On a daily basis, I am asked what I do for a living. It’s a simple enough question when people are trying to get to know you. “Hello my name is John Doe and I am a [insert profession here]” is usually what you first learn about a new acquaintance. However, my answer of “Hello my name is Marissa Bloom and I am an opera singer” is typically met with faces of astonishment, confusion, and disbelief. They’re usually thinking “Does opera exist anymore?” “How can she be an opera singer when she is so petite?” “Can you actually make a career out of singing?” or “Opera? Really????? OPERA????????????!!!!!!!” I’ve gotten used to these faces and I even enjoy trying to change their perceptions of what an opera singer is or does. Lately, though, I’ve decided to say “Hello, my name is Marissa Bloom and I am a singer.” Why must we pigeon-hole ourselves into such a specific career? Most people I know do not focus on one distinct profession… the mailman who is a photographer, the florist who sells more gifts than flowers, the singer who also runs a hat company. Likewise, why should I focus on just the operatic genre when specifying my career? Opera and classical songs may make up the bulk of my vocal study, but I also sing jazz, musical theatre, and indie folk. These genres are a bit easier for the average passer-by on the street to understand and connect with.
Last weekend, I performed at Opera San Luis Obispo’s Broadway by the Sea concert in beautiful Shell Beach, CA. Everything about this concert broke the stereotype of what an operatic concert should be. First of all, the location was outdoors set against a backdrop of the ocean. The ocean breeze was wafting the sweet scent of salt water which mingled with the begonia greenhouse behind the stage. The audience partook in picnic lunches as the singers performed standing on a grassy knoll and local painters captured the landscape in still life. I even performed one song barefoot… how’s that for breaking a stereotype? Perhaps most unusual of all was the music that we performed. These opera singers were singing Gershwin, Weill, Bernstein, Flanders and Swann, Jason Robert Brown, etc. The songs were musical theatre and jazz standards, all in English. We used a microphone!… which is completely against the rules in operatic singing.
The great thing about this concert is that the venue, the music, and the atmosphere is much more approachable to people who think they don’t like opera. They’ve heard these songs before; they don’t have to listen quietly or stay in their seats; they can eat at the performances and not be worried about getting yelled out for crinkling a candy wrapper. I spoke with audience members after the performance and several of them had never been to an operatic performance before. This was their first experience with “trained” singers and they were completely converted into classical-singer-lovers. They spoke of the passion and emotional portrayal of the singers and, most importantly, the goose-bumps they got while listening to the singers. If we are to keep opera moving forward and keep it relevant to future generations, than we need more events such as this. Congratulations to Opera San Luis Obispo for keeping the music alive.