A very famous pianist once said to me of an incredibly famous singer “The trouble with Incredibly Famous-Singer is that she actually believes her own publicity.”
A man from North Carolina recently bought a copy of my book Who’s My Bottom? and it caused him great offence. He said so on the online opera forum he runs. That’s his prerogative. After all he paid good money for it and he can say what he likes. I’d give him back the one dollar I earned from his purchase if it would calm his rage.
Don’t worry, I’m not going to spend this post begging for positive reinforcement or making excuses, but he did set me thinking about the ferocity of his loathing, as if I had done the equivalent of spitting on a Titian by talking about the underbelly of the opera business in a way that isn’t reverential and which – shock, horror – uses the odd naughty word. I’m not going to defend my work by taking his comments to pieces or by explaining myself at length.
Except for two things, very quickly. Indulge me.
I’m not “bitter” (as he says) about anything, but there have been times when I have been (haven’t we all?) and I would be writing dishonestly if I didn’t say so. Second, as he speculates, if I do “have a personality disorder” (and I quite possibly do – don’t we all to some extent?) that may go some way to explaining why I stick with doing this job. Any sane person would have quit years ago.
There. Done. I told you it would be quick.
Moving swiftly on. I recognise there’s a risk that telling the truth about being an opera singer is not what some people want to hear. They desperately want to believe the publicity; that we live in an opera bubble, free from the burdens of ordinary mortals, such as having mouths to feed and bills to pay, and in which we focus on nothing but singing technique and lovely photo-shoots.
I also think it’s very unfair that we opera singers are expected to behave like the heroes and heroines we so often have to portray on stage. Actors don’t seem to be lumbered with this responsibility. If an actor says “fuck” on the telly everyone treats it as perfectly normal. I just watched the film Sexy Beast, in which Sir Ben Kingsley empties a massive verbal potty from his mouth. I’m not sure anyone thought that it was somehow beneath him, that he was sullying his craft. But heaven forbid that an opera singer should sink so low as to swear or, say, admit to doing what pretty-well every singer I know does before heading to the stage: check his flies and have a good fart. We’re just human beings, not angels, who happen to do a rather weird, wonderful and difficult thing. So why on earth, as one of their number, shouldn’t I actually say so?
Suffice it to say that as I wrestle with a second book and continue to post blogs which may not flatter the institutions that employ me, I am resolutely not changing my tack. My suggestion to the gentleman from North Carolina and anyone else of his ilk is this: if you want a crispy sugar-coating on your opera puffs, don’t read my stuff; buy a PR-funded glossy magazine instead.
And please don’t confuse having a humorous rant with being bitter. They’re really, really not the same thing.