The opera world has a (not entirely undeserved) reputation for being rough. It's a difficult, mean business and we readily eat the unprepared, the thin-skinned, and the naive. We have our share of power-mad authority figures, charlatans, sadists, and jerks. And yet, those people are outnumbered by a population of amazing, kind, generous, and caring individuals. Two different experiences have illustrated this for me in the past few weeks.
The first story is sad but very sweet. In August, parts of Louisiana suffered unexpected and major flooding --- areas that do not normally flood were suddenly under six or more feet of water. Entire cities were underwater. People's homes were ruined and all their possessions destroyed. Even now, they are cleaning up --- waterlogged piles of treasured belongings and everyday necessities turned to trash, lining the streets in stacks fifteen feet high, in front of homes still being checked for structural damage.
Imagine losing everything you owned, including your home, all its contents, and even your car. Where do you even start?
Louisianans are tough. A more hospitable and gracious bunch of people you will never know. And they take care of their own --- check out the Cajun Navy, a loosely organized group of hunters, fishermen, and regular joes with their own boats who, in the aftermath of Katrina and of the Floods of 2016, didn't wait to be asked or told --- they just went out and started rescuing people, and bringing supplies.
Despite fantasies of loading up the van with goodies and driving down to the affected area, after doing a little research it seemed like donations to the Red Cross and local animal shelters were the best way to support recovery efforts. At least two opera singer families of my acquaintance were directly affected. All I could think was "What if this were my family?"
But it was my family. It was my opera family. And it was time to call for reinforcements from the rest of the gang.
Our opera family came through, like the Cajun Navy. Using a crowdfunding platform, we raised our goal in less than 48 hours and now, two weeks later, the contributions keep trickling in --- we're over $2000 past the original goal, every cent of it going to replace a home and car and the bare necessities of life. Just as important as the money, messages of love and support poured in from every corner of the opera world --- mostly singers, but also conductors, stage directors, designers, orchestra musicians, and even fans. There were even contributions from people who do not personally know the beneficiaries --- their only connection is through opera. If you have ever been in crisis, you know that simply knowing that people care, that they are there, that they see you, is a great comfort and balm.
Forget the stereotype of the snooty singer draped in furs and dripping diamonds --- most of us are lucky if we can afford health insurance. And yet, the opera family came through for our own. It's not the first time I've seen it, and I know it won't be the last. But next time this hard-knock business gets you down, just remember --- the same business is filled with people with hearts as big as their considerable talent.
Story Number Two- much more lighthearted, and, dare I say, silly --- mostly on my part.
For many people, packing is the worst part of traveling; but since singers travel a lot, you'd think we'd have it down to a science. My personal and dearly cherished fantasy is to own a travel wardrobe of separates that are comfy, need no ironing or special care, always fit, work alone or layered, can be dressed up or down, and are suitable for a wide variety of seasons and locales --- a wardrobe that would live in its suitcase, so all I would have to do is throw in some toiletries and my laptop cord, and I'd be ready to go.
Alas, I have yet to discover such a unicorn, and am resigned to packing and repacking, sometimes before I have a chance to put away the suitcase. As a big fan of lists, I scrupulously plan and coordinate every outfit and am pretty good at packing light. But on my most recent trip to New York, my packing ended up being a bit lighter than intended.
My most important outfit --- the one carefully chosen for the big event of the trip, the video shoot; the one hung up next to the suitcase complete with accessories so it could be put in last --- did not make it into the suitcase at all. I discovered this on arrival at 9:00 p.m. , with a hair and makeup appointment scheduled twelve hours away and my recording time set at noon.
There was nothing else in my suitcase suitable to wear. What's a diva to do?
Hit up FaceBook, of course. Specifically, the Opera Diva Dress Collection group, which came to the rescue with great alacrity and support. Within minutes of posting, I had multiple offers of dresses that these ladies were willing to lend, and suggestions for places to shop, designer friends who might have something in stock, and styling advice. My dear friend and colleague, the amazing mezzo Janna Baty, offered to hand deliver some of her own jewelry for me to try! Then founder Suzanne Vinnik-Richards stepped in and offered to SHOP FOR ME.
So, I emailed my wonderful makeup artist, Bridie Coughlan, and asked her to come earlier; texted my wonderful agent and asked if I could switch with someone and go later (thank you Sharin Apostolou) and got what little sleep I could manage after such excitement. Suzanne and I were texting madly back and forth all morning as I sent her pics of what I had with me that we might be able to build from, and she sent pics of articles of clothing she was finding. Once my hair and makeup were done, I raced to Macy's to hedge my bet, and then hurried downtown.
We met up in the bathroom at Opera America - HI HO THE GLAMOUROUS LIFE, Y'ALL - and put together an outfit from stuff I had and stuff Suzanne brought.
I ended up with a great outfit (especially the bling!) which was perhaps a little more casual than the one I'd planned, but it still looked great and was very "me". I felt great and got several videos both my managers and I were very happy with (see below).
But the best part of the whole experience was how all these divas came together to help a sister out--- from volunteering outfits and offering to change their plans so I could come shop their closets, to cheering me on via FaceBook, to following along! It was an ODDC triumph, and indicative of the kind of community Suzanne and her partner Sarah Duchovny have established -- a great bunch of beautiful divas, full of humor, advice, and kindness.
So thank you, opera family! Our business may be rough and tumble, but people are the heart of any business --- and so ours beats with a heart of gold.
(If you'd like to see more of my videos, please check out my YouTube channel).