For a month this fall, I will crisscross the country with two colleagues, spending weeks in windowless rooms, with a new singer coming in the door every 10 minutes.
No, I am not the newest member of the American Idol panel, but I will be in search of the best young singers in the U.S. The main difference? I'll be on a steady diet of Rossini, Puccini and Mozart instead of Beyoncé, Daughtry and Coldplay. (Well, there'll be a bit of the latter on my iPhone during plane trips, but shhhh... )
I've been doing this for 20 years, and for the first decade, it was pretty tough to explain this audition tour thing we do. But Idol changed all of that, and now it's relatively easy for most folks to imagine what my daily tour routine looks like.
Getting in the Door
To get in front of a reality show panel, singers have to endure the stadium/arena cattle call in their city of choice and hope to make the cut. To get in front of us, singers only have to put in four years of college, and two to four years of grad school, win some competitions, get selected for and complete prior apprenticeships, and learn at least three languages.
Chasing the Dream
Pop contestants are often chasing a beautiful dream, working jobs they tolerate and making sacrifices in order to give voice to what's in their soul. Opera singers are usually chasing a beautiful dream, working jobs they tolerate and making sacrifices in order to give voice to what's in their soul.
Surviving the Audition Machine
Singers on The Voice and Idol are throwing everything they have into a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Their opera counterparts repeatedly haul themselves out of a hotel bed (or a friend's apartment floor) to sing their best few minutes for a panel of strangers dozens of times in a month.
Fighting for Attention
Those folks on The Voice just have to get an alert panelist to turn the chair around. Opera singers have to command the attention of a bunch of exhausted administrators traveling on a nonprofit budget and overstuffed schedule, tired of airport layovers and bad food.
Living the Dream
The lucky few that make it to the end of the TV show competition can usually count on a record deal, a national tour, and some really good buzz. The dozen or so that are left standing at the end of our opera tour have the privilege of receiving a contract to work for entry-level wages for about 10 weeks next year.
If that were all, no one would do this. At least no one who's sane.
In truth, the people who do it (and especially those who do it well) are smart, ambitious, energetic, inquisitive and full of good will and optimism. They are crazy fun to be around, they have hearts as big as all outdoors, and they often have had to overcome significant obstacles to get this far.
Come along with me this fall as we dissect our search for opera talent. It's a quest for a golden throat, a beautiful mind and a riveting personality -- all in the same person. I'll take you along to rehearsal halls in Texas, Washington and California, to studios in Illinois and Ohio, to theaters in Pennsylvania and Virginia, and to the nerve center of it all, the studios of Opera American in New York. You'll meet the people who toil for the love of song, sound, theater and story -- in an art form that is adored by a few and misunderstood by many.
First installment coming your way at the beginning of September.