Category Archives: Laura

Being Human

After a three year hiatus from this blog, Kristin and I decided to start it up again. Glancing back through some of the posts I wrote in 2016, I can see that a lot has changed…. and very little has changed. I was just launching into the next step of my career and now I’m launched, but still climbing into the unknown. I know more, but still have so much to learn. I’m more confident than ever in my voice and what I have to offer the opera world, but now have first hand experience with imposter’s syndrome. I think it will be good for me to take the time to look at my life, where I am, how I feel, and take stock.

The analogy I use a lot for what it’s like to do this career is the Narnia Wardrobe. I go away for a gig, have a whole experience, meeting new people, singing new roles, speaking new languages, discovering new things, facing new challenges, success, failure, and a lot in between. Then I return home, where it seems like nothing changed (even though plenty has… I just wasn’t there to see it) and no one there experienced the past few months with me in the wardrobe. Then I’m home for anywhere from a couple days to a month, before heading back into the wardrobe for the next adventure. This makes the year fly by and I wonder where it all went!

It’s fitting that I decided to pick this blog back up while singing the same role I was doing the last time I wrote in this blog — singing Jenufa in English for the 2016 debut in London.

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I’m currently in one of my favorite places on earth (Santa Fe, New Mexico), singing with one of my favorite companies (The Santa Fe Opera), performing one of my favorite roles (Jenufa), this time in Czech.

From day one of this show, all I wanted was for time to slow down. I came home from the first day of rehearsal with both excitement and melancholy. I honestly felt a twinge of sadness that this experience would be over in 7 weeks. Now, after 3 years of the gig opera life, I know how quickly wonderful experiences go. I’m already finishing the 3rd week and I feel as though we just started. Every day is a joy when you are doing what you love, feeling good about your work, and loving the people around you. 

This year, especially, has been teaching me the joys of my job and the perils of doing this job while being human. Back in college, I remember the day my friends and I discovered a YouTube video of the epic tenor crack. We listened to it over and over, laughing at how hilarious it sounded, not connecting that it was probably that man’s nightmare coming true on stage AND being recorded. We discovered and fell in love with famous opera singers. The further we got in school, the more we felt we could criticize. She scoops too much! His straight tones! He was so flat! She totally botched that high note! Young artists could be some of the worst, watching principals sing the roles they cover, quietly talking about how much better they could sing it.

Ignorance is bliss. 

Now that I’m a of couple years into being the principal, I regret any feelings I ever had like that. I do tend to be a singer who likes others voices and looks for the beauty… but I would be lying if I said I didn’t have times when I floated around with a critical ear and judgements of how I would sing something. There are healthy levels of critical listening, learning, and developing your own style… and then there is youthful ignorance or arrogant pride.

When you aren’t the one doing the job, you haven’t yet experienced what it is to be a human being in a career that doesn’t account for you being human. 

This season has been heavy and stressful. I will have debuted 6 brand new roles in a row. (And yes… I’m counting Jenufa in Czech for the first time, because Czech is a beast and it basically felt brand new.) I’ve had to be learning and memorizing the next role, while trying to get the current one on its feet. For example, my first time singing the challenging role of Fiordiligi from Mozart’s Cosi fan Tutte was in Stuttgart, Germany this past spring. I was speaking German in daily life, singing a new role in Italian, and furiously learning and memorizing Jenufa in Czech. My brain simply stopped working by the end of the day. 

I’m a very ordered person. I plan out how long it will take me to learn and memorize a role and have always felt 100% prepared when it was time to start rehearsals. However, the human element has started messing with my best laid plans.

I had a month home in Chicago to memorize my Fiordiligi role before flying to Germany to begin rehearsals. Anyone who knows this opera, knows it is A LOT and not an easy sing. It’s long, high, and takes lots of endurance. According to my plan, I would have the whole thing learned and memorized by the end of the first 3 weeks, leaving one week to sing the opera through every day to learn how to pace it and build endurance before leaving home. Foolproof.CAE89FAC-20EE-45A9-B1AB-4FAE99B11AA0

But then, the WORST singer calamity happened….I got sick. Really sick. A horrible combo of Strep throat, sinus infection, and laryngitis. It was the first time I lost my voice since college. So instead of pacing and endurance building, my final week of preparation was spent in bed with a high temp, taking drugs, and foggily packing for my month and a half in Germany. The day I flew, I wasn’t contagious anymore, but still didn’t have my voice and had two very plugged ears, causing my eardrums to almost burst on my flights overseas.

I finally made it to Stuttgart, where the real frustration began. Since this opera was not new for the opera house, we had only 10 days of rehearsals before opening. I still didn’t have my voice. The company was incredibly supportive and patient as I healed and tried to gauge if my voice needed rest or endurance training during rehearsals. I imagine it was like trying to run a marathon while still recovering from an injury. I knew this role would be good for me and that I could sing it.  But I had to make peace with the fact that I was a human, who couldn’t control getting sick. I simply had to figure out how to do my job to the best of my abilities in whatever circumstance was thrown at me.

Thank goodness, I had a wonderful director and conductor, colleagues and administrators who trusted that I could do what I was often doubting in myself. And they were right, it’s a good role for me. I was able to figure out how to sing it by opening, and got even stronger as the performances went on. But I had to face my own judgements and the imposter syndrome of knowing I could sing much better than I was currently able to. I knew the audience and reviewers had no idea what I had gone through leading up to opening night, but I had to have grace for myself anyway. I know my performances were far from perfect, and I will, Lord willing, be much stronger the next time I sing the role, but I’m proud of what I was able to do, considering the circumstances. 630E5833-A272-4FF2-85B0-D7888A9F035E

My teacher used to say: “You will only have a handful of performances in your career, where your voice feels 100% going into it”. Young Laura nodded seriously, but secretly assumed it would be different for me. NOPE. Between sickness, allergies, hormones, sleep, dryness, jet lag, reflux, exhaustion, stress, and emotions, I am finally making peace that I will simply only ever have what I have that day. I’m now at the place with my technique, where I’m not ONLY at the mercy of those factors. I’m getting to know my voice better and better with each new role, and am able to be present in the moment to adjust and let go, even when things don’t feel great.  

I can now see why most regularly working singers are more gracious to their colleagues than young singers. We understand that we are all human. While the world of reviewers haven’t quite figured this out yet, I’ve come to value the opinions of the wonderful people around me, who have been on the ground, working to do their best in the face of being human.

This quote by Theadore Roosevelt speaks to all of this perfectly: 

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.

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I can do it myself, but…

“I am an independent woman.” This is such an interesting statement to me. In society today, It is often a badge of honor or personal mantra. To me, it is simply a statement of truth. As a single woman coming up on my 30s, I’ve spent my life living this statement. I AM an independent woman. It’s simply what I am. It’s not a positive or negative thing. It’s a reality. IMG_1402Lots of women, even after finding a man and getting married, still want this statement to be a defining part of their identity. It’s been a very important concept to women since the feminist movement and the dawning of an era when women finally had value outside of home-making and child rearing.

In the position I’m in, being capable of taking care of myself isn’t something I often identify, as it’s the default and daily status quo. I actually don’t stop to think about it until I have the rare and wonderful occasions when I don’t have to be independent. I remember feeling ridiculously emotional, after a stressful time of traveling for work, when my dad picked me up at the airport when I was meeting up with them for a family vacation. I didn’t have to carry my luggage, get my own rental car, navigate a new place, find a place to eat, or pay for every little travel thing. It’s like I could take a break from being an adult for a week. It was wonderful.

In general, I am terrible at asking for help. I have always hated feeling like a burden on someone else. I remember, whenever I was sick as a child, walking back and forth from my room to my parent’s a multitude of times, trying to decide whether I was sick enough to warrant waking them up, even though they NEVER made me feel bad about it. I knew my dad was often on-call and had to wake up in the middle of the night for work. And anytime I had a bad dream and wanted to sleep with my folks, I wouldn’t be able to fall asleep because I would lay perfectly still, not wanting to move to a more comfortable position, for fear I would annoyingly wake them up and make my dad move to a different bed so he could sleep. It wasn’t till fairly recently that I realized he moved because HE tossed and turned and didn’t want to wake me. I still have this problem anytime I have to share a bed. I end up barely being able to sleep.

IMG_8207Living with roommates has given me the opportunity to work on my inability to ask for help. They have been wonderful about never making me feel bad for asking. I also have started to put together that, since I never feel put out when someone I care about asks me to do something for them, it’s safe to assume the they probably feel the same.

I have a number of very specific memories of feeling EXTREMELY touched by small gestures of kindness and awareness of my need. Not even need, just awareness of me: when some of my guy friends grabbed my suitcases to carry them from the car to the house, a man who always IMG_0162make a point of making sure he is the one to open the door, two of my closest friends who remembered the earrings we had spotted months earlier and surprised me with them at one of my big performances, and my wonderful friends and colleagues who randomly insist on paying for coffee/lunch/dinner. I can picture their faces, the situations, and my surprised and touched reaction.

When it comes to the 5 Love Languages, my number one is absolutely Quality Time. It isn’t just how I feel loved, it is the basis for ALL of my relationships. I NEED it to be close to someone. In a romantic relationships, Physical Touch is a probably second. Words of Affirmation are a way I express my affection, both platonically and romantically, on a regular basis. I very rarely filter the positive things I’m feeling about someone. I just tell them, awkward or not. But it’s never been hugely important to receive. I never really even thought about Gifts or Acts of Service much, although I also find Acts of Service an easy way for me to express my affection and I’m sort of terrible at remembering to buy Gifts.

However, as I’ve been exploring this concept of being independent, I realized that Gifts and Acts of service are things that make me feel ESPECIALLY loved. They aren’t necessary for me to be close to someone and often aren’t part of my closest friendships, as many of those are long distance. BUT the moment someone does something for me or gets me something as a gift, a wash of appreciation and almost dumbstruck awe comes over me. I honestly often don’t know how to express my thanks and also feel its silly to feel as grateful and touched as I do. I think it’s just a natural part of being a single woman in IMG_9456your (almost) 30s. I’ve spent the majority of my life not being anyone’s number one priority, except my parents… who are AMAZING at making me feel loved.

My dad is the first and most prominent memory I have of Acts of Service. He always sees people. He sees their need and fills it, often before they have a chance to ask. I remember, on vacation, when Kristin, toting baby Nora around, simply mentioned that she was thirsty. Our conversation went on and minutes later, my dad (who had magically disappeared… he’s great at that) reappeared with bottles of water for everyone. He simply saw a need and could easily fill it, so he did. That is how he operates with EVERYONE. And my mother is the best, most personal gift-giver I know. Every Christmas in the Wilde household is nothing short of magical. She decorates the house and each gift with beauty and care. Every gift is specific, purposeful, and meaningful. She even gave me a giant bag of rolled quarters once, as she knew I was always running out of laundry quarters and found it a slight point of stress. I never have to give her a list anymore, because she makes note of things I’ve mentioned and even those I hadn’t even thought about, but were IMG_9382related to specific aspects of my life. She is simply amazing and ALWAYS remember to send cards and gifts.

Having parents like that have made me value deeply people who “see” me. Little things and tiny gestures make me feel loved beyond words. Since I function in adult life in a single state, acknowledging me in a specific way, though words and deeds, makes such an impact. And, by God’s Grace, I am literally surrounded by people who do this. I have some of the BEST people in the world in my life, and that really isn’t an exaggeration. Still being single at my age could leave one feeling wholly lonely and generally unloved, but that is NOT the case for me. While I do have the moments of aching for a man to share my life with, I also revel in having the chance to spend my time and energy investing in my friendships and family. And while I appreciate that I am so comfortable being independent, I love that I don’t HAVE to be all the time and look forward to the day when I can relinquish some of that independence to the man I marry. And get ready, whoever-you-are, I’m a handful. 🙂

The Myth of Perfection: Redefining Success.

I’ve been having lots of conversations recently about what constitutes life success. Within some circles, not finding a husband and raising a family is failing. In others, home-making and not pursuing a lucrative career is failing. Success can be defined by finances, relationships, good achieved, or acquiring a desired image. Each individual has their own definition, which is a great thing, but can also cause judgments of those who don’t share your definition and also an internal struggle when the things going well in your life are not the things that, in your mind, constitute success. The concept itself is massively relative, but universally important.

Personally, I think I’m a little odd. I’ve never been one with concrete life goals. I never dreamed of the details of my wedding day, thought through the number of kids I want to have, pictured the house or location of my dreams, fantasized about “things” I wanted to acquire, or even dreamed of places to visit. Even with finances, my goal is to be comfortable enough with my financial status to allow me to not be worried about paying bills and to be regularly and unconcernedly generous. I don’t need fancy things, just things that function well. And I LOVE saving. Even in my dreams, when I dream about winning large amounts of money, Dream-Laura first gets excited about the amount of money she can then put away in retirement and savings (which is usually 95% of whatever the amount is… like I said… I LOVE saving).

IMG_2784I think my lack of detailed life goals is a combination of the moment I decided to make a conscious effort to limit the amount of “expectation” I place of my life and my natural tendency to be a present-focused person (both topics of entire blog posts in themselves). I take what is given to me and work hard with what I have at that moment in time, while being logically aware that my choices will have positive or negative consequences on the future. I am highly aware that there are very few factors in my life that I have control over, and my tendency is to fight tooth and nail to maintain control in the areas I can and to limit the variables in the others. Take my career: all I can really control is my ability to do my job well and to be proactive about putting myself out there. I can’t make someone like my singing. I can’t make someone hire me over another singer. I can’t pick and choose the houses I sing at. I can’t even fully decide the roles I will get hired for. All I can do, is work with the voice I have, to understand how it functions, and to set myself free to make vocal and dramatic choices that express the character I am playing genuinely. And while I have places I would love to sing and roles I would love to perform, they aren’t the measure of my success.

I’ve been spending alot of time toying with the idea of redefining situational success. While it’s easy for me to let go of life expectations (since I really have very few), I massively struggle with letting go of my expectations for performing. Since, in my brain, the function of my voice is a variable I should be able to control, the idea of not meeting my expectations (which, yes, are basically vocal perfection), is unacceptable to me. When Judgy-Laura is present with me on stage, I CAN’T sing as well as I want, since I then try to micromanage every tone escaping from my mouth. It’s a bit like trying to throw a baseball and stiffly t
rying to manipulate your arm into the perfect position during the motion. It simply doesn’t work. The ball won’t fly as far when you can’t let go and let the motion take over.FullSizeRender

A while ago, after a couple of less-than-perfect performances and dealing with the feeling of failure, I talked with one of my trusted coaches about my need to redefine failure, to which he replied, “No, you need to redefine success”. If I take myself away from my own performance, I know that what touches me and excites me as a listener is not strict, mechanic vocal perfection. That may be great for about 5 minutes, but then that, on its own, gets boring. I LOVE voices with heart, risk, and a little blood in the sound. It’s a balancing act. You can’t give those characteristics to your singing unless you have command over the instrument. That’s where the life in the practice room and the life on the stage start to define their roles. The practice room is to explore, solidify, repeat, stretch, and understand your singing. I’ve made the decision to not “make” my voice, but to discover it. The practice room is where most of that happens.

IMG_2098But performance is where risk and reward comes in. I recently spent 2 1/2 weeks rehearsing The Merry Widow, in the place of the great Renée Fleming. She arrived last week to finish the rehearsal process and do the performances. But each day of rehearsal was like a little performance for me. I was able to play off of my amazing colleagues, make choices, take vocal and dramatic risks, and I found my voice being set free. Once you are a character, singing becomes a means to an end. The singing is there to express what the character wants to say or is feeling. When you are just practicing, it is a mechanism to be controlled. Success is the two combined. When you understand your instrument and how it wants to function, it gives you the vocal and musical vocabulary to express the extreme emotions in opera. I’ve decided, for me, performance success is letting my voice express genuinely. Will every note be perfect? No. (BLARGH…. It took me about 5 minutes before being able to type “no”…. I still HATE the idea of lack of perfection, even though I also recognize it is the reality of singing and… well… life). But I am on the journey to accepting that success can’t and shouldn’t be linked exclusively to the concept of perfection. AND perfection is also a relative term, at least in the area of aesthetics and the arts.

As I look forward to moving away from my young artist days of mostly understudying and finally enter the world of performing entire roles on a regular basis, I find myself excited to have these rehearsal periods of discovery and the terrifying and wonderful risk of taking the stage and offering the audience all that I have to give. I will continue on the journey to redefine success with each new role and stage of life. I will keep the conversation open with my colleagues and those with more experience to share their wisdom in this area.

If anyone has thoughts to share on this subject, I would love to hear them. How do you define “success”? Has it changed over the years? How do you performers gage your performances? Do you even think in terms of success or failure?

As I walk down this path of discovery, I will also continue to strive to, in the words of Elsa, “Let it Go“.