You know, I usually never discuss my personal life on my blog. The subtitle of my blog is "the life of an opera singer equals comedy", but it also equals drama, and boy, do I have some stories. Not just about myself of course, but about all the friends and colleagues I've encountered over the years. Now, that would be a book - maybe when I retire I can write a tell-all. Not just yet though.
That being said, I was inspired recently by my dear friend Nick Phan's blog post on being gay and open about it in the entertainment industry. He is brave enough to discuss one element of his private life in a public forum, because it's important and it helps other people overcome their own fears and promotes understanding and empathy. So I figured I could to write a blog post, not about the specifics of my personal life, but about some of the challenges of being a woman who is a traveling artist and who is working regularly. It's going to be a difficult post for me to write, but one that I think will be interesting and hopefully thought provoking, so bear with me.
I'm 34 years old and single, with no children. The perfect age and status to be having an opera career. I'm at an age where my voice has fully matured, but still has room for growth, where I've learned enough emotional lessons to make me strong enough to battle the demons that this career inflicts, and secure enough in my vocal technique to make it through a variety of crazy situations. Being single and childless also allows me the freedom to take any job I want, be on the road as much as I need to, and take every opportunity that comes my way. I don't have to worry about making money to feed my family, and can take any job that might be artistically fulfilling, even if it means I barely break even because the cost of the housing alone eats up most of my fee. I can jet all over the world from St Louis to Austria to France to Berlin (just to name the next few places I'll find myself) and I can set up apartments in both the U.S. and Europe, and find out which place I might like to call home for the next period of my life. I can go get a massage when I'm stressed and buy myself a new pair of shoes, because I'm not saving for my child's college fund. I can get enough sleep and I can learn music at any hour of the day or night. I can make deep and lasting friendships with all the extraordinary people I meet because I'm not spending hours skyping with my family back home. And I even have time to write a blog, a hobby I find fabulously cathartic.
But it can get super lonely. And the more you work, and the more successful you become, the harder it gets to find someone who is willing to deal with your insane lifestyle and settle down and have a relationship with you. Unless someone is in the business and therefore has a deep understanding of what you do (and not even then, in come cases) most people find it impossible to imagine trying to sustain a relationship with someone who could be on the road for 10 months. Women seem more wiling to cope with this - I even know a lot of couples where the woman travels with the man to all of his gigs. I don't know any couples however, where the man travels everywhere with the working woman. I'm sure there are some, I just don't know any. And so many of the couples that I know in the business who got married in their twenties are getting divorced now - this lifestyle really takes it's toll on relationships. And unlike some lucky women singers, who have no desire to have children, I have always known that I was a mother, and that I would one day have some kids. I'm just not entirely sure how that's going to manifest itself within the confines of the reality I have created for myself thus far. And as wonderful and fulfilling as it is to have a career as an artist, I can tell you, your career isn't going to kiss you goodnight, or come visit you in the hospital if you're sick.
I don't mean to be overly pessimistic - I certainly also have friends who are singers who are married and have fantastic relationships with their spouses, and who find ways to make everything work. But I do have to say that even though it's 2010, and our society has come a long way in the last hundred years, it's still really difficult for a woman to have a successful career, and have a family. How do you keep your relationship together when you never see each other? Maybe you travel with your kids until they are of school age, but what about when they need to start going to school? I'm curious what Anna Netrebko is going to do when her son needs to start first grade - is she going to be away from him for 10 months or bring him on the road with a tutor? How are she and Erwin Schrott, another incredibly successful and busy singer, going to make it work, I wonder? And although her career is obviously on a very different level than mine, I think she was just a couple of years older than me when she got pregnant, so I find myself wondering how she plans to make it all work.
I can honestly say that at this point in my life, overall, I'm pretty happy. I've had my share of successful and not so successful relationships (although I haven't been married yet), but the time that I have been on my own, I've been able to focus on my career and get it off the ground, and to make some incredible, life long friendships that I will always have no matter what romantic relationships may come in and out of my life. But having chosen the life of a nomadic artist poses some huge challenges to one's social life that I haven't quite found the answers to yet. And I guess, like everyone else in this business, I'll have to cross each bridge when I come to it, to find the solution that works best for me.
In the end, I think the best way to find a relationship of any kind and make it last is to know yourself, and have confidence in who you are as an individual. That way, you are not necessarily relying on the other person to give you strength, but instead, you are choosing to share the best of your individuality with one another. And if this career does anything, it allows you - no - it forces you - to see who you really are and what you are really made of - something that can only help you be a better partner. And maybe, just maybe, assuming you find the right person - this makes opera singers excellent spouses and parents, not impossible and difficult ones. Learning to overcome obstacles is, after all, kind of our specialty.