Friday, January 16, 2009

The Caste System, part two

I wrote a post about the first cast / second cast business back when I was in Italy, and I was singing second cast, which meant in that situation sitting on my butt and not rehearsing at all and then getting up and performing. Here in Miami, the only role double cast is Cenerentola, and even though I am technically singing the opening, there isn't really a first cast / second cast situation - we are just both singing 4 performances each, and we have been splitting the rehearsals evenly. Frankly, I guess I'm more used to either being first cast, where I never end up watching or having anything to do with the other cast, or being the full-on underdog second cast, where I have to do my best in difficult circumstances, and if I do succeed, everyone can say "wow - she managed!!" At first, I thought that this sharing of the role would be no issue for me, but I find that I'm actually more comfortable in the underdog position because then there is far less pressure, and if you're fantastic, people are pleasantly surprised. If you're in any way associated with the first cast, there is no space for error - you'd better be freaking amazing or risk disappointing everyone. No wonder famous singers act crazy from time to time - I imagine the pressure on them would be pretty overwhelming.

I've been thinking a lot lately about comparisons between singers. I've had a bunch of conversations with friends recently about that very subject and it has caused me to think seriously about my own feelings on the matter. I tend to think of myself as a relatively centered person who doesn't get too caught up in professional jealousies (I count as very good friends several mezzos who I could consider my "competition" if I chose to look at it that way), but like everyone, I certainly have my days of utter insecurity where I wonder why so-and-so has a certain job I would have liked, and days when I get horribly jealous of someone else's career. I've had some very interesting conversations with other singers lately where they wonder if people of the same voice type can really be friends, and whether singers can have successful romantic relationships with other singers without being jealous when one's career is going better than the other. My initial reaction is always to pooh-pooh such talk as small minded and insecure, but as soon as I do that, I'll have a day where I'll be crying because I find out somebody has better jobs than me and I'll find myself wailing "WHY GOD - WHYYYYYYYYYYY NOT MEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE????"

When I manage to pull myself together from the pity party, I realize something very important: Comparisons kill art. As singers, we are subject to constant comparisons - we enter competitions where we are ranked and and awarded prizes for the "best", we audition for schools and then jobs, where the "best" is awarded the position. There is the famous 'arc of a singer's career' joke: "1. Who is Jenny Rivera, 2. Get me Jenny Rivera 3. Get me somebody like Jenny Rivera. 4. Get me a young Jenny Rivera 5. Who is Jenny Rivera?" Comparisons are inevitable by the people who cast and hire us, but among artists themselves, they are terribly dangerous. Because what makes a great artist is their uniqueness - and thank god, every artist is unique, and there is no real way to compare two singers because it is always like comparing apples and oranges. We aren't stockbrokers, with a dollar sign to show for our success - we have only each individual performance and whether it was able to affect somebody and create something special and...UNIQUE. And spending time comparing ourselves to other artists only ruins the "in the moment" qualities necessary for creating the best performance we are capable of.

I have to keep reminding myself of this - not just when I'm double cast with someone, or when I have a cover, or when I am a cover, but in each day of my life as both a singer and as a person. In life I'm often trying to fit myself into a comparison - am I prettier or uglier, skinnier or fatter, smarter or dumber, richer or poorer, more or less successful than person X? But those comparisons only remove me from living in the moment of just being me. Being the best artist and person both require living one moment at a time, and making that moment the most important. The game of comparison is just iceberg lettuce for the brain - requires chewing but has no nutritional value.

5 comments:

jmz said...

or actually cost more energy to digest than what it can ever provides....

sabauda said...

Every singer should read this. Brava - baci, L.

pat said...

Staying in the zone is the way to go. All else is a distraction.

Brian said...

Great thoughts, Jenny. You should write a book on mental health for singers. Have fun in the sun!

pazzobianco said...

yeah but have you ever tried it smothered in blue cheese and bits of bacon.. mmmmm