by Gregory Stapp
Gregoy Stapp’s pamphlet, Myths & Realities of Professional Singing, grew out of his frustration that many institutions and individuals exploit and profit from the dreams of young singers without first explaining the limited opportunities for a successful career, or revealing the financial and personal toll that often must be endured in such a pursuit. MRPS explores the actual world that awaits aspiring singers. It should be required reading for any singer who is contemplating embarking upon this rigorous path.
Fortunately, since MRPS was first written, Opera America has released many publications and holds frequent workshops to assist singers in preparing for a career. Classical Singer magazine and its conventions have also provided new opportunities. These excellent resources should be utilized by aspiring singers.
Permission is hereby granted for copies of this version of Myths and Realities of Professinal Singing to be made and freely distributed provided that:
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Myths and Realities of
by Gregory Stapp
Are you sure you want to do this?
So you’re going to be an opera singer, become rich and famous, and live a life of luxury and adulation? Not! Professional singing can bring great rewards, but ample remuneration is rarely one of them. Few singers are able to earn enough to adequately support themselves or their families. The concert circuit is dominated by established opera singers, but even operatic superstars can’t match a popular entertainer’s income or fame. More importantly, singing is a grueling job that requires enormous sacrifices on the way.
If you are determined to be a singer, pause for a moment to consider this advice. If there is anything else that you can do well and that you enjoy, choose that as a career and save singing for an avocation. Unless the very essence of your being demands that you sing professionally, don’t do it. Get a life instead! Seriously, too many people lose all enjoyment in music as they vainly struggle for professional and financial success. And no matter what, be sure to plan for an alternate career, too. After all, one is more likely to be elected to Congress than to ever earn enough money from singing that it's necessary to pay annual net income taxes.
Singing is something that everyone should learn to do well. It releases stress and spreads joy. But choosing to sing for a living is entirely another question. Armed with only their dreams, eager young singers naively set out to become professionals, unaware of the daunting nature of that task. The individuals and institutions that profit from nurturing these ambitions often operate purely out of self-interest, ignoring the practical realities of a singing career. The path to success is difficult and hazardous, but the candid impressions of one who has successfully negotiated the labyrinth may help others prepare for the perils they’ll face.
If you are convinced that this is the job for you, good luck! A wondrous and exciting time may await you. But before you invest vast sums of money and many years of your life, ask yourself some important questions about the realities of this arduous and frequently misunderstood profession.
• Are you lucky?
Luck is the single most important factor in a career.
• Are you exceptionally talented?
Any young singer who displays an above average talent is likely to be encouraged by proud and well-meaning teachers to pursue a career. But without the full complement of necessary innate gifts (voice, dramatic instincts, musical ear) no training (no matter how extensive or expensive) will enable you to reach a professional standard. Even if you do have what it takes, you might never achieve success. With a lot of hard work you can attain a professional level of quality but you still need luck for a career!
• Are you intelligent?
The days of stupid singers are long gone. No nurse-maids are available to spoon-feed you new roles, nor can you travel with an entourage to baby you through the trials of daily life on the road. Singers keep learning new repertoire throughout their careers. This requires constant research and examination of source materials as well as music and libretti. The greater one’s command of foreign languages, the easier it is to prepare new roles, create full-dimensioned characters and gain access to the international circuit.
• Are you willing to make sacrifices?
If you are successful, your life will be one of constant upheaval. Can you deal with living out of a suitcase most of the year? Are you willing to accept the emotional toll that a singing career can exact upon personal relationships? Can you curtail your social activities to the strictures of a performance schedule? What will you give up in order to pay for training and audition expenses? How well will you face an uncertain financial future?
• Can you stay healthy?
As a professional singer, you must constantly rebuild your instrument, for the voice is brutally susceptible to the constant changes brought about by age, health and environment. Frequent travel means that you’re constantly exposed to germs while already weakened by time zone and climate changes. You must maintain a fit and trim figure (grossly overweight singers are now a rare exception), resist fatigue and most of the bugs, and if unwell still be able to perform to professional standards. And remember, fate has decreed that you never get to perform on the days that you feel truly fabulous!
If you become seriously ill, you face a no-win situation: sing while sick or cancel. Considerable pressure is added to this stressful situation by two factors: Firstly, most companies have an abysmal understudy policy and may have to cancel the performance(s) if you’re unable to sing. Guess who gets blamed?! (Beware of companies that have contractual clauses that make you liable for Acts of God.) Secondly, singers often get paid only for actual performances, not for any of the rehearsal time. Thus cancelling could not only label you as unreliable but deal you a devastating financial blow as well.
If you go ahead and sing but don’t perform up to expectations, you probably won’t be invited back, no matter how valid the reason or how much you were begged to go on and save the show. Even worse, adverse accounts may be widely disseminated (omitting any mitigating circumstances), again potentially damaging your reputation. However the most important factor to consider is the potential risk for permanent vocal harm that always exists when one performs while ill. Expensive physicians and prescriptions do not guarantee vocal safety. In fact, some medications may compound a vocal risk. Common sense is probably your best guide.
• Are you responsible?
As a professional singer, you have to be smart enough to guard your own best interests, because no one else will. Artistically, singers are often the linchpin of a production and should be able to diplomatically achieve their needs from management, pit and stage. Can you provide such leadership?
Always arrive promptly and well-prepared. This should go without saying and applies to all that you do throughout your studies, your career and your life. Be warned! Most contracts allow immediate dismissal for tardiness, absence or lack of preparation. Even more importantly, such behaviour is an insult to your colleagues, who won’t quickly forgive or forget it. Rehearsal time is quite limited and professionals must be able to learn the staging, correct mistakes and make changes immediately. (Checking your music against the orchestra score, or even better, if available, the scrupulously edited complete works editions) before you learn it avoids being embarrassed by misprints!)
Sometimes one has to step into a production without the benefit of any stage rehearsal time at all. This may mean that you will make your entrance never having seen the set, heard the orchestra or rehearsed with the other artists, chorus, stage director or even the conductor. This commonly happens in emergency situations but it can also occur when guesting in Europe or when casts change in repertoire productions at many large theatres.
• How well do you take rejection?
Unlike normal people, opera singers are constantly doing job interviews. Expect and learn how to deal with rejection. Lots of rejection! Fierce competition, personal taste, package deals, unannounced prior casting, seasonal repertoire, the infamous casting couch and a host of other factors combine to guarantee that everyone suffers occasional rejection.
• Can you say no?
If you don’t know when to say no, you will not be able to sustain a singing career. The trail to stardom is littered with the carcasses of singers who do too much too soon. Never accept a role unless you are sure that you can do justice to it and that you will suffer no vocal harm from it.
The Job of Singing
All professional musicians encounter significant burdens, yet would-be opera singers face additional challenges as they strive for artistic mastery. Unlike instrumentalists, vocalists must create their own instrument as well as play it. Struggles for virtuosity are useless unless a golden voice is simultaneously being forged. And since it is impossible to accurately hear one’s own voice, singers are forced to rely entirely on outside ears.
Reconciling the intangible nature of singing with music’s concrete requirements is further complicated by the inherent lack of a shared vocabulary among singers. Language is poorly equipped to describe the unique physical sensations involved in the singing process. Verbal explanations may at first cause more confusion than understanding.
For example, the word dark can have very different connotations to various people. Some would associate it with a rich, round, vibrant, colorful voice, whereas others might use it to refer to swallowed, overly-covered, hollow, or artificial vocalism. Communication between teacher and student remains tenuous until a common bridge of linguistic definitions securely links them to each other. This personal language, exacerbated by foreign language barriers, explains how great singers and pedagogues can describe singing in different or even contradictory terms.
Finding a responsible, knowledgeable and imaginative voice teacher who can truly inspire students is essential but difficult, since quacks and charlatans abound. One must also develop excellent musicianship (something that most instrumentalists get a ten-to-twenty year head start on) and acquire strong linguistic and acting skills as well.
Unfortunately, the search for qualified instruction in these fields can also be elusive. It is unimportant whether you obtain your training as part of a formal school program or privately. The quality of the training is what is essential. Take advantage of learning opportunities when they occur. If you wait, it may be too late.
Investigate potential institutions and teachers thoroughly. Don’t be overly swayed by reputations. School faculties, curriculums and administrations change frequently, as do occupants of the "teacher of the month club". Advanced degrees and academic standing do not always reflect talent or teaching ability, while high fees may guarantee lean bank accounts and little else. Unscrupulous and/or untalented instructors are often the greediest. Make decisions based on how your needs can best be met. Don’t be embarrassed if you make mistakes. Acknowledge and deal with them promptly. If you don’t feel you’re making progress with your voice teacher, look for someone else! Waiting only exacerbates the problem and delays your progress.
Never do an audition for the experience. You should only audition if you’re convinced that you’re qualified to win the contract or competition. Anything else is an insult to the judges, whose time is short and whose memories are very long. Of course, being qualified to win doesn’t mean that you will, only that you’re ready to try your luck.
Presenting yourself in the best possible light is the essence of a good audition. The rest is out of your hands. Don’t be discouraged if you lose. After all, the odds are always against you. You’ll have succeeded if you’ve done your best. Auditions are brief performances and must be treated as such. Your performance begins the moment you arrive (30 minutes early) and doesn’t end until you’ve left. Make sure that your dealings with everyone outside the audition hall are cordial and professional. You never know who may be watching you. During the actual audition, you will be judged from the moment you are first seen. Your personality and deportment may make the difference between winning and losing an otherwise successful audition. Entertain your audience and enjoy yourself!
If you’ve brought your own accompanist, his or her performance can reflect credit or shame upon your audition. Always provide any accompanist with legible, clearly marked music, being especially careful of cuts and cadenzas. Back-to-back high quality photocopies (buy the music, then copy it) in a tabulated ring-binder notebook will enable your accompanist to find your selections quickly, turn pages discretely and avoid distracting from your audition.
• Competitions and Apprentice Programs
Opera America’s publications, and Classical Singer’s directories and audition lists, as well as Musical America’s annual International Directory of the Performing Arts provide a host of valuable information for those ready to explore a career. Together with various trade publications they supply essential data on companies, auditions, competitions, apprentice programs and the entire operatic community in general.
Competition requirements are often arbitrary, inconsistent and incomprehensible. Many are badly run by well-meaning but uninformed volunteers. Competitions that don’t offer employment are often worthless in terms of direct career advancement with one important exception: any money that you win can pay for further training and audition expenses. There’s also a chance that someone hearing the competition might become interested in helping further your career.
Apprentice programs are supposed to offer excellent training, but in fact vary substantially in quality. Some are no more than slave labor contracts to sing glorified chorus or dreadful school shows. Others allow you to learn and cover leading roles, while a few truly provide the multi-level training and performance opportunities that they should. Try to get first-hand information from others who have participated in any apprentice program you audition for.
Aggravating the generally poor wage scale in the United States is the fierce competition for scarce jobs. Until domestic companies are able to sustain lengthy seasons with resident artists, recent graduates will have to continue squeezing their way into an already overly crowded talent pool. Despite the recent rise in the number of American opera companies, most still produce only a few productions annually with perhaps twotofour performances each. This market imbalance gives employers such a tremendous advantage in contract negotiations that depressed wages and persistent problems in the work environment are a natural result.
Choose an agent very carefully. This person will be representing you. A bad choice could damage or even ruin a career. Your agent must be trusted by the artistic community and by you. He or she must believe in your talent and be willing to guide and nurture you, not just use you up. That may mean turning down lucrative offers at times, but soon there won’t be any offers at all should you venture into the wrong repertoire or attempt demanding roles too quickly.
Sometimes it isn’t the repertoire but rather the performance schedule that makes the contract impossible to accept. Proper rest is essential for healthy singing. Back-to-back performances can wreak havoc with voices. And watch out for open dress rehearsals scheduled the night before or in the case of concerts, on the same day as your performance.
Beware of retainer fees. Some infamous agencies charge huge sums from desperate singers. This rarely does anything more than line the pockets of the agency. An agent is entitled to a reasonable commission (10% of opera & 20% of concert, or 15% of both are the current standard rates) and normal business expenses incurred on your behalf. You should be wary of anything else. Maintain final approval of all contracts and keep control of your artistic destiny.
AGMA’s Code of Professional Standards for Agents & Managers Representing AGMA Artists provides excellent advice and assistance regarding choosing an Agent.
• New York
Most American artist management agencies are based in New York and expect their singers to live in its environs so that they can take advantage of the constant round of auditions. Of course, once you’re working you’ll be out of town anyway (unless you have a resident contract at the Met), missing auditions and worrying about your vacant or sublet residence. New York is suffers from the wounds that beset many urban areas but is considerably cleaner than in years past, and as the artistic capital of the world it is an exciting and vigorous performing venue. Even if you resist moving there, you will still need (and want) to visit there often. Now is the time to begin cultivating the friends that you will need to crash with later. Most companies travel periodically to New York, but will often hear people in their own theatres as well. This can be a real advantage at times. Not only can you be heard in a better setting (like their theatre) but you may be given more time and individual attention.
• American Guild of Musical Artists
AGMA is the union that opera singers are required to join if they wish to work in major American opera houses. It also represents choristers, dancers, stage directors, choreographers, production staff, and actors, is affiliated with the AFL/CIO through the Four As and has some reciprocal agreements with Actor's Equity. While it can be a major task to earn a union card in some fields, it is quite easy to join AGMA.
Full information regarding the process can be obtained from AGMA headquarters in New York. Pay particular attention to AGMA’s rules for Apprentice Program eligibility and for any initiation fee discounts, delays or exemptions that might benefit you.
AGMA has been an effective advocate for resident groups like choruses and ballet corps. It has had more difficulty representing soloists. This is partly because the short seasons of most companies require many principal singers to travel constantly. Singers may perform in any given city only once every few years, and since many companies split their seasons into separate calendar periods, it can be virtually impossible to organize meaningful local union activities.
In recent years the active participation of many soloists at every level of AGMA led to significant improvements in many aspects of AGMA’s representation, particularly at the bargaining table. In addition to these unprecedented gains for soloists, AGMA has made huge strides in every aspect of its organization, and it is now has the financial and staff resources to be able to actively and effectively represent its membership.
Decades ago, AGMA was founded of, by, and for soloists. Over time some soloists forgot, and others never learned, why AGMA is not only a necessary, but an essential part of their working lives. Soloists might think that their agent, or they themselves, are capable of representing their own interests in every aspect of their career. But this is false.
Rehearsal and performance fees, per diems, travel expenses and perks that agents often laboriously and assiduously bargain for in good faith, may seem to be reluctantly acceded to by employers, but in fact are actually already guaranteed by the governing collective bargaining agreement. Should they hire you they are required to pay you no less than certain amounts and to abide by a host of rules that are designed for soloists protection.
If agents only took the trouble to learn how much money, etc., was already guaranteed to their artists, they would be better prepared to negotiate superior individual contracts. And even house-hold name superstars have needed to turn to AGMA for assistance upon occasion. And where their own high-priced managers and lawyers has previously failed, AGMA has often successfully championed them.
Without AGMA, soloists have little or no hope of receiving fair compensation, addressing health and safety concerns, or enforcing their legal and contractual rights. That said, soloists themselves are responsible for ensuring that AGMA properly represents them by attending membership and shop meetings and fully participating in union matters.
Taxes are the special nemesis of singers. Countries, most states and some municipalities assess taxes on any income that is earned within their jurisdictions. This means that singers may be required to file returns everywhere that they work. Often they are also required to file quarterly estimated returns in each place as well as various informational returns like forms 1096 and 1099.
Many remain unaware of their tax reporting responsibilities until the day they are served with tax deficiency notices complete with punitive interest penalties. Every bureaucratic entity has its own rules and regulations and just acquiring and completing the necessary forms is a major headache.
Changes to the federal tax code in the 1980s were quite unfavorable toward singers. Most standard business deductions are now unavailable to singers unless they are hired as independent contractors and give up their employee benefits. Many abhor independent contractor status and support all legal challenges to it but ignore the transitory nature of regional opera, its attendant insurance interruptions, and the enormous travel expenses that can outweigh other factors.
Principal singers should really be treated as statutory employees so they would be able to receive employee benefits and still be able to properly deduct their expenses. Unfortunately, such status, as the name implies, requires an act of Congress. Nevertheless, that is the only proper solution, and one that actually completely agrees with the way principals singers are employed. Call your congressman and demand action!
Tax laws seem to be in a constant state of flux but since the IRS loves to target performers for audits it is important that one’s records be complete and in compliance with current legal rulings.
• European Audition Tours
Opera is an European art form and remains widely supported there. In spite of recent government cutbacks which led to the closure of some opera houses, Europe still retains scores of companies with year-long seasons and full complements of resident artists. This enables their house singers to maintain reasonably normal lifestyles.
While once it was an absolute necessity for Americans to make a name for themselves in Europe before they could secure work domestically, that is no longer the case. Nevertheless, working in Europe still provides many tangible benefits including being able to truly absorb the languages and cultures that spawned opera.
Thanks to the multiple performances available in long seasons one is able to delve much more deeply into musical and dramatic nuances. Europe’s compact size facilitates working in many different countries and allows one to be available for recordings, which are mostly produced there.
As you consider the expenses of an audition tour in Europe, bear a few things in mind. Many German contracts are subject to the Fach system. This may require you to sing repertoire that is not right for you simply because it appears on a bureaucratic list. Some countries have very restrictive trade policies and Germany’s current anti-foreigner climate may raise barriers there as well. The market is now flooded with talented, experienced Eastern European singers whose need for hard currency leaves them dazzled by even low Western wages that seem a fortune at their home country’s exchange rate. There are probably more singers unsuccessfully looking for work in Munich than there are in New York.
A Few Basics of Singing
The ambiguous nature of the human voice poses an intrinsic impediment to singing. Unable to trust their own ears, singers have to depend upon the aural judgement (and taste) of others. They must develop a method to match the sensations that they feel when singing with the sounds that others hear. This difficult process is aggravated by language’s inadequate ability to clearly define sensations or sounds. Once they can identify and reproduce the sensations that produce pleasing sounds, the consistency of their singing will measurably improve.
The goal of singing is communication. The text, music and underlying emotion must all be understood by the audience. Good vocal production is the key to achieving that goal, acoustics and orchestral balance notwithstanding. Without it, all is for naught. The essence of healthy vocal production may be reduced to a few intertwined components: energized physical freedom, efficient breathing, vibrant tone, pure vowels and gleaming consonants. Combined they form the vocal instrument. Advance visualization, spontaneous conception and sustained intensity give it life.
Singing is an athletic activity, requiring enormous physical energy as well as mental and emotional discipline. This energy must be released in a relaxed vibrant manner. This is impossible to achieve unless the body is healthy and rested. Sleep, pacing and planning are just as important to singers as they are to marathon runners. Singers must utilize the natural abilities of resonance, breathing and stamina that they were born with. Rediscovering them often requires the stripping of emotional and physical barriers of tension that a lifetime of bad habits has established. The freedom and vulnerability that result can be initially disconcerting, but are the foundation of a sound technique.
Music may be partially defined as motion through time. You can’t hold it or capture it no matter how you try. Recordings can repeat the movement but cannot stop it. If the motion ceases, so does the music. It can only be experienced in real time. As sound moves in a wave, so voices must travel with a natural vibration. Straight tones can’t stay in tune with the entire wave of a pitch frequency while wobbly tones bump into surrounding pitches. A natural vibrato signifies vocal freedom, whereas a wobble is a sign of negative tension and/or a lack of balanced support.
Negative tension inhibits singing. All such tension must be eliminated. Breathing should be natural, relaxed, buoyant and quiet, leading imperceptibly into singing. Avoid holding your breath or any physical jerks or gasping. Locking or grabbing is not support but simply uncomfortable negative tension. Gasping dries your cords, distracts your audience and creates a dramatic atmosphere that is usually inappropriate for your character’s mood. Body support must be buoyant, flexible and low. Utilizing supple support beneath the back of the lungs creates greater breath capacity and allows for greater tonal energy, control and agility.
The voice’s core resonance color and its projection focal point should always exist in tandem and balanced harmony. All tones, regardless of dramatic color or dynamics, must be vocally complete and gently produced! When the vocal production is totally free, tones achieve an untouched quality. Quiet tones may appear to abide far in front of the body, spinning among the audience, while the vibrant resonance of fuller tones can seem to sweep back toward the singer, caressing the face in passing. Pitch and dynamics must be changed by thought, not physical manipulation. Transitions should be smoothly made but clearly defined. Coloratura also needs to be legato (no aspiration, consonants, or glottals, although extremely fast runs or embellishments may require some gentle articulation for clarity), a task that initially can be mastered most easily by practicing runs at soft dynamic levels.
It may help to recall that there is no such thing as a high or low note. We only call them that because of how they're represented on musical staff paper. Pitches change by how fast our vocal cords are vibrating. Period. Yes, singers can experience subjective resonance within different parts of their body (chest, head, etc.) but they have nothing to do with the actual pitch frequency. So one never has to reach or hit a so-called high note, nor grovel for a likewise misnomered low note again.
The throat must be relaxed and open, the soft palate high, the larynx floating comfortably low, and all resonators (bones and air pockets) available to achieve a vibrant tone. This tone becomes the basis for the vocal legato. Without it, it is impossible to attain a musical legato. The tongue and lips must always be relaxed and flexible. When not involved in the proper formation of a consonant, the tip of the tongue should rest against the back of the lower teeth. Avoid lifting the tongue up toward the roof of the mouth, shovelling it down below the lower gums, pulling it straight back from the teeth or cupping it like the bowl of a spoon. Taking any of these actions when the tongue should be at rest can create negative tension, distort words and inhibit free vocalism.
The jaw should be disassociated from the actions of the tongue and lips as much as possible. Avoid jutting it out, depressing it, locking it, or clenching the teeth. An open mouth with comfortable space in front and in back complements an open throat but exaggerating the opening or clamping it into a tiny space can cause disastrous problems.
The purer your vowels, the easier it will be to sing them. This is true regardless of pitch or voice category. But, don't try to hold on to your pure vowel from a comfortable lower pitch as you ascend the scale (sing faster frequencies) or you will end up spreading the vowel and thinning the tone. On the other hand, exaggerated vowel modification often causes more problems than it solves. It’s important to maintain the intent focus of pure vowels and allow your voice to make any slight adjustments that may be required for range by itself.
Subjective resonance changes occur, from the chest to the front and back of the mouth to the top of the head (and beyond), but none of that means pitches are getting higher. They are still only being generated by the vocal cords’ speed. But the resonance chambers are where one perceives actual tone being created. And the different chambers are like gears in a car.
First, it's inadvisable to sing in only one resonance (gear), and second, being able to shift smoothly, or even imperceptibly among the resonances (gears) is the mark of a proficient singer (driver). These are the easiest ways to maintain comfortable vocal sensations, textual integrity and create the perception of a seamless range, undisturbed by register shifts or text changes. This also allows one’s text to remain comprehensible.
Some believe that one should sing just as one speaks. However, this only works if one's speaking voice is well-produced, and, if one recognizes that normal conversational speech doesn't require the same pitch, tempo, or dynamic variation of singing. It would be more accurate to say that if one speaks well, then singing should feel the same way one would feel speaking at the same pitches, rhythyms and tempi as the music one sings. Presuming, that is, that one can actually do such a thing without difficulty!
All vowels should be produced without disturbing the vocal legato. This is easier to achieve if one thinks of every vowel having the point of [u], width of [i] and space of [a]. Consonants should also be an integral part of the vocal legato, expressive and easily produced. As with vowels, pronouncing consonants properly always results in better vocalism. (Bad diction is the primary contributor to audience somnolence!)
Quality singing requires a sound vocal production and an artistic mastery that is solidly founded upon scholarship, intellectual integrity and emotional inspiration. Poor singing is usually caused by sloth and/or interfering tension.
Eventually singing becomes an automatic process that is spontaneously initiated in response to dramatic requests. This allows singers to concentrate on other concerns during performances (staging, costumes, conductor, etc.) and to communicate directly to their audiences.
Singing is supposed to be fun. Vocal technique is designed to eliminate anything that keeps it from being fun. Mastering the intricacies of music and language will make it even more enjoyable. Then by simply thinking the meaning of the words your voice can take flight.
Don’t let external factors (acoustics, amplification, set designs, orchestral balance, etc.) interfere with proper vocalism. Be aware that authority figures may be ignorant or unmindful of vocal limitations. This especially applies to choral directors! Vocally unaware chorus masters may unwittingly ask singers (soloists as well as choruses) to sing in a vocally hazardous manner. Enamored by their search for some perfect anemic "choral blend," they rob voices of their essence and restrict them with all manner of tension. Therefore many choirs (professional and amateur) become vocal battlegrounds leaving voices in tatters everywhere. You only have one voice and it is irreplaceable. Guard it well and insist upon good singing. Always!
* * * * *
Singing is a gift from God that all can hope to share,
but those who choose to sing for life are sadly few and rare.
Faced with the myriad obstacles that nature and humanity can devise,
steadfastly they persevere, conquering maladies, foolishness and lies.
Torn from their families and homes, they suffer great grief,
infrequently finding any roadside support or relief.
Authorities seldom providing essential leadership or inspiration,
singers must cope in desperate circumstances with talent and imagination.
Denied the title of musician by instrumentalist’s self-righteous ire,
musicality is in fact but one required facet of the art to which they aspire.
Craftsman and virtuoso, scholar, actor, and linguist, as well as musician,
all of these a singer must be; an artist indeed in this humble opinion.
The sparkling joy of singing, still springs from within their hearts,
refusing to be dampened by the strenuous rigors of their art.
Fervently praise their brave and selfless choices
and gladly lend your ears to such bold heroic voices.
- Gregory Stapp
Featured as Sarastro on the PBS Great Performances: LIVE FROM LINCOLN CENTER telecast of New York City Opera’s Die Zauberflöte, bass Gregory Stapp has performed with scores of opera companies, symphonic orchestras and music festivals in America, as well as in Europe, Mexico, China and Japan. Many of his 30 roles under the auspices of San Francisco Opera have been heard on NPR.
Oscar-winning filmmaker, Bruce Beresford, directed Stapp as Ashby in the Spoleto Festival’s Italian telecast production of La fanciulla del west. At Spoleto, Gian Carlo Menotti showcased Stapp in recital, and then invited him to Scotland’s Edinburgh Festival as Mr. Kofner in the composer’s production of The Consul.
He has appeared in concert with the Philadelphia Orchestra, San Francisco Symphony, Osaka Philharmoniker, Sakai City Opera, Chinese People’s Liberation Army Symphony Orchestra, Shandong Symphony and Kunming Symphony; performed Ramfis in Aïda for Guadalajara, Mexico, and has sung in Die Zauberflöte, Rigoletto, La Bohème and Don Giovanni as well as in various concerts for Japan’s Sakai City Opera.
Stapp’s given master classes at the University of Jinan, Shandong Teachers’s University, Kunming University Music Conservatory, and Sakai City Opera as well as at many American universities.
He was Charlemagne for the AVA Opera Theatre’s American premiere of Schubert’s Fierrabras and he created the role of John Mackay in the world premiere of Bern Herbolsheimer’s Mark Me Twain for Nevada Opera’s Silver Anniversary. His Emperor Altoum in Connecticut Grand Opera’s American stage premiere of Busoni’s Turandot and Fasolt in François Rochaix’s production of Wagner’s Der Ring Nibelungen for Seattle Opera also drew wide attention to the American bass. He sang Bluebeard in a staged and filmed production of Duke Bluebeard's Castle with the UC Davis Symphony, conducted by Christian Baldini.
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