the moment, I choose to focus my energy on the positive possibilities. I want to sing, and I will do what I can to make it happen.’
What fresh hell is this? Hanna-Liisa Kirchin as Orfeo at Longborough
So, with live performances finally on the horizon again, how do these young artists envision the future? What changes do they want to see in the industry as their own careers take shape in the months and years ahead?
One hope shared by many is that, even as theatres reopen and social distancing measures ease, the new ventures launched during lockdown— particularly in terms of wider access and community engagement—will remain a part of the art form. ‘I would love to move forward into a world where we can still expect to find some of the traditional opera we know,’ says Drummond, ‘but I do hope that some of the innovations will remain. All the filming projects, smaller-scale versions of shows, outdoor spectaculars and “at home”-style performances are a wonderful thing and bring our at times old-fashioned career into a place where more people can enjoy what we do.’ Pardoe agrees, adding, ‘One thing I hope will continue is the support network and camaraderie from those in our industry. I think we are more powerful as an industry working together than apart, and the pandemic has proved that.’
Kirchin is optimistic too: ‘I suspect that, for a while, we will be expected to work harder than ever to catch up on the time we have lost, but hopefully this will provide more opportunities for so many more singers, and companies will realize they are surrounded by talented, determined, proud artists who deserve those chances.’
But there is a hard road ahead, as both performers and their potential employers recover from the financial effects of the pandemic. Doulton is clear on the need for increased state support. Speaking shortly after the release of the 2021 budget, she says ‘the announcement that new freelancers will be eligible for the fourth SEISS grant feels like a small victory. It is also too little, too late, still excluding many. With furlough being extended until September, it’s time for a more sophisticated approach that recompenses those unfairly excluded and leaves nobody behind.’
As vaccines are rolled out and theatres tentatively announce new seasons, some form of normality may be on its way back. But, Doulton stresses, there are ongoing issues in the industry which the pandemic did not create but has served to expose, particularly in the way singers are compensated for their work. ‘This pandemic has highlighted the gross unfairness of paying singers only for performances,’ she says. ‘I’ve heard a lot of people suggest that we had “chosen” to be freelancers, and should have been aware of the risks. However, as a singer in the UK, there is little choice but to be a freelancer! It is currently a hugely precarious way to make a living, based on the whim of two pieces of flesh in your throat. I would love to see that change.’
Opera, May 2021