This is the continuation of a new series of Q&As with the artists of Canada’s opera scene. After our “Quarantine Questions” from the spring/summer of 2020, we’re checking in once again with these artists as they share new perspectives on mid-pandemic opera. Next up: soprano Claire de Sévigné:
After nearly a year away from a “normal” performance calendar, what perspective have you gained about the worlds of opera and classical music? What is its importance to you, and how does this compare to this time last year?
“The world is really hurting right now with its loss of a platform for the live arts. The need is growing stronger every day and the desire is palpable. I think we were spoiled with how many outlets we had for the live arts before the pandemic hit and have now realized the importance of just how much we have truly lost. I think initially for the performer it was the ‘career halt’ and the cancellations of coveted roles which took some of us years of work to obtain, that perhaps hurt the most. It felt like all the coachings, study and training and endless auditioning was all for nothing.
“Although these feelings for a lot of singers may have been the primary disappointments, I think the loss is now being realized on a new level that seems to have an immeasurable deepness. Sure, we all miss the stage, but at this point I think what we’re missing even more than the performance high goes much deeper now. The loss of making a living, the loss in hours of work and practice and personal sacrifice. The loss of community, growth, inspiration, giving, creation, hope and purpose in sense of self are what artists’ are missing the most right now.
“The longer this pandemic goes on, the more the world will need and appreciate the arts.”
“The arts have always held a special place in the human experience throughout history and I don’t think this time is any different. One might think that the classical form is becoming obsolete, but I don’t agree with this sentiment. I think that the classics will be appreciated more when this is all over and that they will become more meaningful to even the biggest of classical music cynics. The longer this pandemic goes on, the more the world will need and appreciate the arts. This is what I believe and hope for. I know I need it. I can see the loss in my communities around me and just how important the opera and entertainment business as a whole is to society’s culture, economy and social well-being. The importance of classical music to me is its ability to instill hope and possibility. To calm and comfort. To excite and inspire. I now better understand more than I did at this time last year just how much we lose when we lose the arts.”
What do you miss the most about giving and hearing live performances?
“As a performer I miss the adrenaline of performing live and the indescribable magic that happens on stage that can never be recreated in another moment ever again. I miss the rehearsal process. The deep-dive work on a piece with a maestro, director and cast. And, I think most of all, I miss the people. It never ceases to amaze me just how talented and inspiring our operatic community is. I have rarely left a gig without making a true friend, learning more and becoming a better artist and human being from these interactions with my fellow colleagues. As a viewer I miss the human connection and the experience of being moved by the inspiration and pride that I feel when experiencing a truly exceptional performance.
“Although the opera world has exhibited an exemplary and swift job of adapting opera for live stream and video, it is not where the art form belongs. Opera is one of the few live performing arts where the artists are trained to perform without microphones and this is what makes the genre so unique and exceptional. And that, I miss.”
What activities or pursuits have you taken up since last March? Do you have any new interests or passions you can tell us about?
“I have taken up more self-care activities. I can’t believe it took a pandemic to make me realize what I was missing! These activities make me a more well-rounded and healthy person, which will ultimately help my artistry. Now that I have had a taste, no matter how busy my schedule gets when this whole pandemic is over (here’s hoping), I intend to maintain this new lifestyle. Some of these activities are as simple as increasing my daily exercise, reading, going outside (no matter how cold our Canadian winters are) and cooking at home. All of these activities may seem simple, but having the time to do them has been a game changer for my well-being. I have also reached outside of my comfort zone by taking longer bike rides around Toronto, learning to garden and learning how to do home repairs myself!”
What advice do you have for your fellow artists, for staying motivated and engaged during such a difficult time?
“I’m a true believer in creating your own opportunities and that if you do the work the opportunities will come. Things might look differently than what you had planned for, but in my experience they often work out even better in the long run. ‘Success occurs when opportunity meets preparation’. This has proven to be true for me time and again in my business. All the failures and setbacks have really just been preparation for the ‘main event’. I stay motivated by knowing that eventually this pandemic will end and when it does I’d like my mind, body and voice to be ready to perform again. I don’t only want to be in the same shape I was in before the pandemic hit; I want to be even better.
“Time is moving forward and we have no choice in the matter about how it’s rolling out. All we can do is stay focused on the goals we had before the pandemic hit. We can’t let this ‘lost time’ end up being wasted time. Sure, things will be different and we may have to adapt. However, the more successful we are at adapting to change the easier our lives will become. I think it is a dangerous thing in our business to only be motivated to study a role as and when they are offered to us. I think there can be a lot of lost potential growth and opportunity with that mindset. Sure, we want to reserve our time and energy for roles that we are actually being paid for, but to fully master our artistry we need to maintain a constant focus and effort to develop the broader aspects of our craft.
“So, whether we can or can not perform right now, it’s kind of irrelevant. I like to remind myself of who I am now and what I want to be in the future. Some of the best art created was achieved in adversity and that’s something that I want to be a part of on the other side of all of this.
“I really hope that our audiences will continue to understand and respect the urgency and need for the arts in the world today and always.”
“Obviously, I’m aware that staying motivated all the time is way easier said than done, (I am definitely guilty of binge-watching all of Bridgerton in one day…) so some of the techniques for staying motivated that work for me include making up my own daily practice schedule of things ‘I must’ achieve that are arts study and growth-related. However, my schedule also includes daily chores and hobbies, which give me a sense of daily reward, achievement and purpose.
“Speaking of purpose, I have also started transferring many of my skills online. Most singers I know have several marketable skills that are not singing related and this can really help in managing the financial gap! Whether it be mentorship, administrative, or teaching vocal and language skills, I’m finding new ways to create meaning and opportunity for myself daily. And lastly, to help myself stay sane, I find that taking the time to reach out daily to at least one friend or family member helps to keep me grounded as well.”
When performances can resume, what do you think opera can or should say with its output? What sort of platform will it have, post-COVID?
“This question makes me emotional. I’m not sure exactly what kind of platform opera will have post-COVID because I honestly think a lot more will change before we see the light at the end of this tunnel… Really only time will tell, but I’d like to hope that opera, like all live art, will provide a space for entertainment, relief, inspiration, hope, joy and healing for its artists and audiences alike. I really hope that our audiences will continue to understand and respect the urgency and need for the arts in the world today and always. I hope that it will represent and portray all of us in the world and that the voice of one human can touch the soul of another again and finally offer peace.”
Claire de Sévigné