What is it like to be an Opera Singer? Interview with Rebecca Ringle
Growing up in New Mexico, Rebecca first learned of her unique talent in high school when her voice stuck out in a 32 person choir. From there, she started taking lessons and found that classical singing suited her voice. After winning a few competitions at 17 which felt “earth-moving” she went to Oberlin College for a traditional education. With no plans to make classical singing into her career, she kept finding herself back on the stage and continued to perform. As things started to fall into place, she decided to give professional singing a whirl.
Upon graduation, her first job was with the Cleveland Orchestra (this may sound JV, but they are one of the best in the world) where she played Tebaldo in Don Carlo. Her New York debut was with the New York City Opera in 2007 and she joined the Metropolitan Opera Roster in 2010. She’s performed rarely-done pieces for music festivals, had composers write pieces, performed all around the world and given a TED talk on live performance.
Read about her Rebecca’s career (which has never been boring), the ups and downs of being an Opera Singer and advice to others on pursuing their dreams.
What is the life of an opera singer really like?
Varied! We prepare the music first on our own and then on-site rehearsal periods with an orchestra or opera company can last from a few days to two months. The casts change from job to job so we get to work with many different kinds of people from all over the world.
What’s your day to day?
If I’m at home in New York in preparation mode, I’m learning the music, writing email to my agent and to collaborators. I love to work on my laptop in coffee shops with the other freelance warriors. I’ll translate the words or listen to lessons at Hungarian Pastry Shop or some cool spot downtown. Then I’m working the music into my voice with my teacher or a coach. On a great day, I get to go see the incredible Camilla Huey who’s made a couple of beautiful concert gowns for me. If I’m in rehearsals, in New York or another city, it’s a six-hour day working out our musical choices and the staging. I’m learning the music for the next project around that time, which can make it a much longer day.
Do you have any advice to others in their career?
Work hard at something you love to do and know your worth. Work with people you respect and if possible, that you like. And then have fun.
Most rewarding thing about being a full time opera singer?
We’re such a wired culture and the immediacy of an un-amplified voice has a profound effect on many people, including me. I’ve been lucky in getting to do lots of recital and chamber music. Work on that scale involves rehearsals with just a few musicians and the give and take - the trust and communication and intimacy- is like nothing else.
I believe in the art form’s ability to release human potential and I like getting an audience to feel emotions they didn’t know were in there. What those feelings are changes with the piece. This fall I played Rosina in the Barber of Seville and I loved spinning into her spunky side as she schemes to escape an oppressive household and marry her hot boyfriend. I wanted the audience to see a young girl having a fantastic, high-stakes time. Then I had some time off and an opportunity landed in my lap to sing Mahler’s Kindertotenlieder (Songs on the Death of Children) with an amazing orchestra at a benefit for The United Way of Western Connecticut.
This was in December, one week after Newtown shootings and the emotional mandate was huge. The pieces move across a range from sadness to anger and finally to transcendence and peace. I needed to cry at one point early in rehearsal so I could be free to sing well on the concert and help the audience get through their own feelings. Then the next day I sang the Alto solos in Handel’s Messiah. For many people that piece is a Christmas ritual that helps them connect with their families, with their past. It feels luscious to stand up in a great gown and be a part of that.
The schedule uncertainty can be annoying. Also I hate not getting to see favorite colleagues as often as I’d like. We keep up with each other on Facebook but don’t always know when we’ll get to work together again. I’ll get back to New York, message that friend I’ve been jonesing to see and find out that they’ve just left town for two months. One friend just left for Africa but another one just got back from Germany.
What are the keys to success in having a successful musical career?
Understand that the music business is just that: a business. Respect the material and your colleagues and keep your family and friends close.
Two opera singers who knew how to be themselves: Leontyne Price and Lorraine Hunt Lieberson. Cate Blanchette has her act together, doesn’t she? Two friends who founded an amazing non-profit in the midst of full-time careers. Michelle Obama’s a given. Also, several family members and a few teachers: Ms. Moss, Ms. Schick from Los Alamos High School, Holla!
Do you have any tracks I could link showcasing your voice?
There’s the TED talk and this album on iTunes.
What are your favorite spots in NYC?
Central Park. But also Momofuku noodle bar.
Photo credit: Marc Schreiner