21st Century Singer – a changing industry: What are the biggest challenges facing singers today and how can they sustain their careers?

Melvin Claridge - Pegasus Opera

21st Century Singer – a changing industry: What are the biggest challenges facing singers today and how can they sustain their careers?


By Melvin Claridge, Vice-Chair of the Board of Trustees at Pegasus Opera Company and Talent Consultant at Pegasus Talent, in response to a question posed by Opera Prelude for their Operaworks Young Artist Development Day held on World Opera Day 2022

I welcome all the hard work that is going into addressing the systemic inequity, barriers and bias that have existed and persist within the opera industry.

Author Lesley Garner said in her book, Everything I’ve Ever Done That Worked:

“… a great performance had three elements: DecoroSprezzatura and Grazia.

Decoro is all the preparation and hard work. It’s the lonely research, the checking, the rehearsal, repetition and often futile-seeming effort and drudgery which prepare the ground.

Then comes Sprezzatura. It is the art of spontaneity. It is the art of standing on the hotspot and performing with such invention and freshness that it is as though the work is flowing through you for the first glorious time. It is the experience of being inspired.

Sprezzatura is impossible without Decoro. Imagine a mountain. Decoro – hard work – is probably nine-tenths of the climb. Sprezzatura is the peak – it’s magnificent, but you don’t hang about there for long. And Grazia – divine grace – is the blessed light which illuminates the summit. Grazia is what touches a performance in which Decoro and Sprezzatura are in perfect balance.”

I believe these three elements also apply to a long and successful career as a singer.

However, one added difference between those who are regularly on our stages and those who are not is OPPORTUNITY, and we at Pegasus are doing what we can to redress the imbalance. When and how often that opportunity is offered to artists of African and/or Asian heritage is dependant not only on talent, training or skills … or DecoroSprezzatura and Grazia. These are very important and your starting points. However, other things are also required to succeed and sustain a career as a singer.

Here are my top tips:

  1. Arrive early for any audition, performance or meeting. The person greeting you at the door may be the person who decides if you get a job … or not. To sustain a long and successful career, singers must collaborate with others and often won’t get repeat offers of work if they don’t.
  2. Your ideas and actions are shaped by the culture you experience and create. Talk to others about your ideas.
  3. Remaining healthy is vital … and I’m talking about physical and mental health also. Get help as soon as you can or think you need it. See your GP, speak to trusted friends, colleagues and family members. See a therapist if your mental health is threatened. Take care of yourself.
  4. Seek career development support from peers who are also currently performing, and professionals. Seek out those who are doing the type of work you love, ask to meet them…talk about your ideas and ask for help. Seek support from people who understand the industry.
  5. The world is changing in other ways too – we are living through an environmental emergency, trying to adapt to working in a post-pandemic world, and faced with an economic crisis. Carefully consider how you engage on social media and aim for a profile and platform that truly represents who you are and connects you with national and local organisations in the opera world.
  6. Do all you can to bring life, joy and life to your vision.