INTRODUCTION: Singing Opera and Writing Funny
I am weird, but not dangerous. Okay, maybe I’m dangerous when I’m on a stepladder trying to install a window shade. Other than that, I am harmless and kind of cute, in a way.
But I sing opera and I write funny stuff. Go ahead and look at me like I have two heads. I don’t mind. I wish I did have two heads, so I could change them back and forth, according to the look I wanted. But I don’t. Have two heads, that is.
Don’t ask me to explain in detail how I ended up being an aging opera singer and budding humor writer. It would take too long. Besides, I might write my memoirs someday, and if you already know all about my life you won’t want to buy a copy.
My father, who didn’t have much faith in the earning power of a singing career, urged me to get an Education degree so that I could become a teacher. The teaching profession is a noble one, and good, dedicated teachers are always needed. That was my problem. I would have been a terrible teacher, and I hated the whole idea. So I got my degrees – B.A. and M.A. – in music, and set out to be an opera singer. Fortunately, I had office skills to fall back on, so I didn’t starve in the process, and, although I never sang at the Metropolitan Opera or La Scala or any of the other major houses, I had a much better career singing in smaller places than most of my opera singing colleagues.
The process of building an opera career is difficult, filled with traveling on a shoestring, singing many auditions for every job you get, rejection which is relieved by an occasional encouragement, backstage intrigues, greedy, sometimes unscrupulous agents and colleagues who are either the finest people in the world or the most treacherous (and you have to find out who is which, sometimes the hard way). If you make headway in the business, you also have to deal with spending huge amounts of time away from home. For some of us, this means picking up and making a new home in another country, with another culture and another language. There is also a thing called poverty, caused in good part by the big expenses involved in a singing career: voice lessons; coachings; audition wardrobe; printed music; mailings; travel all over the place; etc.
When you get onstage, though, and you are in good voice and the performance is going well, it’s the most satisfying, practically orgasmic thing in the world.
Now that I am a woman of a certain age, no longer actively pursuing an international singing career, you would think I would settle down, get a job with benefits, look for some lucrative sidelines to build up something for my old age, and reflect back on all the fun I had. I actually did one of those things. I got a job with benefits, at which I work five days a week. Instead of lucrative sidelines, I chose to become a writer. I guess I can’t live without dedicating huge amounts of time and energy to something at which most practitioners never make any money.
The process of building a writing career is difficult, filled with things like submitting work to many publishers for every acceptance you get, rejection which is relieved by an occasional encouragement, greedy vanity publishers and other people dying to take a writer’s money, and colleagues who are either the most supportive people in the world or the most envious (and you have o find out who is which, sometimes the hard way). If you hope to be able to live only on your writing without any other source of income, you also have the prospect of poverty.
This is a clear case of déjà vu. I have gone from one profession where the prospects of getting rich are dismal and the rejection is constant to another profession where the prospects of getting rich are dismal and the rejection is constant. What can I say?
I’ll say this: writing is hard work, but it’s fun. Like singing, it is satisfying in a visceral way. It is even more satisfying to me if I can make people laugh. I can’t imagine a life without doing something that I love to do, so this is it.
The irony, which I think is hilarious, is that, in other ways, singing opera is the direct opposite of writing humor. I have listed the disparities below.
SINGING OPERA vs. WRITING FUNNY
Opera: I have played serious, tragic, beautiful heroines. I have died onstage of everything from tuberculosis to poison to hara-kiri to jumping off a building, while costumed in gorgeous gowns, peasant costumes, a poor seamstress’ dress, kimonos and nightgowns. I have worn glamorous wigs and complicated hairdos and my face has been covered with a thick layer of gooey stage makeup.
Writing: I often sit in front of my computer looking like a bag lady in the most comfortable things I have that are clean. Sometimes I just leave my PJs on. Nobody is looking at me, so what the hell. If by some chance anyone is looking at me, I’m covered up and that’s what matters. I never wear makeup if I can help it. And I have not died yet, at least not that I know of.
Opera: I am in front of a bunch of people, singing very loudly and hoping for a lot of applause.
Writing: I am in front of my cat, typing on a computer keyboard and hoping to get a few laughs. If I sing I scare the cat.
Opera: People have sometimes asked me to sing something on the spur of the moment, especially at parties or family get-togethers. On the other hand, if I break out in spontaneous song in public, the people I am with pretend they don’t know me.
Writing: Nobody ever asks me for a free writing sample, and I have to practically bribe my family members to read my stuff. I can sit in a public place, such as a café or a park, and write until my fingers get tired without attracting any attention at all.
Opera: Opera singers try to avoid getting sick, especially with performances coming up, even if it means putting themselves in an isolation booth.
Writing: I don’t want to get sick, but if I don’t get out and around (breathing germs and touching things like subway poles and escalator rails) I won’t find anything funny to write about. Agoraphobia jokes get old really fast. Writers are expected to be observers and interactors. It comes with the vocation.
That’s enough. You get the picture.
What is the one subject that an opera singer turned humor writer should write about? Opera, of course! Opera is one of the greatest art forms ever invented. It is a marriage of great music and drama. It can move audiences in a special way not shared with other forms of theater. Operagoers easily become hooked, because they love it.
It is also rich in possibilities for humor. That’s where I come in. Just because I love opera and even sing it doesn’t mean I can’t poke fun at it.
By the way, as a humor writer I am allowed to exaggerate to make something funny. Please remember that when you read this book. Opera is one of the greatest, most fascinating art forms ever developed and perfected by humans. Attending a good performance is an incredible, cathartic experience. Singing a good performance can be just as cathartic in another way. If I appear to be dissing opera in this book, know that that is the farthest thing from my mind. What I do here is like cracking jokes at a good friend who is free to crack jokes right back. In a way, I am also poking fun of myself.
I hope that, by now, you have been so captivated by my brilliant lead-in that you just HAVE to stick around and read the rest of this book.
Kathy Minicozzi was born on Long Island, New York and raised in the Yakima Valley, Washington State. She earned a Bachelor of Arts in Music from Eastern Washington University and a Master of Arts in Music from Washington State University. As an opera singer, she sang with the Regensburg Stadttheater in Regensburg, Germany, the Israel National Opera in Tel Aviv, Israel, the New York Grand Opera in New York City, Opera of the Hamptons on Long Island, New York, the Ambassadors of Opera and Concert Worldwide and other groups. Although she no longer auditions, she continues to sing as a church soloist and in an occasional concert or recital.
She has now taken up a second career as a humor writer, and has been a regular contributor to HumorOutcasts.com.
OPERA For People Who Don’t Like It is available on amazon.com.