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"Things Change, Jo"

In 1998 the Houston Opera Studio premiered the now nearly standard repertoire opera, “Little Women” by Mark Adamo. It challenged us greatly at the time, but seeing that it has enjoyed numerous performances now makes me quite happy that we were in on the ground level. I sang the character of “Meg” (even though I REALLY wanted to be “Jo”!), and found that in the end, it was definitely the right fit. Meg’s big tune was about change, and the title of the aria, “Things Change, Jo” has become my go-to catch phrase for a lot of situations.

1998 was my final year in the Houston Opera Studio, and after 2 life-changing, challenging, formative years I was “ready” to embark on a professional career. I spent a good portion of that final spring singing for management and hoping to be picked up by one of the “good ones”. I had all my recommendation letters lined up, audition repertoire polished to the nth degree, and I thought surely it would happen easily – after all, I was a recent graduate from the Houston Opera Studio – my fate was SURE!

Well, it didn’t happen the way I had envisioned it. In fact, it was the antithesis of what I expected. I was not accepted onto any of the NY rosters that I auditioned for. I was the only alumni of that year to leave the program without management. I had a few jobs lined up, but the all-important A G E N T (cue the scary music, please!) was nowhere to be found. I found myself in Hamburg in June of that year, feeling quite a bit the odd mezzo out, and sang my heart out for Placido Domingo’s Operalia competition – surprisingly, coming in 2nd place. But it was the call the following Monday morning that was my first big “Things Change, Jo” moment.

A British sounding voice introduced himself as “Simon Goldstone from IMG Artists in London”, and suavely continued with “I think you’re terrific and want to represent you for world wide management.” I was completely taken aback, because I had #1: never heard of him, and #2: certainly hadn’t sent him any of my carefully prepared and organized materials! Where was this guy coming from? After he shot down my argument of “But you’re not a NY Agent” with the canny answer, “You do realize we have opera over here, as well, Joyce”, I decided to meet him and hear him out.

Within the month I was on his roster, and he had moved quickly to organize a rush of European Auditions. Simon and I have since taken a wild, crazy, surprising and immensely rewarding journey together, and the idea that we still just might have a long way to go is quite exciting. We share a lot of the same philosophies and that has made for a very smooth ride. A few of the nuggets he passed on to me early on:

Me: “But Simon, I thought opera singers made good money – why aren’t I making good fees?”
SG: “Joyce, don’t worry – you do the work, the money will follow.”

Me: “But Simon, I don’t understand – why does it seem that everyone is moving faster than me?”
SG: “Joyce, don’t worry – keep doing the work, we’re building a long term career here, not something that takes off and crashes after 4 years.”

Me: “But Simon, why are all these other people getting recording contracts and they’re passing me over?”
SG: “Joyce, don’t worry: your time will come.”

Me: “But Simon, what else do I have to do to get noticed?”
SG: “Joyce, don’t worry: you keep doing what you’re doing, they WILL get it…eventually.”

But what does a manager do? How do you know if they are the right one for you?

Well, I can tell you what they don’t do: They cannot GET the job for you – that’s our responsibility. But, if they have a reputable, reliable relationship with the theaters, and if they have developed a certain level of trust, when they say to the company just before your audition, “Watch out for this one – she’s special,” they just MIGHT listen to you with slightly more open ears.

They cannot get you rehired – that’s our responsibility, (and ultimately, that is where all your work will come from anyway!) They cannot MAKE a career happen (or at least a sustainable career!), that’s our responsibility. And they cannot MAKE you a star – in the end, only the public can do that.

But they CAN guide you, and lead you, and protect you, and be your ears, and give you critical, honest feedback, help sustain your morale when you’ve been beaten down, and occasionally, if you need it, be the shoulder that you lean on when all your loved ones are in another land. And when they are the right one, I think you’ll just know. If you ever have to force it, it will never quite mesh they way you’ll want it to, so you have to listen to your gut.

I’ve now been with Simon for 12 years – wow, a full dozen! – and the journey has been grander than I ever could have imagined. It’s also been a helluva a lot of fun, as we’ve made sure to enjoy ourselves along the way. So when he told me that he had an amazing opportunity with a wonderful “boutique” agency in London, I didn’t hesitate – I proudly and eagerly said, “let’s go!” Things change, and I’ve slowly come to realize that changes are AMAZING. I don’t think I’ve had one change in my life that didn’t lead me to exactly where I needed to be, regardless of whether I knew it at the time or not. This is a bigger change for Simon than it is for me, but I know that he shares the same philosophy as well – Things change, Jo, but that can be a great thing!

So as he made the transition with elegance and class, openly and professionally, without scandal or controversy, I knew that I would remain in wonderful hands and be most happy to share in his excitement of new opportunities and adventures!

So it is with great pleasure that I now officially announce that I am an Intermusica Artist, and happily continue on this journey. I do wonder what the next 12 years might bring….!

14 Comments

  1. Julia said…

    Congratulations to Simon and congratulations to you for being so positive! It certainly is heartening for a younger singer to read the things you said about auditions, agents and expectations–thank you so much for your honesty–and wishing you much success in the coming 12 years (and hopefully many beyond that too)!

  2. Avocational Singer said…

    What you said here —

    "Things change, and I've slowly come to realize that changes are AMAZING. I don't think I've had one change in my life that didn't lead me to exactly where I needed to be, regardless of whether I knew it at the time or not"

    – is exactly what I needed to hear tonight! I'm so glad I came over to read your blog at this moment. Thanks!

  3. GooglyElmo said…

    What a fantastic way to reveal this change! I'm very excited for you, but I'm most excited about the story you told. I actually have that recording of "Little Women," but to read what you have to say is really great. And also to read about the start of your career is very inspiring because it's so scary for all young musicians. Congratulations on coming so far and for really being a great role model for not just musicians, but everyone in the way that you show devotion to your work and respect for those around you. I hope that I can come up with some good questions for your vlog soon! À tout à l’heure

  4. Georgios said…

    Dear Joyce,

    It speaks volumes about your integrity as an artist and human being that you stayed with Simon and moved with him to the new management company. You should both be very proud of all you have achieved, as you make us all happy everyday with wonderful recordings, live appearances and blogs!

    I'll put in a request for the next 12 years…please more Donizetti and Bellini!

  5. William V. Madison said…

    So many valuable lessons in this story! No matter what we do for a living, you've given us all some things to think about.

    Signed,

    One Who Really Needs to Hear (Repeatedly!!) That "Changes Are Amazing."

    P.S. Meg was one of the finest pieces of acting I've ever seen you do. So there.

  6. William V. Madison said…

    So many valuable lessons in this story! No matter what we do for a living, you've given us all some things to think about.

    Signed,

    One Who Really Needs to Hear (Repeatedly!!) That "Changes Are Amazing."

    P.S. Meg was one of the finest pieces of acting I've ever seen you do. So there.

  7. Emma said…

    Thank you for posting this.
    And I'm so glad you "kept doing the work."

    You're so kind to post things like this. As a young singer I appreciate it—a lot!
    You go above and beyond by sharing things like this with your fans (and now you're vloging. How cool is that?!)

    Thanks again
    -Emma

  8. chris said…

    I have often wondered if you and Juan Diego ever compared notes about your careers. Both of you came from middle class families, both of you went at the same time to train at two different first-rate Philadelphia institutions, but then your paths diverged for a while (he shooting to the top after a lucky break at Pesaro; you gradually working your way up, the 'hard' way) only to emerge, the two of you, at the summit of your profession, singing together as the Rossini "dream team." Fascinating paths, both of them.

  9. Squillo said…

    This is lovely news, and told beautifully.

    Everything your prescient first agent said seems to have come to pass. It seems so important to have an agent who is focused on the long-term success of a carefully constructed career rather than the possibility of a meteoric rise and quick money. I'm glad you decided to stay with someone who believed in you from the start and seems committed to your career.

    It must be nice, now that you have achieved (ahem…) some success to be able to bring some of that hard-earned clout to help one of your first champions in this new venture.

  10. Mr. Classical Guy said…

    So my ex-wife was at a similar stage in her career as a mezzo (what is it about mezzos?) as you were when you were in the Houston Program. While we were in college she got her degree in music with a minor in business administration. And with the thought process that the BA minor gave her she was able to start off on her career in a manner that was very effieicient.

    One of her colleagues at USC looked at her one day like she had three heads. "You're treating this like a business" she said. "It IS a business!"

    At any rate I am glad to have watched your career since "Little Women" came out. "Things Change" is the big aria in that piece, like Laurie's song in "Tenderland". Jo may have had all the lines but Meg had the best music.

    Good luck into the future. Thank you for leaking the secrets of what an artist manager does. That will hewlp scads of songers for a long time. Many colleges and universities are trying to teach a bit about the music business. Frank Zappa said that and performing artist should at least take a contract law class. I agree with him!

    What a class act you and Simon are. Well done in the transition.

  11. An Englishwoman abroad said…

    ROFL on the gloriously honest early-years agent reporting! I can see why you stayed with him (rather more encouraging than my agent's "They want you, and for lots of money. I have no idea why."…

    Please keep on writing, it's a thing of beauty.

    Best wishes,

    K x x x

  12. Erin said…

    Congratulations on your new management! I'm sure it will be a great change for both you and Simon.

  13. Juan Alayar said…

    Hello Joyce! I’ve been following you for the last 3 months, and I admire you very much. You are an amazing singer, but most important, you are a human being who opens herself and talk about life. As for my question, I am an undergraduate voice major at college, but I came from overseas to pursue my carrier; however, I did it at not so long ago, and now I am on my mid 20’s. I wonder if there is a limit of age to start a career as a professional/opera singer. For some reason, I am starting to believe that I will not be able to accomplish my goal of at least being part of the cast of an opera. I would really appreciate if you would tell me the truth about this. Thank you!!

  14. Kexin said…

    Hey Joyce,
    I stopped by the bookstore near by my house today and saw your new album. I stood there holding the CD for a long time and just wouldn’t want to let go of the moment, because I have the same dream too-having my own album that I give my whole heart and soul to, that helps and inspires other peoples lives and the world…
    Joyce thank you so much for reaching out to the young singers and giving us the most honest guidance and advise! Thanks for giving us young singers hope by example! You, as one of the most extraordinary ,giving artists and extremely sincere, genuine human been, inspired me more than you will ever know! :)

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As an artist, you will never arrive at a fixed destination. THIS is the glory and the reward of striving to master your craft and embarking on the path of curiosity and imagination, while being tireless in your pursuit of something greater than yourself.

~ Joyce DiDonato