In this week’s blog Nicola Said, a professional Maltese soprano living in London, continues to talk about her life as a professional soprano.
My social life can sometimes be limited, particularly during times of performances and auditions. Unlike other musicians, an opera singer’s instrument is their body, therefore if I do not take care of my body, my instrument will suffer, and so too would my career. Compared to other singers I know, I am extremely strict about this. I avoid alcohol and generally stay away from areas where smoking is allowed, loud places like clubs and bars since one has to speak very loudly to be heard, and my voice is never happy the next day! I prefer meeting people in smaller settings, and focus on developing and keeping close friendships. Of course, once there are no auditions/performances around the corner I can let my hair down a little, but that doesn’t happen too often. Another reason social life can be limited is also because living in London is just expensive, and while there are indeed some free events going on, most mean that at some point you’re going to spend money one way or another (one doesn’t go to food festivals/markets to just stare at the food…). Being an opera singer is a very expensive career to follow. Costs range from singing lessons (£80-£100 per lesson, coachings (£30-70/hour), pianists (£30-35 per hour), applications for competitions and auditions (£20-£100), flights (generally these are only covered when doing an opera production or a gala event, not for competitions and auditions, for operas and for some young artist programmes), so that’s another £150-£300 per month depending on how frequently one applies for competitions/auditions. Then there are dresses (audition and concert dresses) … which I generally recycle as often as is possible.
Many say that luck counts for a lot in this business. When I first started, I used to believe one can make one's own luck…after ten years of making my way, I am not so sure I believe that anymore. One can work extremely hard and do their utmost to create optimum chances for success (whatever success means to each individual person of course). Luck does play a big part in this career. There are others who have not been so lucky, and there are others who are far luckier, it is something we learn to accept, just like we must learn not to take things in our job so personally (to tell a singer not to take things personally is like telling a mother not to care if someone offends her own baby); we learn that there will always be someone better than you, someone prettier, someone braver, someone who was in the right place at the right time, someone who looks the part and is exactly what the director wants. For this reason, we must also learn to try to separate ourselves from something that for the most part is out of our control, particularly whether or not we are given a role, granted an audition, win a competition, and sometimes even, have a bad singing day when we are not feeling as well as we usually feel (we are human, we can get sick too). As already mentioned, our bodies are our instruments, there will be bad days and there will be good days. That is why we need to train so hard so that even on our bad days, we sing well.
I have been so blessed to be surrounded by people who support me, including my very dear family and close friends, and the Malta Airport Foundation whose Ambassador I am very proud to be. Opera singers learn to create a network bubble of people they can trust, to lean on for support and advice, and this is absolutely essential in making leaps of faith into this very crazy, but indeed wonderful world of Opera. To round off, when I had decided to follow a career in opera, one of my teachers had once told me: Only follow this path if you cannot imagine yourself doing anything else in life. It’s only now that I look back and understand just how full of truth that statement was.
In next week’s blog we return to Mr. Joseph Vella Bondin’s series of Maltese composers of opera by taking a look at undoubtable the most prominent Maltese composer of the twentieth century – Charles Camilleri.
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