The Dirty Truth About Becoming a Diva Soprano

The start of this blog is coming right smack in the middle of a process/journey I have been on for a couple of years. To bring you up to speed, I’ve spent the past two years transitioning from a mezzo-soprano to a soprano. For those who don’t know, a mezzo-soprano is the lower female voice type and soprano is the higher. I often compare this transition to going from being a sprinter to a marathon runner; they use the same muscles to run, but in very different ways and for very different kinds of running.pianomusic

My path has always been one of being a little behind. I started my musical endeavors as a trumpet player, working hard and planning my future around this goal from middle school till college. After 8 intense years of trumpet study and beginning a trumpet performance major, I switched to vocal performance my sophomore year of college. Working to catch up in the vocal world, I studied and performed as a mezzo soprano for the next 4 years of college, 3 years of graduate school and 2 years as a young artist at Arizona Opera. Guided by trusted teachers, coaches, and colleagues, I then made the decision to switch to soprano. The Lyric Opera of Chicago final auditions were the first time I had sung or auditioned as a “soprano” in public, even though I hadn’t even begun the process of transitioning. They took a chance on me and I won the soprano spot in the program. I STILL can’t believe that happened. I had absolutely no idea what I was doing and this also meant I was behind, once again.

Now, I’m just starting my third and final year as a young artist with the Lyric and the transition has been the most difficult thing I’ve ever done in my life. All of the sudden, in the midst of my career path and at an extremely high profile company, all of my understanding, history, defaults, and confidence with my instrument went away. I started the painstakingly slow process of retraining my muscles, building new endurance, and learning ALL new roles. The 20+ roles I had learned over the years as a mezzo would never be repeated and would disappear from my resume. Every new soprano role had brand new challenges. As a mezzo, I was able to sing basically every role given to me with ease. Soprano roles tend to be longer, more demanding, and there are so many different types of sopranos. Finding the right repertoire to sing isn’t an easy feat for someone who has been studying as a soprano for years, much less one who has only started to understand the new instrument.

toomuchmusiclauraAll of this has felt like trying to lose weight and weighing yourself every hour. The progress is clearly happening, but it is very slow, frustrating, and often scary. Many have tried to make the vocal switch, only to discover it’s not right and to go back to what they were before. I do not like “unknowns”. I do not like that I have had days when I don’t know what will come out of my mouth. I do not like that my expectations for my performances and the dramatic choices I want to make have been, at times, beyond my current abilities.

However, it has also been the best decision I have ever made. I finally see the light at the end of the tunnel. Soprano is absolutely, 100% right for me. In the right repertoire, it is starting to feel simply like releasing what has wanted to come out for years. I also will have the joy of playing some of the most wonderful roles ever written in the operatic repertoire: the epic Strauss, Puccini, Wagner, and maybe Verdi heroines. These are the roles I would hide away and sing through even as a mezzo, never dreaming I would be able to sing them for real. I am also discovering the perfection of many beautiful and powerful roles in the Slavic repertoire that happen to fit me like a glove. On top of that, I am surrounded by amazing people, who believe in me and in my future as a soprano. I couldn’t be more blessed.

This process has brought me more emotional ups and downs than anything else in my life. Because of this, I am starting the process of redefining my expectations of success and failure as a performer. There is often a massive juxtaposition between what the audience sees at my performance and what the brain of Laura thinks about it. I foresee many of my blog entries having to do with this juxtaposition, wrestling with the truth of an experience, finding joy in the beautiful act of singing, and dealing with the rest of life on top of it all. Get ready, blog world, for more than you ever wanted to know about the mind of a performer, from the perspective of a Type A, analytical, emotional-robot soprano. Get excited.

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Meet Laura

The life of an opera singer looks, from the outside, like non-stop excitement, glamour, and accolades. While all of that is a part of the life, it is, by no means, the entirety or even the majority of how I experience my life. Yes, I get paid to do what I love. Yes, lots of the shopping I do is for fancy gowns. Yes, I end many of my workdays with applause and a bow. However, the majority of my time is spent tediously translating musical scores from German/Czech/Italian/French/German/Polish to English, learning and memorizing the music and text from 300+ page operas, running scenes over and over and over, continuing on the never-ending and often excruciating journey to understand and take command of my vocal instrument, booking extremely expensive flights, figuring out how to pack heels, gowns, and stage makeup into a carry-on bag, putting my heart, soul and voice on the line in countless auditions, and sleeping. The “common” reigns in my life. But the common is what I love.

As a Type A personality in an unconventional, artistic world, I often struggle with the irregularity and the overwhelming influence my career has on my life. My desire for structure, consistency, regular paychecks, health insurance, and stability often clashes with the realities of my career path. The day-to-day work is what gives me that structure. Every time I crack a new score, I know the outline of how the learning process will go. I have consistent vocal exercises that begin my daily practice routine. I have a set, trusted team of people I go to when facing any new decision, vocal frustration, or career question. And even though my instrument is ever changing (a highly irritating, but exciting aspect of being a singer), it is my constant companion.

As I begin this blog journey with my sister, I am struck by how different our writing is. My brain is straightforward, fact-driven, and linear, while my sister has the artistic, creative, outside-the-box mind and writing style. How did I end up the professional artist and she the stay-at-home mom and grant writer? How did I go from being that little kid who would dance and sing for anyone (willing or unwilling) to the grown up who gets paid to dress up and perform for crowds, but wishes she could skip the bowing, center-of-attention part? How did I somehow lose my deep sense of creativity and how do I find it again, amidst the endless amounts of analyzing, translating, and micromanaging my craft demands?

All I know is that this can only help. My hope is that this blog can help me explore what I love about my day-to-day life, warts and all. I hope to be encouraged by my sister’s quirky, imaginative perspective and to allow myself the freedom to create, get lost in my craft, and cherish the tedious aspects that make it, strangely, the perfect job for me.

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Meet Kristin

Welcome to our blog and thanks for joining us!

Laura and I started this blog to celebrate our two very different lives. To stay connected through the inevitable chaos. To have an excuse to take beautiful pictures and process through writing. To show the challenges behind the fabulous parts. To remind us of the beauty in the common and mundane. And to inspire others to look at their lives the same way.

We will take turns posting regularly, each discussing something “fabulous” or something “common” or examining the intersection of the two. 

But first, we want to introduce ourselves. I get to start.

So, hi there! I’m Kristin.

I am a dangerously fervent optimist staring ahead at my not-so-distant 35th birthday, 11th wedding anniversary and 8th year of being a parent.

I crave constant change and big, meaningful work that makes the world a more equitable place. I grew up wishing I could live and serve anywhere but the United States. My master’s degree is in international public health. In a beautifully ironic twist, I ended up in the middle of Iowa, about as far from any international borders as I can get.

And yet, I love it here.

But sometimes I get antsy for adventure abroad. Sometimes it’s hard to passively serve those in need from a computer in my living room. Sometimes it is hard to find the meaningful difference I am making amidst the chaotic monotony of raising small children. Sometimes it’s hard to be so tied to the lives of these precious people in my life.

It’s easy to see the excitement and adventure and glamour in the fabulous lives of people like my sister. And to only see the common in my own.

So this is my attempt to live richly where I am and to see the fabulous within my own common.

I hope it helps you, too. Thanks for joining us.

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Two sisters. Divergent lives. Exposing the fabulous. Savoring the common. Eliminating the Fear Of Missing Out.