Time for another fun peek into the opera world!
The word “Patron” has become a regular part of my vocabulary. It’s not till I throw this word into a sentence while talking to non-singer friends that I remember its a fairly foreign concept to the outside world. I’m SO excited to be writing on this topic, because its one of the most important parts of the Opera career.
Patrons of the arts are the reason we have the great music masterpieces today. Nearly every great composer had rich and powerful people commissioning and supporting their work. The relationship between artist and patron is what has made the music world what it is today. The opera world is no exception.
Today, opera patrons are what make it possible to have any opera at all. Donations are the primary way companies are able to stay in business and put on such large productions. Main stage opera productions at the Lyric take a massive amount of people to make them happen: they need a full orchestra, 20-90 chorus members, a large backstage crew, multiple stage managers, a conductor, a full cast (sometimes double cast, depending of the frequency of performances), a full cast of understudies, supers, dancers, a choreographer, a fight choreographer, a stage director, an assistant director, a large group of wig and makeup artists, seamstresses, dressers, set designers, costume designers, lighting designers, a prompter, rehearsal pianists, diction coaches, and someone to run the supertitles. That isn’t even including all of the administrators, finance people, development, HR, tickets sales, etc. Factoring in all of those salaries and the cost of the materials to build the giant sets and elaborate costumes and wigs, opera is EXPENSIVE! Even selling out every performance wouldn’t pay for it all.
Opera patrons are some of my favorite people in the world! They love and believe in the art form in a tangibly deep way. Most of them have seen more opera than I ever will and know more about it than I could hope to learn. They are passionate about carrying on the traditions, are excited by new works, and are the most generous people I know. They are the epitome of the phrase “putting money where their mouth is”. They also work tirelessly to introduce others to this art form they cherish so much, always working behind the scenes to get more funding and, as most of them are incredibly successful in their careers, offer insight and wisdom from many other aspects of the business world, which gives aid to opera administrators. They are amazing.
Beyond the big, main stage productions, patrons are THE REASON I have a job and have had the opportunity to train, vocally incubate, and have a steady paycheck for my formative singer years. Young Artist Programs are such a special part of the opera world. Going back in time, in the great eras of opera, singers apprenticed, by studying daily and often living with their teachers or great conductors. They trained constantly and had wisdom passed on to them from the previous generation. Even though my career is only about to launch, I have had the blessing of being a “working singer” since leaving grad school 5 years ago. Classical voices don’t fully mature (depending on the voice type) until our mid to late 30s and some even after that. This means, we wouldn’t have been ready to take on the big roles fresh out of college, making young artist programs a necessity. It’s a win/win situation. Young singers get time and experience by being hired by a company to do small roles and understudy bigger ones, and companies get cheap, but quality labor.
These young artist programs have very special patrons. These folks not only love the art form, but also love helping young singers and watching them grow. They follow our careers and, often, travel to see us perform at other companies as well. They help us get adjusted and show us around when we are new to the city, often house us for periods of time, take us to fabulous concerts, help us out with the expensive aspects of our training, and are our CONSTANT supports and encouragement. They come to all of our performances during our time in the program, always a smiling face in the crowd and a warm hug after the performance. It honestly becomes like having family at every performance and in every city in which we work.
In short, patrons are just plain wonderful. Every one of them has lived fascinating lives and have riveting stories to tell about the great opera singers of the past. Between my time in St. Louis, Arizona, Santa Fe, and Chicago, I have met some of the most wonderful people. They have taken me out to dinner, invited me to shows (including an EPIC Bette Midler concert), helped me find housing in foreign cities, made me an afghan, given me a beautiful hand-me-down mink coat, bought me gowns, hand-carved me a wooden box, and opened their homes to me. I honestly can’t express how grateful I am that they have allowed this art form to continue to thrive, enabled me to pursue this career path, and invited me into their lives. They have a very special place in my heart.
Below is me with my Afghan. Be Jealous. It’s awesome.