and a friend who was ‘Iron Man’ fit had been very ill in hospital and told that his lungs had suffered serious damage. I could not watch the news showing the situation in our hospitals as I knew that things could get nasty and that I might well end up there myself at any time. We were very nervous at around the 7-10 day marker as we knew this was the period when there could be a turn for the worse. We made it through and after about three weeks we did, mercifully, begin to improve, although it did come back to bite. If I was feeling adventurous I might empty the bins or cook a meal, only to have to shuffle back to the sofa for an hour or so, and the fever would return.
Friends said that maybe the combination of a reasonable level of fitness and strong singer’s lungs may have helped my recovery but I’m not wholly convinced. We were just fortunate to be able to manage at home but I will say that the recommended Covid recovery breathing exercises are very similar to those I prescribe for students (expanding the lower intercostal muscles right down into the lower back) and did raise my oxygen levels.
The most common question I am asked other than where I caught it (why does that matter?) is, ‘Did it affect your voice?’. Yes it did, but it seemed to stay largely clear of my larynx, and even the coughing (always a blight for singers) did not cause as much irritation or bruising to the cords as I feared. However, my first few attempts to sing were interesting. It would have been a good time to release my Johnny Cash cover CD or record a few moody movie trailer voiceovers. I had about five resonant notes below the stave—the rest was fresh air and phlegm.
La voce seems to be back in reasonable shape now and I’m desperately looking forward to being able to take it out for a spin on stage soon. John Tomlinson has been calling to check if I’m singing every day. I have to obey (who would dare not to?) and I try my very best to keep to my pre-G&T 30 minutes of vocal exercises. I do get to perform some fiendishly tricky and bonkers Handel arias on May 3 for a Sky Arts production of La resurrezione. Singing Handel is ‘boot camp’ for me as the roles I seem to do most of the time (Baron Ochs aside) are on the heavy side, so it’s good to keep the voice flexible and stave off the stiff bass ‘park and bark’ syndrome for as long as possible. This was due to be a big Wagner season with the best of roles for my voice type: King Marke, my first Hagen and first Gurnemanz. For me, the lost opportunities were equally as painful as the financial loss. I had been looking forward to and preparing for this season for quite a few years, hoping and praying it would open the doors to more Wagner for the next ten or so. There are plans to reschedule some of these performances but the next few years are all over the shop as new productions lost during the pandemic are being shoehorned into existing plans. Our diaries are very, very fluid!
It’s been tough on old dogs like me who have been around for a while but doubly hard on young singers attempting to make their mark in the profession. I have spent many hours of lockdown at my laptop trying my best to help singing students in the music colleges and am so impressed by their perseverance and gumption. They desperately miss the canteen chat, the bar of course, the sound of other people’s singing voices and the corridors full of music.
The digital way of doing things has been a huge compromise but it has also opened up new possibilities for these young artists. Established singers with international careers who are not able to sit in studio 23a for a whole day of teaching can now be in a student’s dining room. Also, video recordings have become the norm and are now the only way to
Opera, May 2021