Simona Genga
Canadian mezzo-soprano Simona Genga.

As Canada’s artists ready themselves for far-reaching cancellations in the 2020-21 opera season, Opera Canada is checking in. What is the ripple effect of an opera-free season? How many Canadians will call themselves professional artists in a year’s time? How bad has it gotten for freelancing individuals? And are there silver linings? We look for answers in our new series of Q&As, “What’s next?” Next up is mezzo-soprano Simona Genga:

What does the recent announcements of cancelled 20/21 opera mean for your professional future?

“Amongst the long list of questions without answers we all have during this time, this is a question every artist is pondering in this moment. Our livelihoods, the way we support ourselves and our families have taken a major hit because of COVID-19. We have collectively gone through emotions resulting from being left parentless in this pandemic. I commiserate with my fellow artists through the stages of grief and fear being collectively experienced in the ever changing unknown. Our professional futures will look different than we imagined. We do not have the answer to when we can safely return to live performance because it relies on factors out of our control. What we can do during this time is continue to focus on what we can control which is how we use this time.

“If we shift our lens to view these unfamiliar circumstances as an opportunity, we can use it to digest, process and reflect on what we have been participating in as individuals and as an industry. Where answers are finite, questions expand and explore. We finally have a moment to question, to be an observer, and to draw our attention to things we may have left in the peripheral. We create through questioning, the difference now is that instead of questioning a text or a phrase, we are collectively questioning what is happening with our artform.

“The dialogue artists are having right now on many fronts is deeply inspiring and empowering. We are challenging ourselves and others to create a better setting for the arts, as well as artists. This unknown, has been leading us to find more awareness and growth. I am excited to find out what will happen as we carve new paths forward for this industry. I have hope for the quirky world of opera and for its future.

“There is a well-known saying about how life happens when we are busy making other plans. So while cancellations into the 20/21 season mean that all of our professional futures already look different than planned, maybe we’ll find this disruption will reveal different, yet equally exciting plans going forward.”

How much time have you spent considering a new career.

“I have yet to meet an artist who hasn’t spoken about experiencing moments in their life where the consideration of a parallel career hasn’t come up. We must move away from the narrative that in order to be an artist we must solely follow the traditional path of simply performing. We should always question our careers and how they too can appear. Let’s begin to separate the idea of a career defining an artist because having a ‘side hustle’ or a parallel career does not make you any less of one.

“With that being said, there should be no shame in branching out. It’s a harmful narrative. I’ve worked at a garden centre, as a library assistant, a camp counselor, a teacher, a tutor, in administration, and even (questionably) as a skating instructor. All these experiences have enriched my artistry, and I’m excited (for this reason) to explore different creative ventures in my future.

“Being an artist is woven into the very fabric of who we are as individuals. It’s holistic. It’s an identity. Being an artist is not defined by external factors of approval, success, or recognition. Being an artist happens from within. It is part of the very fibre of your being and is still there when you walk off a stage or put the paint brush down. A performing career path is just one way to express your artistic identity. When you’re an artist, you will find many ways to express what you have to say in everything you do. Not just in singing. So, go ahead and explore without worrying about what others think. Your artistry is expressed in your way of life.”

What plans singing or otherwise do you have for the coming season.

“After graduating from the COC Ensemble this spring, I started to put into the universe my desire for creative thinking in concurrence to the challenges that come along with an artistic shift into the virtual realm. Two opportunities I am proud of include; helping curate an Artist Roster, programming and logistics for a Virtual Concert Series with the OmniARTS Foundation in support of Artist Relief Funds and Essential Workers, as well as joining the Highlands Opera Studio both for Independent Study and as the Assistant to the General Director, Valerie Kuinka.

“Outside of music, I’m using this time to listen more. Along with musical creation; a measured balance of sounds and silence, rests are important to us as people. Grappling with being a young artist at the beginning of your career, it can be easy to fall into a state of manic absorption towards advancing that career forward. You put up your blinders and focus on gaining momentum towards that launching point, yet sometimes this mindset can put you in autopilot. It can make you feel this rush to ‘get there’ and with this sudden halt- we are forced to slow down, get off the highway, park the car and go for a walk down the country road. Now there is time to notice the details. There is now the chance to live in 360 degrees, and not linearly.

“This shift has forced me to think about balance. Balance between career, health (both physical and mental), relationships and hobbies. I’ve been taking time to have uncomfortable conversations, sing for my dog.. I mean try to practise, learn family recipes, go on long walks and even edit through notebooks of old poetry. Balance is not always as simple as 50/50. The right balance for you, may not be the right balance for someone else, and I’m thankful to have this time to re-discover mine.”

Simona Genga