Though she didn’t win this competition, she explains that it is the most pivotal moment in

her career. She had the confirmation she needed to jump into opera with full force. When Pavarotti died in 2007, Elizabeth had been performing nationwide with great success; still with his words in the back of her mind.

 “When I heard of his death I was making my debut at New York City Opera. It was sad because I wanted to meet him again and tell him how much those words meant to me. It meant that he gave me that courage to go and pursue it [opera] further. After that competition, I went to school and then launched my career.”

 Elizabeth is no stranger to the hard work and tenacity it takes to be successful in an operatic singing career. She has sung in the choruses and pushed, and fought and struggled through like the rest of us to get to her dreams. Having experienced that, she still believes that singers should rise above the perception that being a singer is too hard or impossible.  

 “Anything you do in life is hard work, whether you are a doctor or lawyer. Nothing is ever easy. But I don't think you should ever stop trying to accomplish and reaching your dreams because it seems too hard. It’s all hard, no matter what you decide to do in life. You have to work for it. Singing has its unique challenges just like any other field, but that is not a reason to stop trying to pursue it. If that is what you want then go for it.”

 And go for it she did. All the blood sweat and tears culminating to moments like the one she had singing her first Butterfly with the Lyric Opera of Kansas City. Elizabeth had been a bit hesitant to tackle the role because of the power and longevity that comes with singing Puccini,  and the fact that it is such a big sing.

“In reality, if you are a smart singer and you know how to sing with your voice, I think you can do anything.”

So she went for it, and when she came out for her bow, the audience rose to their feet in ovation. She was so moved by the reception that she fell to her knees in shock and gratitude.

 “It felt wonderful. It’s those moments that are the reason in which you go through so much heartache in this business. For that one little moment.”

 With the success in Kansas City, news of her Butterfly traveled fast and she was called last minute to sing it again at the Staatsoper Berlin. Remaining in high demand, Elizabeth’s 2013/2014 season has her singing with several companies nationwide including Hawaii Opera Theater, Florentine Opera, Virginia Opera, Orlando Philharmonic as well as her national debut with the Brazilian Symphony Orchestra.

A long way from ticket sales at FGO and a novice on the stage of the Pavarotti competition. I think Pavarotti would find that this diamond is now polished and shining brightly.



Photo Credits: Cory Weaver, Koke Photography

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

The Art of Packing

Happy Spring my sexi sopranos! Well, kind of. We are all SO ready for the snow apocalypse to be over and hot summer days to be here! Now many of you may be auditioning for graduate schools or heading to warm destinations for spring break (jealous!) and are just loathing the airport layovers and such. We know that packing can be just a pain in the butt so we here at Sexi Soprano are going to help make things a little easier by giving you a tutorial on the art of packing. That’s right, I said it, ART. Packing can be fun ladies! So follow along with my list of DO’s!

Plan: Look at the weather for the amount of time you will be there ladies. Based on that plan what you are going to wear every day. Unnecessary clothing is just a hassle! ALSO you CAN wear the same outfit traveling back to home as you did leaving it…’s not a fashion crime, I promise!

Rolling gets it going: Ladies the key secret is to roll NOT fold. You’re killing two birds with one stone here. Rolling prevents creases and also gives you more room in your suitcase. Everyone wins!

Packing your masterpiece: It’s packing time! Let’s walk through the steps! I’m so excited!

1.    Pack as many socks and panties in your shoes as possible! Try to limit yourself to one dressy and two casual pair of shoes. If you have a bigger suitcase, you can go for more! Now put your shoes on half of the bottom of the bag. The other half of the bottom can be home to your toiletries such as your make up back and such! IF you do have any liquids put them in a plastic baggy and store them towards the top or in your purse so that you can take them out quickly when going through security!

2.   Roll up any sweaters, jeans, jackets or any other heavier items of clothes. Pack them as tightly together as you can on top of the shoes.

3.   If you have any fragile items put them in the middle so that they are cushioned by the top and bottom layers.

4.   The top layer of this little pile should by the lighter pieces of clothing such as t-shirts, blouses, tank tops, etc.

5.    IF you do have items that do need to be FOLDED than place these items on top of the rolled blouses and such.

6. Place liquids in baggies on top.

7.   Accessories can be packed into any opening spaces or pockets.

Voila! You are ready for your trip! And here is a picture of my suitcase with my goodies!

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Green on the Go!

Juicing: the latest craze to hit the health world.  Everyone is abuzz touting the health benefits of this magical diet elixir. Whether they juice for health, energy, weight loss, or weight gain, there is a mix for anyone. However, for many of us, this yummy trend can become both time-consuming and expensive. Between purchasing the necessary equipment and the large amounts of produce required to obtain a small amount of juice, as well as the laborious task of assembling equipment, juicing, and cleaning each part of the equipment, this may not prove to be the most efficient way to pack in your nutrients for life on the go. Fortunately, we have the perfect solution for you!
Our green smoothie is perfect for the busy lifestyle. Using an ordinary blender and a few easy ingredients, you can jumpstart your day with a power-packed drink! You can dump, blend, and go! This recipe makes enough for 2-3 servings, which means you can keep the extra in the fridge so it is ready to go when you are! An added benefit of blending is that you get to keep the fiber from the fruits and veggies, which will help your body regulate digestion and be less likely to spike your blood sugar! Who says healthy can’t be fast and easy?

Green-on-the-Go! Smoothie

1 cup fresh spinach
1 cup fresh kale
1 cup water
1 cup tangerine juice
1 cup fresh pineapple
½ cup cantaloupe
2 ripe bananas

Mix water, juice, and greens in blender. Blend until smooth. Add fruits. Blend again until smooth. Enjoy!

Makes 2-3 servings. Keeps in the refrigerator up to 3 days (give it a good shake before drinking!).

Notes about this recipe:
-If you prefer ice in your smoothie, add after you blend greens the first time! If not, this tastes great as-is chilled in the refrigerator!
-Play with ingredients until you find your favorites! Whole strawberries (yes, you can leave the greens on!), blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, and peeled apples all make great additions to your smoothie!
-Add a scoop of your favorite protein, a tablespoon of peanut butter, or a tablespoon of flax for an added boost!

-If you find that your smoothie thickens slightly, in the fridge, add 2 tablespoons of water and shake before drinking!

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

There Is More Opera Than You Think! The Sexi Soprano Official list of Companies

When considering a career in opera, one can become quite overwhelmed by the amount of knowledge required to help you succeed.  You must be highly skilled and proficient in vocal technique, four or more languages, types of movement and acting, knowledge of music history and theory, performance practices, styles, and more, but that is only the beginning, the underlying training that you obtain in order to think about having a career.  How does an emerging artist then turn all of that knowledge and talent into a career?   Where do you start?  The natural place to start is at the beginning, as we all learned through The Sound of Music.  “What companies should I audition for?”  “What opera companies are out there?” “What companies could I be hired at?”

Everyone says, “In this economy, with so much competition and not enough opportunities to go around, it’s really difficult, nearly impossible to get work.”  But is it?  How many times have you been to an opera in your hometown and thought, “hmmm, okay, well, I could sing that.”  That may sound arrogant to some of you reading this, but be honest, raise your hand; you know you’ve thought it.  Not because the people on stage aren’t good at what they’re doing, or don’t deserve to be there. Because they are talented and they do deserve it, but why them and not you?”
Well, probably because they know how to get an audition, they know who to audition for, and they audition well. So now it’s time for you to know who to audition for, and get good at auditioning!

Did you know that at least 10 new opera companies have started in the last 3 years?  There are also between 75-85 level III-IV opera companies in the United States!  That’s nearly 100 opera companies that emerging artists should be auditioning for.   There are a couple of websites that list opera companies, one of them found on Wikipedia lists them by state, which is extremely helpful.  Look to see what companies are within driving distance, and decide to create your own audition tour.  

Opera America also has a list of opera companies listed by level.  If you’re an emerging artists, might as well start at the bottom and work your way up.  Yes, the competition is extremely challenging, especially for sopranos (who are always the first to apply for auditions and are the least likely to receive them). Level IV companies are even able to hire and get seasoned Met professionals to sing for them, but that’s not going to stop you from getting noticed.

Last month we talked about “Asking for what you want”  - And now you have a list of companies to research and audition for.  

But what about those companies that just recently started?  How do we find out about those?  It’s tricky, because neither of the websites are an extensive all inclusive list, but here at Sexi Soprano we keep working diligently to stay in the know about the exciting new things that are happening in our growing industry, so we can bring you all the best information! 

Yes, opera took a hit during the economy collapse in 2008, but more and more people in our industry are creating an opera experience that will encourage a new audience that will help opera become more alive than ever! Here are a few new opera companies that are not yet on the radar of these websites listed with the state they popped up in and the year.

New Opera Companies to Watch:
Candid Concert Opera (IL)
Chicago Summer Opera (IL)
Gateway Opera (MO)
New Fangled Opera (LA) 2012
Lyric Opera Virginia (VA) 2011
Marble City Opera (TN) 2013
Mill City Opera (MN) 2012
Opera-piccola (TX) 2012
Opera Experience Southeast (SC) 2012
One Ounce Opera (TX) 2012
Odyssey Opera (MA) 2013
On site Opera (NY) 2012
Peach State Opera (GA) 2009
Opera on the Rock (AR) 2012
West Edge Opera (CA) 2013
Haymarket Opera Company (IL) 2010
Midwest Institute of Opera (IL) 2011
Urban Opera (CA) 2009

If you do what you love, you never have to work a day in your life! Fall in love with the research aspect of being an opera singer.  Research every opera company you can find a name for.  Find out what kind of new and exciting things are going on in our industry and audition every opportunity you can get.  

Sexi Soprano Official List of Level 3 and 4 Companies:

Level III 
Dayton Opera (OH)
Des Moines Opera 
Florentine Opera 
Gotham Chamber Opera (NY)
Indianapolis Opera (IN)
Kentucky Opera (KY)
Long Beach Opera (CA)
Madison Opera (WI)
Nashville Opera (TN)
Opera Carolina (NC)
Opera Columbus (OH)
Opera Memphis (TN)
Tulsa Opera (OK)
Opera Omaha 
Opera Santa Barbara (CA)
Pensacola Opera (FL)
Sacramento Opera (CA)

Level IV 
Amarillo Opera (TX)
American Lyric Theater (NY)
American Opera Projects  (NY)
Annapolis Opera
Ash Lawn Opera
Asheville Opera
Boston Collaborative Opera
Boston Baroque Opera
Bronx Opera
Capital City Opera
Caramoor Opera
Cedar Rapids Opera
Center City Opera
Center Stage Opera (CA)
Central Florida Lyric Opera (FL)
Chautauqua Opera
Chelsea Opera (NY)
Chicago Opera Theater 
Delaware Valley Opera (NY)
Encompass New Opera
Eugene Opera
Fargo-Moorhead Opera
Festival Opera (CA)
First Coast Opera
Gateway Opera (MO)
Golden Gate Opera
Green Mountain Opera
Hartford Opera Theater (CT)
Hubbard Hall Opera Theater (NY)
Intermountain Opera Bozeman (MT)
Juventas Music (MA)
Knoxville Opera (TN)
Livermore Opera (CA)
LOON Opera (MN)
Long Beach Opera (CA)
Loveland Opera (CO)
Main Street Opera (IL)
Manhattan Opera Studio
Metropolis Opera Project (NY)
Mississippi Opera (MS)
Mobile Opera
Music-theater group (NY)
Nevada City (NV)
New Jersey Verismo Opera
Nickel City Opera (NV)
North Bay Opera (CA)
North Carolina Opera (NC)
Opera Birmingham (AL)
Opera Cabal (IL)
Opera Circle (OH)
Opera Company of Brooklyn (NY)
Opera for the Young (WI)
Opera Fort Collins (CO)
Opera Grand Rapids (MI)
Opera Louisiane (LA)
Opera Idaho 
Opera in the Heights (TX)
Opera Lafayette (Washington, DC)
Opera Naples (FL) 
Opera New Hampshire 
Opera North (NH)
Opera on the James (VA)
Opera Parallèle (CA)
Opera Providence (RI)
Opera Roanoke (VA)
Opera Saratoga (NY)
Opera Southwest (NM)
Opera Theater of the Rockies (CO)
Opera of Pittsburg (PA)
Opera of Weston (VT)
Opera Delaware (DE)
Opera Lancaster (PA)
Opera Western Reserve (OH)
Opera Project Columbus (OH)
Piedmont Opera (NC)
Pine Mountain Opera (MI)
Pocket Opera (CA)
Port Opera (ME)
Regina Opera (NY)
Rogue Opera (OR)
Salt March Opera (CT)
Shreveport Opera (LA)
Springfield Regional Opera (MO)
Sugar Creek Opera (IL)
Syracuse Opera (NY)
Tacoma Opera (WA)
The Opera Company of Middlebury (VT) 2004
Toledo Opera (OH)
Townsend Opera (CA)
Tri Cities Opera (NY)
Union Avenue Opera (MO)
Undercroft Opera (PA)
Urban Opera (VA)
Verismo Opera Theater (IL)
Village Light Opera (NY)
Washington Concert Opera
West Bay Opera (CA)
Wichita Grand Opera (KS)
Winter Opera (MO)

***Don't see your company, or know of one not listed? Contact us!***

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Chocolate Avocado Pudding

Be forewarned, Sexi fans…the article you are about to read contains content that may evoke strong feelings of hunger, indulgence, and salivation. Reader discretion is advised.

We all know the joy that accompanies that small little plastic cup with the foil lid. Pudding is one of the ultimate comfort foods, whether you enjoy it plain, paired with your favorite topping, or our favorite way-right off the finger. Each smooth and creamy bite brings you closer and closer to that happy bliss they call “pudding face.” The only downside is that one glance at the nutrition label and that pudding face could quickly turn into, “What have I just done??” face, due to the additives, artificial ingredients, and high sugar content. What if we told you we had a way for you to indulge in this heavenly treat without the guilt and with ingredients that are actually good for you?  

The star of this recipe is the smooth and buttery avocado, that so deceivingly (and deliciously) mimics that ever-familiar pudding texture.  They are also packed with monounsaturated fatty acids (or MUFAs) that are excellent for your heart and are the good type of fat. Combined with unsweetened cocoa powder and a few other natural ingredients, you’ve got yourself one heck of a flavor sensation. And the best part? It’s easy. Yeah, that’s what we thought…we can see your pudding face from here.

Chocolate Avocado Pudding
1 ripe Haas avocado
¼ cup almond milk or flax milk 
¼ cup honey
¼ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tsp. vanilla extract 

Combine all ingredients in a blender or food processor. Blend until smooth. Enjoy! (No, really, that’s it!!)

Makes 2 servings. Store in the refrigerator in an airtight container for 3-4 days.

Notes about this recipe:
-Need help picking a ripe avocado? Press in slightly on the stem. If it gives a little, it’s ripe!
-Want even more chocolate flavor? Try using chocolate almond milk (or use soy, rice, or whatever your milk of choice!) for a chocolatey boost!
-Want to make it vegan? Use agave nectar instead of honey!

-If you are making this recipe in a blender, we recommend adding the liquid ingredients (milk, extract, and honey) first. Having the liquids closer to the blade ensures easier blending! 

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

The Green-Eyed Diva: Dealing With Professional Jealousy

Reason Singing is Tough #3,652: It gives an especially challenging dynamic to our friendships. Our friendships with singers, that is, and it’s a very good bet that after one or more music degrees, numerous summer programs, not to mention all of the auditions, a good number of your friends are singers. Add to that the hugely competitive nature of the singing business, and what do you get? A depressingly perfect environment for professional jealousy.

You know the feeling. Your bestie gets contract after contract, while you come up empty. You meet a fellow soprano freshman year and you totally click, but then she gets the lead in the opera every single year and you’re stuck in the chorus. You always end up at the same competition as a former colleague who you actually really like, except she always wins a prize and you never do. Sound familiar? I thought so.

The thing is, professional jealousy is a reality for all of us. Yes, this includes those singers you are jealous of: you can bet your lucky lipstick they are jealous of someone else. I wouldn’t be surprised if Anna Netrebko is jealous of Maria Callas, or if Joyce Di Donato is the slightest bit envious of Marilyn Horne. After all, there can be no “best” in singing. Whereas in running or swimming there might be a single athlete who is the best (at least for a little while). In singing there are always shades of gray. No singer, alive or dead, is the best at anything in the eyes of everyone.

So where does that leave us? If professional jealousy is something we’ll never escape, how do we deal with it and not go completely, irretrievably insane?

First of all, come to terms with reality. This business is hardest for sopranos. Full stop. I apologize to any mezzos or men who happen to be reading this if I’ve offended you, but this is simply an inescapable fact. There are more sopranos competing for university spots and for jobs than for all the other voice types combined. If you are a soprano, you can absolutely be guaranteed that you will have non-soprano colleagues who are, frankly, not as good of singers as you are, who will rise higher in the business. Of course you’ll have plenty of non-soprano friends who are phenomenal singers and deserve every ounce of their success, but I promise you there will be at least one who will leave you scratching your head, thinking, “huh?”

Because there are more sopranos, that means more comes down to luck. If you are a great Scarpia, Tristan, or Rodolfo, you will work, regardless of what you look like or who you know. You’ll have to be great to rise to the top, but your rise is certain, even if you’re just pretty good you can count on getting work. However, if you are a great Mimi or a great Violetta, you may not work anywhere because there are so many more great Mimis and Violettas running around. This means, unfortunately, that a lot of success for sopranos comes down to luck. If you’re in the right place at the right time, you might get that break that opens doors for years to come. Success builds on itself, and often a singer’s trajectory can be traced back to one moment when they were heard by the right person at the right time. That’s the good news: it might take just one thing. Of course the bad news is: that one thing might never happen.

This is all sounding pretty depressing isn’t it? Thing is, I think it is helpful to be honest with yourself about the reality. Of course you should work hard to be the best singer and performer you can be. Don’t expect that all that hard work will guarantee a career because for sopranos it absolutely does not. I take comfort knowing that if I don’t “make it”, it’s not because I’m a sub-standard singer, a poor actor, or that I look repulsive. I simply didn’t get lucky, or not lucky enough.

How to deal: First of all, redefine “success”. If success for you means back-to-back contracts for leading roles at international houses for a career spanning twenty years, you will probably be disappointed (sorry). Of course, it could happen, but it’s far more likely that it won’t. I’m not saying you shouldn’t aim high. Of course you should! Life is too short to stunt your dreams. Reframe your outlook so you celebrate every success you achieve along the way. Nailing a high note you used to waver on, mastering a foreign language, landing a gig where they pay for your hotel—these are all phenomenal successes! Whether you get that international career or not, you’ll have all of these wonderful accomplishments to look back on and celebrate.
Secondly, be very, very careful with Facebook. I cannot be the only one who kind of wants to barf when I read the status update: “Thrilled to announce that I’ve been offered a contract at the Met to sing my dream role for a bazillion dollars!” If you see such a status, ask yourself: do I actually like this person? If not, un-follow them immediately. You don’t have to de-friend, just un-follow. It will do wonders for your mental health, I promise you. Now, what about the people you actually do like? Honestly, I think it’s still a good idea to un-follow them if they frequently post about their singing success and it upsets you. If you’re truly friends, you’ll talk, in person or on the phone eventually, and you can catch up with them then.

Lastly, find some joy outside of singing. Singing, as we all know, is a crazy roller-coaster ride; sometimes you’re up, sometimes you’re down. You need to have something in your life, be it hobbies, exercise, pets, church, nephews, whatever, that draws you out of your singer self and into who you are as a whole person (surprise! you’re not just a singer, you know?). Singer edifying activities, like working on conversational French, are not eligible, even if they are enjoyable. For me, nothing comforts and pleases me like reading, practicing yoga, snuggling my kitty, and ok, watching (good) TV. I would do these things whether or not I was a singer and they give me something to look forward to on the inevitable days when I face professional disappointment. Find something, preferably multiple somethings, you love to do that can comfort you when you’re feeling blue (or green-eyed). Then you’ll be able to return to your singing with a full heart and an open mind — after all, your lucky day might be just around the corner.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

An Operatic Cinderella Story: An interview With Dramatic Soprano Othalie Graham

Once upon a time in a far away land lived a budding Dramatic Soprano with heart, guts, tenacity and a dream. But just like every other fairy tale princess, she has an obstacle to overcome before she can reach her happily ever after. 

When a person is crushed by a traumatic event, their life changes forever. For Othalie Graham, the loss of her father to cancer, at the age of 25 was the end of an important chapter. Her childhood prince charming and love of her life was taken from her and her mother, leaving her with a “hardened heart” and with a new perspective on life.  

“I was ridiculously in love my father. I mean, I was over the top madly in love with him. His passing was the absolute end of my innocence.  It changed me so profoundly, and things after that were so unbelievably difficult.”

Having immigrated from Jamaica to Canada, Othalie’s father learned of the hardships that come with being an immigrant in a new country. His was an “assertive, courageous, strong” personality that worked hard and fought for his dreams. He was a mentor that instilled drive, survival and ambition into Othalie as a child.

“My whole life was and is still guided by my father. I am so unbelievably determined to make sure that his legacy lives on through my success. This drives me every single waking second of my life. Not having him is the most horrific thing of my life, but having that inner fortitude that was instilled in me from him and then, from not having him, motivates me to do things that some other people won't do. “

With a strong determination, a broken heart, and no money to speak of, Othalie set out to audition for schools in America. She had been taking voice lessons in the basement of her teacher’s house, and had no formal education. She had nothing of note on her resume and had never auditioned before. “I was so hell bent on doing this, I was an immigrant to the US, so I had to fight to make this happen.” She sought out the Curtis Institute of Music, knowing that the Canadian government would aid in her funding at this particular school.

“I remember running across the street and seeing my name on this list for the finals.  At the audition they said to me ‘You know, we think AVA would be a better school for you’ So I ran around the corner and asked to audition, and I was accepted! I didn’t realize back then what a miracle that was. I was so blissfully unaware of the significance. My last show there got me noticed and I landed my first gig and launched my career.”

Every singer truly does have their own path, don’t they? It is remarkable how life can mold a path for you through your experiences. Othalie’s journey had only just begun. Not only was 2004 the year that Othalie began her professional career, but it was the year that she began to realize the business required something more than just a beautiful voice:

“Singing is not the only important aspect to this career. It is now the whole package: the physical, the mental. Everything counts more so than ever. And you can complain about how hard it is, but while you are complaining, someone else is working their butt off on the elliptical machine and ultimately landing a job. There are people out there that are doing whatever it takes. I would do whatever it takes.”

And so she did. An incredible loss of 140 pounds through a low-carb diet offered her career more opportunity and longevity. “I was not going to allow what I put in my mouth to determine whether or not I was going to have a career.” Othalie realized that the demands are changing, and you have to look the part, as much as you are actually able to perform it.

“When I was almost 400 pounds I had great knees and I could do all that was asked of  me, but no one cares if you can. They care that you look capable.”

After struggling with the death of her father, pushing through financial difficulties, losing almost half of her body weight, as well as launching a career, our Cinderella story brings us to 2007. A happy ending to the struggles and happy new beginning for this diva as she finally meets her adulthood prince charming. They were married just a few months after they met.

“After kissing many a frog, I had figured out exactly what I wanted. He was exactly it and I knew it at first sight. He was strong enough to handle me and the demands of my career.”

Proudly, the couple celebrated their 7th anniversary last month, in the midst of her busiest year to date. But Othalie does not complain a bit, explaining that she always focuses on the goal at hand: singing opera.

“I am so fortunate that this season is so booked. It is so busy! When I was singing at the Kennedy Center I was re-memorizing Fanciulla and working on the War Requiem, and I had to fit in all my coachings while I was at home. It is amazing but it can be very lonely.  I do parent teacher conferences and homework over the phone, and we Skype and Facetime to keep connected. But the reward of bringing a character to life and walking out for your curtain call and the audience jumping to their feet...there is nothing better than that. Nothing.”

With a schedule jam packed with gigs, Othalie Graham is hitting the ground running in 2014. Her demanding year includes thirteen performances of six different shows and concerts within a four month time span, bringing her to Washington, Indianapolis, Milan, Ohio, Michigan and finally New Jersey.

It is happily ever after for this Canadian princess, who has had a truly special and unique journey that can only inspire and teach us all a thing or two about drive and tenacity. Brava Othalie, and welcome to the Sexi Soprano family!