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Wisdom

I find that one of the most difficult things to manage in this career is the feeling of isolation that can easily creep into your psyche as you’ve been on the road for a little bit too long (or, as a matter of fact, even on that very first night you unpack your things into yet another sterile, rented apartment that houses one opened package of old spaghetti, a half-empty/full box of dry cereal, and usually 1/4 bottle of olive oil that you don’t dare use, because you can’t be SURE that it’s safe.) I stumbled over this quite a bit when I was first starting out in this career, and it was quite confusing: I was doing what I loved to do, and yet I felt quite miserable being completely on my own, away from the familiar and the secure.

It was especially true in the beginning years of European travel, because I didn’t know very many people in the business over on this side of the pond, and the foreign cities were overwhelming, as I spoke little of their language, didn’t always comprehend the cultural differences, and didn’t know that we had to price our own produce at the market! (It’s the small things, you see!) It was one of the most important “skills” I had to learn: not just how to be on my own, but how to ideally thrive in a solitary, foreign, often lonely environment.

For me, one of the biggest culprits was CNN International. It is usually the only English channel on the TV, and so on it went, and I would be bombarded with catastrophe after catastrophe, convinced that the sky, truly, was falling beyond all hope and that we are a doomed, doomed species. The word “demoralizing” barely scratches the surface for what this flood of information can do to a person.

I’ve certainly gotten MUCH better at handling the ups and downs of this career, but have set out with great determination to find the positive side of things, and to try not to indulge the bitter, dark side of humanity that is plastered everywhere for us to witness: terrorist attacks, genocide, greed, car bombs in Times Square, human trafficking, outrageous political machinations, inane bigotry, hateful and destructive religious extremism. The list is endless. And it so easily can give rise to a feeling of hopelessness and despair – which quite frankly equals death. Personally, I’m not interested in dying – metaphorically or literally – until it truly is my time.

So I choose to fight it in the very small ways that I can, and I have yet to find a better summation of how to confront such despair than by words that were uttered by the great Martin Luther King, Jr:

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

Last night I attended my very first Metropolitan Opera HD transmission here in Geneva. It was Rossini’s treacherous “Armida”, and everyone that was starring in the show I can happily call a friend of mine, which was a total hoot for me. I was SO thrilled to see them all giving such full-on performances and bringing joy to so many people.

(With my two wonderful co-stars, tenors Luciano Botelho and Gregory Kunde)

But when Larry Brownlee fell to his knees in the famous tenor-trio, his eyes burning with passion and tumult as he recognizes he must choose between love and duty, I was flooded with everything that is magnificent and miraculous about the human spirit. Here is a person who has overcome so many obstacles in his life to soar to the very top of the operatic world, and he has done it with utmost elegance, class and humility. He is on that stage to serve people, and to serve his talent. It is humbling to me, and inspiring beyond words. I watched someone yesterday who has crossed so many barriers to bring light into the world through his beautiful voice and generous spirit.

We need more of this beauty. We need more of this light.

How lucky we all are – because I assume each of you reading this embraces music as a provider of access to something extraordinary – to have something that brings beauty and serenity and comprehension and insight and joy and tears and has the power to open sometimes the most stubborn of closed doors within ourselves. I’m humbled to work in a business with so many wonderful colleagues that bring such beauty and generosity to the world.

But there are an infinite number of sources for beauty and joy – and I just love finding them.

PS – John Osborne gets a HUGE thank you from me for the fabulous “shout-out” during the 4-tenor interview in the intermission yesterday! Dude, you are awesome!!!

PPS – Final dress is on Monday, and after a very beautiful pre-dress, I think everyone is really looking forward to our opening on Wednesday. This one is a keeper!!

PPPS – In proof-reading this little post (which doesn’t always help, because I know I’m not the Queen of Grammar – too many “!!!!”s!) But the title says “Wisdom”. I don’t mean to imply it is “my” wisdom – it refers to MLK’s quote. Which is, indeed, wise. (See what I mean about the grammar?!?!)

21 Comments

  1. Georgios said…

    Joyce, another lovely post! I can relate to your feelings of emptiness and isolation when you started touring in Europe. When I arrived in London when I was barely 19 it was liberating and totally scary landing in a city of 12 million people without knowing anyone. But those experiences do make us better people and with better armour to deal with everyday knock backs.

    As for Armida, I think all your fans would love to see you at the Met in next year's return of Armida! Not being rude to Renée, but you are at the top of your game and would really be amazing! (feel free to edit the last part of my comment if you think its inappropriate)

  2. Wolfgang said…

    Thank you for sharing these thoughts! The irony of it all, though, is that so many poeple love you and wish you well, and yet you may sit in a hotel room at night feeling all alone. It would be nice if some of the joy you give us could be returned to you in such a moment.

    I wish you great success for the upcoming week, and I am already plotting to catch up with you on one of your performances later this year!

    Btw, we would not recongnize your posts without exclamation marks, so don't ever stop using them !!!!!

  3. Yankeediva said…

    Wolfgang, just a quick thought – it is a VERY strange sensation for a performer to go from the outpouring of applause under the spotlight to the "solitary hotel" (what a great song!), and it definitely takes some time to learn how to balance that tricky dichotomy. But I DO feel the love from the stage, which is a great gift to me. The rest of the time, off stage, is just like anyone else's life, and I have to learn how to handle the down times just the same. It can give one a bit of whiplash at times, but happily, I think I've gotten much better at sorting it all out over the years!

    But don't worry – the love is felt and deeply appreciated. The rest is just real life!! ;-)

  4. Dana said…

    Thank you so much for the woderful post, and for reminding us what is really important. The wisdom is yours as well, and you are great at sorting it all out. Our love and best thoughts and wishes are with you even in the loneliness of the "steril" hotel room.

    And I subscribe to Georgios' comment, it will be wonderful to see you in Armida next season at the Met. In my humble opinion you are one of the best rossinian interpret of our times.

    Have a great success with "La donna".

  5. Irishrover said…

    Just listened to your recording of Notte Cara, and that is one fine beauty you gave to the world, tbh…

    Real life is not that bad, it's just… way much quieter, I guess ;-) Sending you tons of good vibes, enjoy the ride tomorrow, and toï toï toï for the rest!

    Take care!

    PS. This elephant seal is just adorable, looks like a giant soft toy! How cute.

  6. Taminophile said…

    To me, beauty is our experience of the divine, and to read your words juxtaposing Rinaldo's choice between love and duty with the obstacles Larry Brownlee has had to overcome in performing his duty, in serving the divine, made me all misty.

    I can think of no higher calling than serving the divine, whatever you consider to be divine, and I am full of admiration and wonder (and yes, jealousy!) for those of you do it so beautifully and still personally find joy and beauty and fulfillment in it.

  7. Lady said…

    Here is something to cheer up your day, rather than watching CNN. It is one of the most beautiful things I have ever read about.
    http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/localnews/2011740342_electronboy30m.html

    On a side note, I love your performances, but the blog is also so wonderful. I hope to eventually sing opera, so it's very inspiring to read about the experiences of a great singer. Thank you.

  8. Chris said…

    Re: Armida. Wikipedia tells me that the first singer of the title role was Colbran, Rossini's wife, She was, it says, probably a "soprano sfogato", or a mezzo with an unusually high extension and coloratura abilities (Ponselle would be, I suspect, a good example). I never thought of Fleming as a coloratura soprano but…I guess she is or can be.

  9. Squillo said…

    Frederica von Stade recorded an album of Brubeck songs (Across Your Dreams) that included "Lonely on Both Ends of the Road."

    It's a lovely and poignant reminder of the sacrifices artists and their loved ones have to make.

  10. The Marschallin said…

    Adding another vote for you to sing "Armida"! I also watched the HD broadcast, and the music is lovely, but when I was doing the dishes last night, it was YOUR "D'amore al dolce impero" keeping me company from my iPod!! Wishing you In boca al lupo for the opening and please, don't change your writing style (from a kindred !!!!! spirit!).

  11. Mei said…

    I've been traveling a lot lately and I can confirm that CNN international should be avoided at the end of hard work day…

    Best wishes for the dress rehearsal and the opening night…

    Take care…!

  12. Rocio said…

    I can imagine how difficult the transition between "stage" and "real life" has been for you, and can also imagine that it's not a matter of one day waking up and saying "Gee! I'm over the feelings of solitude … I'm finally 'o.k'!" Rather, it is a constant check of balance and choice, if you will, to see the beautiful, more positive side of things. And bravo to you for that, Joyce. In a world where we're constantly swamped with the negative, an open heart that tries to accept always the positive is greatly needed. Thank you for that.

    Also, I never win anything … like ever. But when they raffled dress rehearsal tickets for 'Armida' a couple of weeks ago, I won a pair! And, I was also gifted orchestra seating for 'Hamlet' that same night by a totally, completely kind stranger. So the moral of the story is, better late than never!… Right? Music makes me extraordinarily overjoyed. Both in sharing it with others and receiving it. Thanks for understanding that!
    Toi, toi, toi for Wednesday evening!!!

  13. Chris said…

    Actually I discover Fleming sang Armida first in 1992 and evidently did an amazing job. I think it is still available on a CD. So this is a role she knows well. Only now she is 18 years older. That might explain why the only review I read said that she was a bit timid and very careful with her coloratura passages until the end when she finally let loose and sang with greater abandon.

  14. AnnaO said…

    I agree with all the comments about Armida. I love Rossini and I love Renée, so when I saw the ads for the Met's Armida, my first thought was "That's awesome!" but immediately my next thought was, "If only Joyce were singing it that'd be PERFECT!"

    All the best for Donna del Lago!
    cheers,
    Anna

  15. Jakob said…

    Dear Joyce, every time when I read a post of yours, the day seems a bit brighter… Thank you for sharing everything which moves you with us, and be sure that we all are with you in your lonely hours. Maybe this helps a bit…
    I wish you the best luck for La Donna del Lago… I wish I could be there.

  16. ecm said…

    Thank you, Joyce. Thank you! Reading this post was just exactly what I needed today — your thoughts and words are SO right and beautiful and yes, wise and true.

    Have a glorious opening on Wednesday! I so wish I could be there to watch and hear and share in the beauty and joy.
    Come back to NY soon!

  17. Violetta said…

    Dear Joyce,

    In bocca al lupo for tonight, to you and your colleagues!!!
    How wonderful to have this beautiful Rossini opera in Geneva!

    We will be there on Sunday (and Friday, and Monday…:-)
    Can't wait!!!!

    With all our best wishes,
    Lilly & Heinz
    (Zurich)

  18. Dr.B said…

    I always watch Eurosport when I'm in Europe, since it doesn't matter whether you understand what they're saying or not.

  19. marcillac said…

    It is a beautiful and very thought and feeling provoking post, but… "famous tenor trio:?!?!?!? As a devotee of the Philip/Grand Inquisitor duet I absolutely cringe at the thought. (Kinda kidding. Tenors can be tolerated of course and JDF is quite exceptional at what he does. Larry Brownlee is great too: I don't usually make it a point to seek out tenores de grazia – as no doubt you can tell – but I seem to have come across him quite a bit the last couple of years and he deserves all the success he is currently enjoying. And after all, what would Rosina and Angelina do without their prince charming (or count, as it were – although the latter behaves atrociously in the sequel and ridiculously lucky to be forgiven so beautifully by his Countess/Rosina)). Still…

  20. Chiaroscuro said…

    Miss DiDonato you are so right about Lawrence, he was amazing!! And of course Renee was a dream of perfect beauty of voice! But what I wanna know is…Are you gonna be singing Armida any time within the next 5 years? ;) Coz you'd be so amazing, of course there's some quite high tessitura phrases such as the first duetto and the fourth section of "D'amore al dolce impero" and of course the finale! But I think you'd be so amazing in it!! Pretty please…

  21. Sarah said…

    I missed the May 1 HD transmission (darn cold!) but hope to catch the encore – all of those tenors, but most especially Mr. Brownlee, who was amazing in last May's "Cenerentola". It would be fantastic to see the two of you singing LIVE. How about a duet tour here in the States? Pretty Please?

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Bring that innocent, childlike sense of wonder to your craft, and do whatever you need to find that truth again. It will continually teach you how to be present, how to be alive, and how to let go. Therein lies not only your artistic freedom, but your personal freedom as well!

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