(Photo: Benjamin Ealovega)
Ashutosh Khandekar - Editor
From the current issue of Opera Now
The more I think about it, the more astonishing it is to me that anybody would want to be an opera singer. The demands of the profession are extreme: more years of training than a doctor; a life constantly on the road; and an incessant quest for technical perfection that would challenge the finest international athlete.
Even after years of hard slog, the singers that actually make it into the profession are few and far between: anecdotal evidence suggests that only about one in six singers who graduate from music colleges end up having productive careers on the opera stage. Yet there is no shortage of young talent knocking on the doors of music colleges and conservatoires around the world. Why do they want to do it?
For many young singers, opera is a land of opportunity, where excellence and hard work are rewarded at an international level, regardless of your background. Many of today’s greatest operatic success stories had relatively humble origins with little access to opera in their youth: think of Dame Kiri Te Kanawa, growing up in a remote New Zealand backwater; Plácido Domingo, singing as a young boy with his parents in their travelling zarzuela troupe in Mexico; Juan Diego Flórez, raised in a family of folk musicians in Peru.
Three or four times a year, as editor of an opera magazine, I find myself on a panel of judges in a singing competition. Looking through the biographies of the contestants is instructive and heartening: some of the most promising singers that I hear come from the townships of South Africa, from former Soviet states where life has been a constant round of political upheaval, or from aspirational economies such as China and South Korea, where opera is regarded as an art form that carries international prestige.
Talking to young contestants after the prizes have been handed out, one thing that strikes home very clearly is that singing isn’t a hobby or even a career choice. It is a compulsive passion. ‘I have to sing – it’s all I want to do,’ is a sentiment that I hear all the time. If you’re ever feeling jaded about what the future holds for the world, I would urge you to go along to a singing competition and experience the passion and enthusiasm of gifted, focused young people for yourself.
There seems to be a visceral need to sing and a hunger to perform in every culture and among every generation. It is there in abundance in today’s young artists and it will continue to feed excellence and dynamism from all corners of the globe into our opera houses.
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