Dishing with Dennis & Cat, Part IV: How Much of Diva is True?

D- I wondered throughout Ding Dong the Divaʼs Dead how much of it is you and how much of it really happened.
C- It is funny because when my boyfriend reads the book, heʼs like, “I canʼt read this. This is YOU.” But I have to remind him that it is not me. It is just stuff I know about. None of it really happened to me except the vocal issues. There isnʼt a single performer I know who hasn’t gone through hell with their vocal cords.
D- I see that a lot in theater.
C- That stuff is very much true for me. Yet with Debbie in the book, I let her heal much faster than I ever did. I went though a whole bunch of voice problems because I started out with faulty technique. I was one of those people that got by because I had an attractive natural vocal quality, was a really good actress and looked good onstage. So … there actually isnʼt that much in the book that actually happened to me.
D- Really? Well, I knew the premise of Debbie playing pants role was you. And I knew that you were stuck in that level of the opera world.
C- Right.
D- Is there really an opera company like that in Idaho?
C- No.
(They laugh)
C- There are a lot of small companies out there like that. Thereʼs Boise Opera; thereʼs Eugene Opera. Those are actually really good gigs. Tacoma Opera. There is some decent pay in those. I didnʼt really get to that level. I was offered a role at Tacoma Opera that I had to turn down because I was doing another show at the time. I really regret that. I wish I could have found a way to do the show. But … whatever. Those are good companies, but many people get stuck at that level. They keep hoping someone important will come to those shows or it will get attention for one reason or another. But for the most part it doesn’t. The company is Diva is somewhat larger—more like Portland Opera. The really big ones on the west coast are Seattle Opera, San Francisco Opera, and Los Angeles Opera. Then you have a ton of little companies. Oakland Opera and others. People work there all the time and I see people hoping and hoping. But once you are past a certain age, you are NEVER going to make it past the next wrung of the ladder. Those are great places to work when you are 18, 19, and 20 maybe through 26 and then it starts to get questionable whether you will ever make it above that. However, combine that with a teaching career and you’re going to have a nice enough life. No vacations on the Riviera, though.
D- It is like that in theater, too. It is probably easier to transition …
C- Well, it is easier in opera, too, if you’re a man.
D- Oh, I am sure.
C- If you’re a man and a specific voice type—dramatic tenor, for instance! I mean, Lyric Mezzos like Debbie in the book—dime a dozen.
D- Yeah.
C- That type of role started with Frederica von Stade. Not that it didn’t exist before that. But she was THE lyric mezzo. She defined that and she was absolutely wonderful. What an incredible actress and singer she is! She is a lovely person on and off stage. She is like the Vanessa Redgrave of opera singers. You are instantly drawn to her no matter how far back you are sitting. I have seen her live several times. She still performs some. I don’t know how often. You know, I am out of the loop.
D- Do you miss the loop?
C- No.
D- No?
C- No, I donʼt. Not at all. But I digress.
(They laugh)
C- I got off track. What is real is the whole concept of bundling performers. Agents will get someone in through someone else. They’ll be like, “Well, you want so-and-so, well you gotta take this person, too.” That does happen.
D- I wonder if that happens in theater? I donʼt know enough about the world of casting. I doubt that is the same.
C- I wouldn’t be surprised if it works that way sometimes in theater as well. But companies wouldn’t go for it unless they actually liked you.
D- Yes.
C- But if you have a name it is different. I mean, why bother with a name for a part like Nicklausse? Why pay a name salary?
D- Because it’s not flashy.
C- People aren’t going to pay money to see a big-name Nicklausse. Unless it is Frederica von Stade.
D- Who’s playing the other roles if you have Frederica von Stade playing Nicklausse?
C- Well, you would have to have a HUGE budget. And the whole idea that opera performers get locked into stuff five years in advance, that is very true.
D- I know that is true of opera and it is not true of theater.
C- Right. Occasionally a person gets locked in and becomes famous by the time they are due to perform a role. And then what happens a lot of times is that the person loses their voice. If you ever wonder why you hear terrible voices it is because that person was locked into that role years before and their voice started having problems. I’ve noticed, with the ‘American Idolization’ of Musical Theater, that that is happening more and more. This type of belting is very hard to carry off without a really skilled technique, and a lot of bodies get left by the wayside. Anyway, back to opera … that’s how a Sven ends up doing a big role in a small company when he is already a star.
D- How about the famous pop star in your book? I loved that part.
C- Yes. Well, I based that character on a famous Italian (or was he Greek?) pop star who was played all the villains in Tales of Hoffmann while I was an apprentice in a Summer Opera Festival years ago.
D- Famous, but not known in America? Huge in another country?
C- Yeah. And he had a GORGEOUS voice. GORGEOUS! His album was out in the lobby and it was called, I FEEL A SONG COMING ON. And we always used to laugh because … (Cat pretends she is just about to break into song, yet is not quite there yet)
(They laugh)

C- You have to picture the album cover.
(Cat pretends again)
Yep, you guessed it; his mouth was open, and he was ready to sing.
(They howl)
C- I was totally intrigued with him. I was so impressed by how beautiful his voice was.
D- And he was dashingly handsome?
C- No, no, no …
D- Really?
C- He was in his 40s and at the time, I was in my late 20s. To me, he seemed ancient. He looked like what you would imagine the character in the book to look like. An aging pop star. So, I told him how much I loved his performance at the cast party. I told him how impressed I was with his voice. It was such an easy, operatic sound … but he was a pop star.
D- He was really a pop star?
C- Yes. He had never done opera before. I was so impressed that this BEAUTIFUL sound could come out of him effortlessly.
D- And it was being wasted on the pop world.
C- Not just that, but he didn’t have any opera training. He just had a voice like that.
D- My goodness.
C- He may have had some training, but that certainly hadn’t been his emphasis.
D- Wow.
C- So immediately, he tried to pick me up.
(They laugh)
C- … And I didn’t know what was happening because I was pretty naive and stuff. I do remember he was married. Man … that company was a seething brothel. The book was mostly based on my experience that summer with that company. People were picking each other up right and left.
D- Summer stock is always a breeding ground for, um, “adult activities.”
C- right.
D- I did five years of summer stock and, oh, LORD. I wouldn’t have the energy to do even a week of that now.
C- That seven weeks seemed like forever. I had much more fun in the three summers of musical theater summer stock that I did–less pressure.
D- I know. I did 12 weeks in Florida. It starts to feel like you really live there.
C- I was in Ohio for 4 months.

[To be continued ….]

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