This AP report about opera singers picking up unhealthy habits more commonly associated with hard-bitten touring rock and rap musicians in order to combat the wear and tear of one of the world’s most physically (and apparently professionally) demanding genres is a sobering look at a world that most of us take for granted as being above the seedier side of pop music–or just take for granted, period:
Some attempts to stay on top are relatively harmless, like popping a beta blocker to soothe the butterflies before stepping on stage. But others are more alarming.
Singers often overuse steroids in the form of cortisone to control inflamed vocal cords — sometimes in amounts that can permanently impair their abilities, say performers and their doctors. Others drink too much. Still others snort cocaine, according to insiders.
Inability to cope sometimes turns into tragedy — as in the case of American tenor Jerry Hadley, who killed himself last month after what friends said was a prolonged bout of depression and reported financial and drinking problems.
“It’s become somewhat like a pop-star culture,” the Canadian soprano Adrianne Pieczonka said of the growing pressures to get to the top — and stay there.
Now, the fact that most of these reports of harder substance abuses come from the dreaded “insiders” should raise an eyebrow or two, though perhaps that’s simply the opera fraternity circling the wagons. But many of us who’ve grown up with an old-world image of opera as high art may find it a little off-putting that those smiling faces, staring blankly from the classical CDs that most of us ignore on our way to the Now comps, are being worked as hard as any Radio Disney kid on a non-stop tour. The High School Musical cast and a touring opera singer seem to live a very similar life, one comprised of what the AP paints as endless live shows, promotional appearances, crash diets (or worse), hospitalizations for “exhaustion,” and snooty audiences who expect the singers to live up to that old-world, high-art image and who can be as vicious as any pack of 10-year-olds at an ice show. Lou Pearlman probably didn’t run his charges this ragged. But it’s a scene that leaves singers sounding as jaded at a young age as any ex-boy band member:
Pieczonka says she has tamped down the pressure by pacing herself — she said she was taking a two-week vacation, something many others would never do out of fear of being off the circuit too long.
Still, she has no illusions.
“The word that comes to describe this lifestyle is ‘hideous,’” she said.
Stressed Opera Singers Turn To Drugs [Yahoo via AP]