One of the most important facts about opera is the essence of what it means in Italian, to “work”, and to do the daily work. As opera singers, we often hear questions like where do you “work”? Or what do you “do”. Or the ever favorite, what is your real “job”? These questions are a challenge for any singer to answer and is usually followed by our blank stare and the reservation not to say, well, “you are looking at it.” Even in our own minds we are far more legitimate than our last performance, because we are constantly working on what is coming up next. The truth is that we are always doing “work”, whether walking around humming scales, rehearsing lines in our heads, or gathering at the theater to run through shows. Our preparation is the equivalent of a behind-the-scenes-think-tank of an internet start-up. That’s why if you hire an opera singer temporarily you will have the most efficiency and best output in any given task, so they can get to their real work of more singing. However, it is key to know that as hard as we work, we do play even harder.
It is no secret that the Italians demand the highest caliber of any type of artistic work where pleasure is the final result. I almost think that the commonality in Italy is to do everything very well so that you can enjoy it later. Take gelato, for example, as the most perfect icy creamed dessert that is found nowhere in the world as good as it is on Italian soil. In addition, with almost 3 weeks off in the summer and 2-3 hours break in the afternoon, they sure know the quality of enjoying life’s simple pleasures and fully relishing every moment during the time off of work.
As I navigate through the streets of Caltagirone in Sicily as a local, and order gelato and a simple espresso, I notice the amount of time that the Italians take to prepare and deliver such goods is with the utmost care and devotion. For them, life is passion and that is included in each and every task that they do. For us singers, we have to find that delicate balance between working on our music, attending to our daily to-do lists, and finding time to experience all that life can offer. This balance is best achieved to one who is open, loving, and ready for passion, like the Italians give, in order to influence our art. Any diva, stage maven, and true poshie, knows that it is his or her life-long “job” to always strive for that one beautiful moment where we can sit back and relax to say, yes, I sang that and now pass the bread and the wine and let’s enjoy the view.