Opera vs. Theatre

June 17, 2013

When I was first asked to be a guest blogger, I thought my focus would be to provide an operatic perspective on the world of theatre and vice versa. Since there are an infinite number of differences to discuss from the training to the music to the casting process to the productions to the artists themselves, I was pretty set on always being able to find a topic about which to write. But as I found my voice as a writer, I discovered instead that I was relating the similarities in the lifestyles, the subjectivity of art in general and how being an artist, regardless of specialty, is the most wonderful job in the world.

But I was inspired by a few recent events so, for this entry, I'll revert back to discussing a major difference between opera and theatre: the trajectory of the career. One story comes from a highlight of this year's Tony Awards: a skit where Megan Hilty, Laura Benanti and Andrew Rennells joined Neil Patrick Harris to recount the exciting move to Los Angeles to enhance their careers with a TV show, only to be met with their subsequent cancellations. The other is the announcement of soprano Natalie Dessay that she will deliver the final operatic performance of her career this fall. I can't yet speak to the jump to TV, so I'll leave that to those who do (watch it here!) but I can comment on the move from opera to theatre and how shocking it was to find out how differently the careers are built.

Pavarotti is famously credited with saying that there are no prodigies in opera. In most cases, the climb to the top is long and arduous, but it is a steady upward progression. You begin your studies in college: language and diction courses, vocal pedagogy classes, opera history, voice lessons, art song recitals and maybe a few opera performances. The next step is often a Master's Degree or Artist Diploma program. This is usually followed by several Young Artist Programs, which often allow for debuts of small roles in big houses. Once you've graduated from all these programs and are taking steps towards having a solo career, you might sing leading roles in small houses, garnering attention from the larger ones. In those cases, performances become akin to auditions and from that work comes more work. Ideally then, as your voice continues to mature and grow into new repertoire, you have established yourself as dependable, hard working and successful and continue to work until you decide not to.

And then there's a career in theatre. Many people discover their love for theatre from a very young age, whether it is from their involvement in a community production or school plays or from watching Disney films. Because the age range of characters in theatre is vast, there is material for everyone to start exploring and performing, even from very young. After that, there are seemingly infinite paths to hone your craft, whether you go to college and higher schooling or just make a move to New York City and throw yourself right into the mix of thousands of hopefuls trying to be in the right place at the right time. But the part that was most shocking to me after coming from the world of opera is that, no matter your path, in theatre, the element of auditioning never ends. I have seen people who are starring on Broadway come running in to an audition on their break between their matinee and evening performances. I myself have left a rehearsal with producers from that show to walk down the hall and audition for those same producers, but for another show. In theatre, one minute you can be an award-winning actor and in the next, be begging for a job. (If you haven't seen it, watch Kristin Chenoweth's Emmy acceptance speech from 2009. It's hilarious.) On the other hand, you can also be sitting at home sending out mailings to casting directors one minute and the next get a phone call offering you your big break.

All of the above statements are, of course, gross generalizations and based purely on my own experiences. There is no one prescribed path or correct formula for success in any career-every person must find his or her own way. As I've written before and undeniably believe, being an artist is a 24/7 career. Persistence is the reigning currency and performances are simply the cherries on top of the proverbial sundaes of hard work that you've done and will continue to do.

And as a sobering final thought, here is a verse of Billy Joel’s brilliant song, "The Entertainer":

I am the entertainer,

And I know just where I stand:

Another serenader,

And another long-haired band.

Today I am your champion.

I may have won your hearts.

But I know the game,

You will forget my name,

And I won't be here

In another year,

If I don't stay on the charts.

© Leah Edwards 2018