There is no “prize” out there

Janaka at MYOpera has asked me to write on the topic of “traversing the freelance lifestyle”.

I had to ask myself, “How could I, as one artist just out of school, speak to the multitude of experiences out there?”

Suddenly I was reminded of a video that first came to my attention the week before I started my undergraduate. Let’s listen to the words of Frank Underwood himself, Kevin Spacey, during his episode of “Inside the Actors Studio”. During the Q & A a student asks how can we appreciate those first early years of an acting career before you hit it big and reach that “ultimate prize”

Spacey says it’s not about focusing on the idealized end goal of career. Instead, he says that this time should be spent finding out why you do what you do, and focusing all of your efforts towards your craft.

Having graduated from my master’s last spring, I’ve really only just begun to see what my “freelance lifestyle” might look like. So far I’ve been blessed to have had a range of opportunities: to perform, to train, to work a retail job, and to audition.

And it’s the auditioning that can become the most disheartening. Putting it on the line, and frequently facing rejection. The disappointment of not getting the part, and getting too focused on a “prize”.

It may sound a bit ingratiating to say that we need to find the joy in the process, especially when the process is hard, and the journey seems long. But as we have all been told before, “if singing was easy, everyone would do it”. Let’s hear an example of some excellent singing from Javier Camarena. One of only three singers in history to have been Encored at the Met.

Now let’s get Mr. Camarena’s insight on where he started his vocal journey. He openly shares that despite his later success and accolades, his work wasn’t always treated with such admiration. He was told as a young singer that he “shouldn’t even try,” and that he would “never have a career”. In the middle of the blog post is a video of him singing one of the 24 Italian Groovy Greats as an undergraduate.
(be sure to turn on your YouTube subtitles!)

While some people may seem ready for the operatic career right away at the youngest of ages, not every singer will be. And some of the world’s most successful singers needed time to develop to make the journey to and through an operatic career. Gerald Finley, a top international singer from Canada, speaks so brilliantly about his art and his work. While the entire interview below is excellent, I draw your attention to the 14 minute mark where he begins to discuss his time just starting out, and some of the challenges he faced on his journey of vocal development. Watch till the 19 minute mark. Flying back and forth from New York for lessons, feeling like for years at a time that he wasn’t singing well enough, sleeping on people’s floors. Sound familiar?

He ends the second part of the interview with this advice for young singers:

“Keep enjoying it. If there are challenges in whatever way, Feel like they are the right challenges.”


“The Prize” Mr. Spacey was talking about isn’t the recognition or the fame (well, In our case “opera fame”…) but the work itself. Becoming better, more artistic, more technically able, a better communicator, more legato, better diction, better high notes.

I guess all that I can say to myself and to others is that it must be a long road. If we enjoy it, we might as well keep at it. 

Nicholas Borg

P.S. Here’s something cute: Bryn Terfel singing at age 18.

Nicholas Borg is a MYOpera alumnus who appeared with the company as Tarquinius in The Rape of Lucretia in 2016. In 2016, he completed his Masters in Opera Performance at the University of Toronto, under the tutelage of renowned soprano Wendy Nielsen, and went on to debut with Toronto Operetta Theatre as the Pirate King in their production of Pirates of Penzance.

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