You Look Like An Opera Singer

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Photo by Kevin Steele for Opera Santa Barbara
Location: Casa del Herrero

People tell me all the time that I “look like an Opera Singer.” As a closeted self-conscious woman, I automatically assume that means I look like a combination of a bearded Luciano Pavarotti, and a viking with long golden braids holding a spear. Is that so bad? Not really, but I happen to be a woman and I spend money to get rid of any extraneous facial hair.

“Perhaps,” says the tiny optimist in my head, “they think I look glamorous and well put together. Perhaps they think my face is the kind that belongs on the STAGE! Perhaps they think I was born to be draped in long gowns and furs and jewels, and if they know anything about opera in this day and age, then maybe they think I look like a model-type glamazon star!” Then I roll my eyes at myself and come back to reality.

In fact, I am neither of these people. Much like every woman out there we have our good days and bad ones. We have days where we feel like a million bucks and our hair is awesome, and our clothes feel great on our bodies, and we feel like every other person on earth is forced to stop in their tracks to stare and marvel at our fierceness.

The next day you literally could not pay me to put a bra on. (If you have met me, seen me, and have two working eyeballs, you know that bras are a must for me. I am not one of those women who can throw on a napkin-sized tank top and just go casual or easy-breezy. I have what we call a full balcony.) On those days I’m not going to do my hair, or wear anything other than an oversized cheek-to-toe-mumu-tent. That’s right. Cheek to toe. I envision the perfect mumu-tent daily. It hangs from my cheekbones and drapes out to the floor leaving everyone guessing what’s going on underneath.  All I want to do on those days is close the drapes, make a bed-nest, a plate of cheese and crackers, and hate-watch episodes of Smash. God I hate that show. I pray that a few of you are smiling and nodding right now in some kind of mutual understanding. Otherwise I’ll be over here rocking back and forth in the fetal position in my cozy bed-nest-mumu-cracker-crumb-cave throwing things at my television.

I digress. Back to Opera. Usually, the people who tell me I “look like an Opera Singer,” are about to ask me if I sing The Phantom of the Opera.

Note to everyone: Phantom of the Opera isn’t an Opera. It’s a musical. There. Now you know. I like musicals! But it’s not an Opera. You really wanna make an Opera Singer squirm? Ask them if they can sing this for you right now. Don’t be fooled, we can sing the crap out of it, but we don’t like it and we don’t want to sing it for you on the street right at this moment. Wanna see them go postal? Ask them if they can sing Phantom of the Opera and Celine Dion’s hit “The Prayer” at your nephew’s Bar Mitzvah, with payment in the form of an all you can eat seafood buffet and one drink ticket. (Yes that happened, and yes I did that gig). Then sit back with a bag of popcorn and watch it get awesome. The Real Housewives of New Jersey have got NOTHING on a real life opera diva fit. Are we offended if you ask us if we can sing for free? Or for a souvenir mountable silver wall plate featuring your city’s skyline? (Yup again. True story). Yes. Kinda. I mean, wouldn’t you be offended if I asked you to perform an emergency C-section for three hugs and a case of diet coke? You went to school to learn how to be a doctor. You put money into it. You’ve memorized stuff. You are an expert in your field. We are too. I have 3 University and College Degrees in Music and Operatic Performance.  I spent 8 years in post-secondary education, 2 years in an apprentice program, most of my 20’s, and a whole crap load of money, blood, sweat and tears into learning how to be a professional opera singer. I’m not even a special case! Most singers in my age group and at my level have done EXACTLY the same thing. In truth, most working opera singers have at some point sung under those conditions and/or much worse. We will pretty much sing anything, anywhere, and for anybody. We’d like to get paid, but we’ve all literally sung for our supper. I once sang over two hours of music for a 10 dollar Starbucks card. You know what? I like Starbucks. I’ve also had the privilege of being remunerated appropriately for the years of study and hard work I’ve dedicated to the craft of singing. Those gigs are wonderful. The other kinds keep me humble and make for great stories.

Along with the Phantom of the Opera question, here are the top five questions about to come out of the mouths of those curious individuals:

“Can your voice break glass?”

No.

“Don’t you have to be, like, really fat to be an Opera Singer?”

Nope.

“Can you sing something for me right now?”

I could, but I’m not going to.

“It must be wonderful to do something that you love and are passionate about right?”

Yes.

“I just went to an Il Divo Concert! Don’t you love them?”

Inside answer: I’d rather remove my own spleen with a dull butter knife than go near that concert.

Outside answer: I love that YOU love them and that they’re introducing you to Classical music! Ever been to an opera? It’s pretty rad!

(Disclaimer: I don’t EVER judge these curious people. I am entitled to my own opinions about Il Divo but I make a concerted effort to not impose any operatic snobbery on an innocent individual who is merely trying to make a musical/personal connection. There’s no harm in that. I welcome it. Talk to me…I’ll chat your ear off about the coolness of all kinds of music all day long.)

Rhoslyn Jones 2I also think most people are under the assumption that opera is only for the elite and wealthy.  It scares people a little. I’m here to tell you that some of the people who go to listen/watch opera ARE snobby, elitist, and rich. They may look down their nose at anyone not wearing a gown and furs in the box seats at the opera house.  You know what? I don’t care about those people. (Except that some of them fund entire productions. Thank you wealthy people. Your jewels are sparkly and I like them. I like you too). If I’m going to an opera, you better believe I want to be wearing lululemon pants and flats. There’s no way I’m going to be sitting for hours at a time in heels and spanx. The gas pains…oh the gas pains! My advice to people who are interested in opera but are intimidated by opera snobs: Suck it up. Give it a try. Your money is as green as theirs. Also, you’re probably old enough now to care a little less about what other people think about you, and a little more about trying something new and different. I guarantee that no opera company is going to turn you away at the door for wearing jeans and flip flops. We want an audience. We need an audience, and chances are that the artists on stage have a comfy pair of shoes and stretchy pants in their dressing room that they can’t wait to put on. For the most part, we’re normal people. Normal people who can sing really, REALLY loudly. (My husband calls us professional yellers.) Give those gorgeous fur wearing queens a wink and a smile and be comfy wearing what you want to wear while you watch one of the most amazing art forms come to life on stage in front of you.

Back to Opera. Again. In case you were unaware, opera has had a makeover, and we in opera land want the rest of the world to know about it. We’re everywhere! We’re on your tv, on movie soundtracks, on the interwebs, we’re being broadcast live (in HD…yikes….close up singer faces), on the radio and in movie theaters…oh, and we also sing live in opera houses all over the world. We’re also in the main stream social media scene, as explained by this super cool article featuring some of my super cool opera friends:

Did I forget to mention that we do not use artificial amplification or microphones? No Madonna mics for us. We compete with anywhere from 40-120 orchestral musicians all while pretending to pay attention to the conductor waving their baton in front of us. I think the human voice is pretty awesome. I think opera is awesome. Does that make me a big nerd? Hell yes it does. That’s another cool think about the art form. We welcome the nerdy. The geniuses. The curious. The over-dramatic. The divas and divos, the shy, the unsure, the band geeks, the Trekkies, the old, the young, the goth, the hipsters and everything in between and beyond. We wave our freak flags. We wave them hard and loud. You have to if you’re going to buy into the fact that we are singing the text of a story that would take twenty minutes to read, but 3 hours to sing. We love to languish and bask in the unlimited potential of our imagination. How else could we rationalize the fact that some characters play a magical flute that safely guides them through water and fire on a quest for love and a membership to an exclusive Men’s Club. (True plot of Mozart’s Magic Flute)  Ever been to a production of Wagner’s Ring Cycle? It makes a Star Trek Convention look like cheerleading camp.

What is the point of all this you might ask? Good question. I find myself wondering numerous times throughout the day, “WHY THE %$#& AM I STILL TRYING TO DO THIS????” Why after so many years of training and schooling and traveling am I still on my own quest to have an international operatic career? How do I have a husband and a family and be an aunt, a sister, a friend, a daughter and get to the gym and get my taxes done and practice music and research and coach and self-promote and teach and audition and get rejected again and again and again? How do I do all of that while on the road away from home? The answer is pretty complicated but it comes down to the fact that I am completely in love with what I do, and the rest is a balancing act. Nobody ever said that loving what you do would be easy. It takes work. Life-long work, ups and downs and everything in between. I suppose I didn’t really know that until I was so far into it that I couldn’t go back. Oh, the beauty and blind stupidity of youth.

The most important thing to me about doing something that you love for a living is to constantly remind yourself of that core fact. If I hold on to the fact that my love of music and performance will win out over being rejected a zillion times, and that my work ethic, dedication and perseverance will eventually overthrow any doubt that creeps in, then I can keep going. What makes me special and unique is what will make that difference, and not what makes me look or sound like everyone else. The fact that I don’t look like either of those women I described at the beginning of this blog is the exact reason why I have the faith that I am on the right path. My own personal oomph-ness. My Roz-ness.  These things can overcome pretty much anything I put my mind and heart into.

So, even if some days I can’t see how it’s going to work out I know, deep down, that some day all of it will make sense and fit together in some form of divine hilarity and sequence of events. Until then I’ll be plotting and scheming in my bed-nest wearing a make shift cheek-to-toe-mumu-tent yelling (LOUDLY) at my television.

UPDATE: May 14th, 2013

Ms. In The Biz founder Helenna Santos-Levy and Rhoslyn Jones Facetime!

About Rhoslyn Jones

Opera Singer - Soprano Rhoslyn Jones is quickly becoming an important presence on both the concert and operatic stages of the world. Described as a “superb singer and artistic presence,” Ms. Jones’ voice is “luscious, and her soul opens forthrightly and generously to the audience.” Recently, she covered the role of Roxane opposite Placido Domingo’s Cyrano de Bergerac at the San Francisco Opera. Signature roles include the Countess in Le Nozze di Figaro, Tatyana in Eugene Onegin, and Mimi/Musetta in La Boheme. She has performed leading roles with Arizona Opera, Vancouver Opera, Opera Santa Barbara, Pacific Opera Victoria, Pittsburgh Opera, Chicago Opera Theater, and San Francisco Opera. She has appeared as a featured soloist with Colorado Symphony Orchestra, Alabama Symphony Orchestra, Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra, and New York City Ballet. Originally from Aldergrove, B.C., Ms. Jones holds an undergraduate and masters degree from the University of British Columbia, a Diploma in Opera Performance from the prestigious Curtis Institute of Music, and was selected to be a participant in the Merola Program, which led to a two year Adler Fellowship at the San Francisco Opera.

  • Yes!!! I think we all need to be reminded (regardless of career) that our own personal “oomph-ness” is indeed what will help us succeed. No more trying to be anything other than who we are. Hooray for ladies like Ms. Jones!

    • Rhoslyn Jones

      You rule. You have some oomph-ness of your own Ms. Melton xoxo

    • Ji

      yes miss oomphness!

      • Rhoslyn Jones

        🙂 xoxo

  • Sharon Michalske

    Hilarious! She really does look like an Opera singer though – seriously.

    I admire any woman who goes after her dream while simultaneously being a wife, mother, chauffeur, nurse, house cleaner and all the million other things women must balance. AND be an Opera singer? Damn! You go girl.

    • Rhoslyn Jones

      It’s cuz we have moms like you in our lives xoxo

  • Aprile Millo

    Oh, but Miss Jones, you are special. With total respect but wishing to offer another view, I submit to you that anyone who sings opera, regardless of the humanity that brings us to its message, or the vessel that carries the instrument being “sized down”…YOU and all people who sing opera ARE special. Size is being used today as a gimmick the same way country music searched for models who could sing and glammed itself up a few years back.
    Opera isn’t totally elitest entertainment. It started out a plaything of the rich and kings and queens hired musicians to make their courts special but like everything special and really wonderful, mainstream fabulous people took it and ran with it. Wagon shows and little theaters in the province ran with it.People when exposed to it, LOVE it. Today’s producers do not realize the actual affect of a vocie on the listeners and with everything think that they have to play up the sexual and the LOOK. We arrive today at people who will buy the dumbed down version of those who SOUND operatic and cannot be heard in a theater without the mike. As I have been quoted saying all over the world, our bodies are our instruments, we sing in front of a chorus of at least 80 to 100 people, over a symphony sized orchestra to an audience of 4000 people, all without a mike. Yes, they want people who sing to be smaller, but the jury is out on that one. The productions are interesting but some border on ludicrous more than the original ones ever did. Be unafraid and BOAST that you are a member of a group of beings that sing music of the geniuses, centuries have tested their genius and they survived. I enjoyed your article and recognize your battle in today’s world…just don:t drink the kool aid…and never forget, YOU that sing, ARE fabulous! Are special and I think DIVINE.
    Warmest wishes for continued success and I look forward to hearing you LIVE not on TV or in a movie theater soon…. God bless,
    Aprile Millo

    • Rhoslyn Jones

      I could not agree more Ms. Millo! Your words are so inspirational, but it is your VOICE that keeps people like me going. I’m trying not to jump out of my seat with excitement that APRILE MILLO read my article. You’ve made this opera singing Canadian farm girl very happy. Thank you xo

  • You’re not hate-watching Smash alone. I promise, I’m right there with you. Cheese and crackers and all. 🙂 Great read; thank you.

    • Rhoslyn Jones

      Thank you! That makes the hate watching much more pleasant. Thanks for reading! Pass the cheese please 🙂

  • This was so great! 🙂 It’s funny, I used to live in a house I rented with four friends when I was living in New York, and I lived with back to back opera singers. Dudes (Tenors). They schooled me on a lot of this stuff – so clearly, you’re keeping it real. 🙂 I’d love to see you perform sometime! Some of my best friends are music nerds. 🙂

    • Rhoslyn Jones

      Thanks so much for reading and for your comment, Teresa. Sounds like you might have had some lively and loud roommates! I’ll keep everyone posted on upcoming performances. 🙂

  • Justin M

    Rhos– I only met you once with Frasier years ago, but I’ve lightly stalked you on the webs since then. So glad you’re doing so well in your career (I knew you would you gorgeous singer you!). This post is exactly what most of our (girls’ AND boyz’) inner monologues sound like every day. Thanks for writing it, and I hope we meet again one day. Off to hit my share button one billion times. 🙂

    • Rhoslyn Jones

      Justin – thank you so much for sharing and reading and for semi-stalking! I love it. I hope we meet again soon too. Do you keep up with Fras still too? He’s doing some awesome things and we’re still buddies 🙂

  • RebeccaNYC

    “The Real Housewives of New Jersey have got NOTHING on a real life opera diva fit ” Bwa-HAHAHAHHA!!! Thank you for my morning laugh!! As a chorister in the big house, I am often asked if I have ever sung with Katherine Jenkins. It takes all the politeness my ministers-wife mother taught me not to jump down their throats. I grit my teeth and try to explain why Ms Jenkins is not in fact, an opera singer, but that I am glad they enjoy her operatic stylings. and try not to judge. try.

    I cannot wait until I am singing backup for YOU…seems like you are well on your way! xo

    • Rhoslyn Jones

      Thanks so much for sharing Rebecca! I bet you’ve seen your fair share of diva fits as a hard-working member of the amazing chorus. Can’t wait to meet YOU one day and sing together in the big house 😉

  • What a wonderful article! You basically were able to capture the feelings and thoughts of many opera singers. All the best as you navigate the rapids of the opera world. As you said, it will definitely end in “divine hilarity and sequence of events”….just like opera:)

    • Also, why don’t you like Smash? I love that show. It shows the up’s and down’s of a career in the arts. One minute you have no job, the next minute you are Marilyn, then you are out of a job again. That is a fun rollercoster:)

      • Rhoslyn Jones

        I’m not sure why I don’t like it. I think it’s a combination of jealousy, frustration and disappointment in myself for verging on jaded. I think it simplifies the process too much and doesn’t accurately depict the years of struggle, loss, learning, failing, tiny victories involved in becoming a singing actress. Megan Hilty is amazing and she kinda shows the struggle aspect of it, but I just can’t watch it without throwing things and eating a few feelings. I still watch it though, so I guess the joke is on me 🙂

        • Verona

          You know what’s a boring show? Watching actors (and musicians, and singers and painters etc) practice their routines, go to the laundromat, make photocopies, ask their parents for money, debate going for a run and all the other “real life” stuff that is involved when you’re a professional performer or artist. SMASH glosses over these things because it’s not interesting to the audience.

          I don’t know a lot about opera but I think watching an opera about someone trying to file their taxes with turbo tax and set up their own website would be really tedious and boring.

          edit – i cant seem to reply to your comment so I’ll elaborate. I’m not saying that you said it was boring, what I’m saying is that showing the REAL struggle would be awful. Yes there’s WAY more to being a successful performer than what they show on SMASH but it would be dull as all hell. 🙂

          • Rhoslyn Jones

            Thanks for sharing Verona! I never said the show was “boring,” it’s just not my cup of tea. I don’t know that an opera about taxes and laundromats would be a blockbuster, but if the music was intriguing, memorable and moving then I would listen to it. Like the saying goes: I could listen to her sing the phone book! It’s more of a quality and not quantity thing, for me anyways. 🙂

    • Rhoslyn Jones

      Thanks Alexis! I hope so 🙂

  • Roz, I love how real you are. You tell it like it is with such classy, self-deprecating humour and grace. And yes, there is definitely a market for cheek-to-toe-mumu-tents. So if you want to add another task to your balancing act while on the road, I see a side career in fashion and textiles for you. I’ll make the website for online shopping 🙂

    • Rhoslyn Jones

      Thank you Teiya for your kind comments. You’re so sweet, and yes to the cheek to toe mumu tent! I’m envisioning animal prints. Oh the possibilities 🙂

  • Yana

    Damn- You sure SOUND like an opera singer-just f-ing gorgeous! And beautiful to look at. And powerful- I think that is what people are responding to when they say you “look like an opera star.” In a good way, in a femme way-as opposed to female movie stars who look feeble even when they are supposed to be assassins.
    Besides all your other wonderful features- you are the funniest opera singer! What could be better than that?
    Thanks for being such a fine ambassador of opera.

    • Rhoslyn Jones

      I’m pretty sure that’s one of the best compliments I’ve ever received. Thank you so much and I’m sending love right back you you! 🙂

  • I absolutely loved your answer to the fans of Il Divo! So important to keep all doors open, as it really is an actual bridge to bring people into an even finer art form!

    • Rhoslyn Jones

      Thanks so much for sharing Holly! Coming from such an accomplished musician like you, I truly appreciate your comments 🙂

  • RKBB

    Hi Rhoslyn,
    I enjoyed your article very much … and you certainly made me smile with the ‘Butter knife’ comment. Your husband also earns my respect for ‘Professional Yellers’ – now why don’t we see an Opera Album with that name on it… the first ever Opera-Punk group…..
    All the best,
    R x

    • Rhoslyn Jones

      Thanks so much for reading and sharing R. I’ll get to work on that album…I also have some friends who have put something together called “Guns ‘n Rosenkavalier” that is pretty incredible. The more I think about it, there really is a fine line between some operatic sounds and some serious metal/power ballad singing. I smell a new genre 🙂

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  • Ms Jones,

    Thank you so much.

    I am a novice opera composer and constantly told I’m “too young” to be into opera. The amounts of wonky fallacies about opera really sadden me. That no one writes it, sings it, or listens to it anymore; that it’s only for old rich snobby white people; that it’s boring and unrelatable (WHAT???).

    Thank you for being a fresh new voice to break through the myths. Your actual singing voice, by the way, is just delicious.

    For the record, while I can take or leave all the Il Divo/”the Prayer” classical-pop crossover, I do *ADORE* Phantom of the Opera. I even have an upper arm tattoo devoted to it. THAT SAID, I get annoyed as anything when people insist (not suggest – INSIST) it’s an opera. It’s *about* opera. It features some mock-opera. But for the love of crackers, it’s a freaking musical. I can only imagine the patience you must harbor to put up with some of these questions.

    I’m still building up my own patience.

    Thank you for this article.

    – Renee Nicole Schwarz

    • Rhoslyn Jones

      Dear Renee,
      Thank you so much for sharing and for your kind compliments. Too young for opera?? Psshaw. I wonder if people said that to Mozart 😉 I applaud YOUR determination and drive to write music…operatic or otherwise. I think it’s fantastic, and I’m not alone in thinking that. I love Phantom too! And Les Mis! And Miss Saigon! And Wicked! And anything Patti Lupone or Natalie Weiss sings! And country music! I love music, and the human voice in all its intricacies, beauty, harshness, and every color in between. Keep writing and playing and drop the “novice” part. You’re a composer! Exclamation point! Own it girl 🙂

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  • Hi Rhoslyn!

    Great article, I really enjoyed it! And oh so true, all of it. A singer myself (Swedish)I can truly relate! I will share this fantastic sequence of question from real life, right after a performance. I think you can relate! 😉

    First some compliments and accolades and then:

    Audience: What do you work with?
    Stella: I’m a singer
    A: Yes, but what do you do for a living?
    S: I sing, I’m an opera singer
    A: Sure, but how so you earn your money?
    S: *Dumfounded* *Silence* I’ts a profession. I have years of education, I just got paid doing this.
    A: Oh really? You’re so lucky!

    Looking forward to future articles from you!

    😀 Wishing you a glorious career!
    Stella

  • Rhoslyn Jones

    I can totally relate! I’ve heard very similar questions and it always makes me smile. Thanks so much for sharing and I wish you lots of success too!

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  • Abigail Bishop

    What advice would you give someone wanting to pursue opera? I’m about to be a high school senior, and while I have been taking voice and piano for the past year, I am a little at a loss about what to do next. I would love to hear your advice on what you did to get where you are.

    • Rhoslyn Jones

      Hi Abigail!
      I’d be happy to give you some pointers as I know how difficult it can be to navigate the end of high school and beginning of post-secondary life. There are TONS of programs, schools, and conservatories all over the world that offer training for becoming an opera singer. My advice to every person who asks me these kinds of questions is to first find a teacher you connect with. Someone who understands how your voice works, and who can guide it safely in terms of vocal health and repertoire. Ask your teacher, ask your friends in music about programs that will help you, and go from there. Depending on where you live, your financial situation and where you want to go after high school, the possibilities are in fact, endless. If you want to know my story, I went to a University near to where I grew up and got my Bachelor’s and Master’s Degrees. I then went on to a Conservatory far away from where I grew up and got another degree in Opera Performance. I did Summer Programs and Young Artist Programs and that was my general path. If you have any other questions, please don’t hesitate to ask 🙂 Happy singing!
      Roz