After the news of the Germanwings plane crash this past week which included the deaths of two opera singers there were outpourings of grief and remembrance from colleagues on social media all over the world. We did not all personally know these wonderful singers but most of us had some connection through a friend of a friend and it brought the family of opera into focus. We are a strange group who live peripatetic lives traveling from job to job. We each have a different career path. Some of us were in a theater in Germany like the baritone Oleg Bryjak who was part of the ensemble at the theater in Duesseldorf. Others are freelance and sing mostly all around Europe, some make most of their careers in the US and a few have true International careers singing in the big capitol cities of the world. But we all share the opera and the theater life. It is a life where we make quick and deep friendships when we meet to work on a production together in a strange city. We bond in rehearsals and shared meals and sometimes pour our most intimate secrets out to each other as we feel at ease in this familiar environment. We may not meet in person again for years but that moment together was intense and true and we feel safe together. We share out stresses over the work itself and our stresses at living away from home, away from our families and the sacrifice that is asked of us for our love of our art and the necessity to earn a living with our craft. We know how it feels to be alone in a foreign city in a not very luxurious hotel searching for a restaurant where we are able to eat food that will not cause reflux on our voices the next day. We sleep on strange mattresses with lumpy pillows and wish for a bathtub or the name of a masseur or just to know where to buy a bottle of still water. Sometimes the theater helps and we get lists of restaurants and shops but other times we rely on Google maps on our smart phones and the kindness of strangers, mainly other colleagues that get us through.
This shared life does create the impression that we singers are a family. And this week I realized that friends who know me feel some connection to that family as they are friends with an “opera singer”. I connect their lives to mine and they have lived through my special way of life by coming to my performances and witnessing my successes and taking care to understand when I can’t always enjoy the party or glass of wine or noisy restaurant. They know my limitations as an opera singer before an important performance and they feel somehow a “part of “ or a connection when they read that an “opera singer” died. It becomes more personal and they immediately write to find out if I knew him or her.
This week I was in Stuttgart rehearsing for two days to jump into a revival of a production of Butterfly there. My Butterfly is a soprano that I had never met before but I had heard of her over the years. She is also an American who came over to Germany to be part of the ensemble in a theater around the same time that I did 20 years ago. We met in the changing room and in that moment I knew that the performances would be ok because I had a feeling of simpatico with her and felt our combined experience would make work whatever happens in the show. This is another indication of a feeling of family and therefore ease. Most of my colleagues grew up very differently from the way I did but we have shared the same work environment, the theater and the special life style in whatever mutation of the career that we have experienced. We bond in the moment that we begin our rehearsals and are thrown into close contact with each other physically and emotionally.
I am grateful for this and realize that I treasure my colleagues and the understanding and support they give me. This week the reality hit that jumping on a plane to fly home after the last show or between performances or rehearsals, something I do regularly, could be life threatening. I believe in fate and that when it is our time we will go whether from a crazy accident or peacefully after a long healthy life. I learned many years ago that our lives hang on a very fine thread. It is a beautiful thing to know that there is an opera family out there that lives together through these tragedies and has the power to communicate to each other their sadness and their love.