Opera singing is like bullfighting.
No, I’m not talking about Carmen.
Top matadors travel between continents. Fights are divided into 3 acts. Traditionally it is viewed as a fine art, not sport. Individuals either support or spurn it. Governments either fund it or prohibit it. Not so different from opera after all is it?
When you sing for them, in concert at least, you dress like the matador: flamboyant, gilded, twinkling. Sometimes though, you must play the whore or village idiot.
There is the “ring”-right there your audience sits. From their perspective it looks easy. It looks glamorous, indulgent. I’ll abstain from saying, it’s really not. But if you are not careful, the gruelling work can seem somewhat masochistic.
Fortunately opera singing is not so fatal as bullfighting, although some libretti certainly are. You may have to impale yourself with a dagger (Juliette), throw yourself from a castle’s parapets (Tosca) or be murdered en scene (should I even bother to start listing: Desdemona, Carmen, Lulu ad nauseum). If you are lucky though, maybe you will curtsy around the stage in ostrich feathers or tend your sheep, avoid being raped, deal a few cards or fall in love with a shepherd.
The problem is sometimes it’s hard to know whether you are the bull or the matador. As you step onto the stage you must master the bull (your professional fears and self doubt)- sing that top note, not breathe mid-phrase, get that French pronunciation right, beautify that cadenza, sing legato, float your pianissimi, walk like an Egyptian in Aida and not like you are off to buy some milk at 7-11, and so forth…
The alternative is to be the bull and simply produce bullshit.