Scribblings of a Mad Soprano

Singers, we got this.

Amid all the fear, grief, and worry of the last few weeks, I’ve realised something positive: opera singers are uniquely placed to weather the Covid-19 ‘storm.’ All our training, experience, struggles – all the uncertainty we have to live with to pursue a career in the performing arts – has finally become truly useful!

(Please read, as it was written, with tongue placed firmly in cheek. Yes, the situation is AWFUL. Frightening. And it is terrible to have all our upcoming work cancelled, and not have any idea when we will be allowed, or whether we will even ever be invited, to get back to the theatre. But. Apocalyptic visions put to one side – and we truly can’t control these things, so let’s not lose our sanity – we should take a moment to gloat. After all, our careers have prepped us – better than anyone – to deal with this.)

The office

1. Singers are used to ‘working from home.’

We do it all the time. We learn our roles. We prep our audition pieces. We keep our technique strong. We (*ahem*) ‘rest’ between engagements. Many of us teach, handle our admin, etc. – at home. Most of us already have a home studio/office set up, and have already figured out the work/life balance stuff. (Hopefully.)

No idle hands here

2. Singers are quite good at keeping themselves occupied in an isolated, confined space.

When we are working away from home, in one of the world’s top opera houses (or even in one of the not-quite-top ones), we are likely to be in a strange city, alone. We tend to see quite a bit of the inside of our hotel rooms or digs. (And airport departure lounges.) This is why I knit. And subscribe to Netflix. Yes, there’s always shopping and restaurants and sightseeing…but you don’t want to spend your entire fee before you earn it. Besides, you have to SING, so you mustn’t go around exhausting yourself (once worked with a tenor who thought it would be a good idea to hike up a mountain the day of a show – it was not), and exposing yourself to germs, which brings me to…

3. Singers are world champions at avoiding rhinoviruses.

Masks? Gloves? Hand washing? Pah! Child’s play. We singers take germ paranoia to a new level. After all, if we get sick, we don’t sing, and if we don’t sing, we don’t get paid. So we’ve flown halfway around the world just to sit in a hotel room. Knitting, while watching Netflix. No thanks, could have done that at home.

A little lighthearted fun

Well, there’s a lot of doom and gloom going around…

Gigs getting cancelled, so much uncertainty. Worrying about friends and family, and on and on.

So, introducing MaLuLa (Marie, Lucy & Laure), a trio of cheerful, chirpy songbirds to look at the light side of things (and give ourselves some creative momentum):

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The Kevin and Laure story

What am I doing with my ‘quarantine time’ I hear you ask? Well, for one thing, sorting through a lot of old paperwork, deciding what makes it into the scrapbooks and what gets thrown away; also, I had already started writing a family history, so my kids can know some things about their eccentric ancestors, so there’s that to work on.

I ran across this old article, written over 20 years ago, to publicise a very good cause. My (now, sadly, late) husband and I put together a show to raise funds for Leukaemia Research. Observe carefully how we name-drop with aplomb:


On an evening in November 1994, in a crowded studio in New York City, Laure Meloy and Kevin Harkins did just that. Laure, an American soprano, was performing in an experimental opera, when Kevin, a British entrepreneur visiting New York to attend a business exposition, took a night out to hear “something different.”

A mutual friend introduced them at a post-performance reception…and they were married only three months later, in February of 1995. You might not think that terribly unusual, except that Kevin returned almost immediately to England, and the couple didn’t see each other again for more than a month, when Laure was persuaded by Kevin’s frequent telephone calls to fly over and celebrate Hogmanay in Scotland with some of Kevin’s friends and family.

She returned to New York in the new year wearing an engagement ring, and flew back to Scotland in February to marry Kevin “over the anvil” at Gretna Green. It was a real elopement: Laure’s own mother (who had not even met Kevin at this point) was only informed after the fact by telephone. The only dark cloud on the horizon was Kevin’s diagnosis with Chronic Lymphatic Leukaemia (CLL) around the same time as his engagement to Laure. Naturally, this came as a big shock to them both, but they were determined to go ahead with their wedding plans, as well as continuing to pursue their respective careers. 

After a more public wedding ceremony in New York (so Laure’s Mum could finally meet her new son-in-law!), the couple went on honeymoon to Cartagena, Colombia, where they found they were staying at the same hotel as the cast and crew of the BBC mini-series ‘Nostromo’. Over the pool-side breakfast tables, they made the acquaintance of stars Albert Finney, Serena Scott Thomas and Colin Firth. On returning to New York, they realised that Laure’s career was beginning to take off: she had received a favourable notice in The New York Times, and had been offered a role in a European opera production which would tour in France and Spain.

A two month separation was difficult for the newlyweds, but they made up for lost time by spending a romantic Christmas in Paris. Laure’s tour experiences inspired the founding, in early 1996, of Gala Opera International, a concert opera company dedicated to bringing classical singing to small communities in the United States and the United Kingdom.

Kevin and Laure, Co-Directors, were in the midst of planning the inaugural concert tour, ‘The Three Sopranos’, when Kevin had to be hospitalised with pneumonia. The couple made the decision then that, after the English leg of the tour in July, they would remain in Britain so that Kevin could be under the full-time care of his primary consultant haematologist at West Cumberland Hospital, Dr. Nick West. 

‘The Three Sopranos’ tour went well both in the US, on Long Island, NY, and in the UK, in Kevin’s part of the country, the English Lake District.

It went so well, in fact, that they were invited to sing at another venue on Long Island in spring 1997, and were invited back to the Lake District in October 1997 and again in 1998. Under the care of Dr. West, Kevin’s CLL was brought back under control, and the couple have now settled in the Home Counties area.

Kevin has given up his other business interests to devote all his energies to Gala Opera International, and to developing Laure’s solo career. Things have begun to pick up for her on this side of the Atlantic, singing roles such as Constanze in Mozart’s ‘Die Entführung aus dam Serail’, and the Queen of the Night in ‘Die Zauberflöte’. The latter earned her good notices in a production staged in London’s Holland Park, and will serve as her debut role with Opera North in January 1998. 

She has also been invited back to New York to sing at the Lincoln Center Festival: in an expanded, fully-staged production of the opera she was singing when she first met Kevin.

P.s. In the spring of 1997, the sad passing of a young friend from Acute Myeloid Leukaemia started the couple thinking about something they could do to help. Inspired by the work of José Carreras in raising funds for leukaemia sufferers, they decided to stage another ‘Three Sopranos’ concert which, like the original ‘Three Tenors’ concert, would serve as a fund-raiser for leukaemia. 

In association with the Leukaemia Research Fund, Gala Opera International will be presenting a ‘Three Sopranos’ concert in Carlisle’s Sands Centre on 6th June, 1998.


 

We managed to raise over £1,000 for the charity. And yes, this story made it into both the scrapbook and the family history. Well, my son has to know how his parents met, right?

Practice, practice, practice

After a little flurry of performances over the past few weeks, it’s time to dig in and practice repertoire for upcoming engagements in April, May, June, and July. It’s usually said that the performance is only the ‘tip of the iceberg’…most of our time as opera singers (or actors, or dancers, or anyone in the arts generally) is spent in preparation, practice, and rehearsal. Opera singers in particular are expected to turn up to the first day of a rehearsal period with their role completely memorised, a process which takes place on our own time, with some time (and money) spent in the teacher’s and/or coach’s studio; but mainly on our own, whether it’s in the home studio, rented practice space, or the snug of a local pub! It can be difficult trying to explain this to ordinary punters, who mainly want to hear about our past triumphs and upcoming appearances (wouldn’t it be nice if that was all there was!), and don’t really get all the weeks or months of ‘I’m spending most of my time practicing and learning new rep…’

So here are a few of the things I’m preparing for at the moment:

  • A 1940’s style trio for a local festival in May (which will be loads of fun to do) and means brushing up some old / learning some new repertoire.
  • Covering Brünnhilde in Die Walküre for Longborough Festival Opera, rehearsals in April/May and performances in June. A brand new role (and composer) for me, so lots of practice/learning/coaching/memorising.
  • A concert on July 4: ‘Heroic Voices’ which will involve some old + some new rep, solos, duets, opera & art song, and writing some narrative links. Seems I have my work cut out…

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