December 4, 2012

Family and Opera

It is 10.30 in the morning and my adorable terminator and princess have just left the building. I am sure that most of my neighbors are thankful that they are now spared the constant rustle and bustle a 6  and an 8 year old inevitably bring with them. On the other hand here I am, missing them terribly already which brings to the fore the, arguably, only really serious problem that one has to live with in order to have an international operatic career; long periods away from loved ones. I mean, really? How can you not miss someone who tells you that you are still a great, graceful skater despite the fact that your skating prowess is not unlike a drunken bull in a china shop?

I think few established opera singers would argue that there is anything more difficult than being away from one’s family and friends. Skype and long weekend trips make it easier but the latter still doesn’t really replace the beautiful everyday moments like picking up your kids from school or tucking them into bed. I have flown to Malta at crazy times, sometimes immediately after concerts, just to be able to pick my children from school the next day.

This is one of the reasons I take a sabbatical off singing professionally a couple of months a year and it is also why you might see me, very early, checking in for a flight sporting a face that should really be still resting on the pillow.

In the end the most beautiful sounds I have heard to date are the spoken words “papa.” Of course the phrase “you are the best dad in the world” comes in at a very close second….


  1. Lovely heartfelt description of – as you say – the most difficult part of the job.
    When I started gathering interviews for my book about tenors, it was pre-skype days. And for some of the guys in the late 1990s, they were just starting to carry laptops with them. I heard lots of stories of calling home every day to stay involved that way… flying home in the middle of rehearsals or between performances (to the dismay of opera company management) for a quick visit… and some who lost the connections forever.
    Thanks for this description of a part of your world – and bravo for scheduling the annual vacation for yourself.

  2. Bente Smidt

    I really understand that it may be difficeult. I’ve often thought about it regarding other singers, especially my favourite soprano Kiri Te Kanawa, whom i’ve followed for decades now. You spend so long periods of being away from home. We must all be very grateful to you that you’re dedicating so much time and energy to your singing.
    I’ve just received the CDs with the greatest tenors of the world. I love it, and recommend it to all my friends. Thank you!

  3. Rosa

    Te admiro como cantante y mucho mas como persona, por tu gran humanidad.
    Tengo un hijo que es Director General tiene dos hijos de la edad de los tuyos y solo les ve los fines de semana.

    Gracias por compartir tus sentimientos con nosotros.
    Estoy deseando de verte en el Baluarte el 14 de enero

  4. I always feel rather sorry for singers when they mention being away from their families for long periods of time. I’ve read articles with other tenors who mention just bawling with homesickness, and it makes me want to give all you wonderful musicians a hug and all my gratitude for sharing your wonderful music with us. It was nice that your kids got to join you and help you with your ice skating. Hope you get to be with them again soon!

    • admin

      there are way worse things in life and we are so privileged to get to do what we love for a living. thanks for your feedback!

  5. Christine

    What lovely heart- warming comments! Really enjoyed reading. Keep this up and God bless you and your two special bundles of joy.

  6. Joanne

    Joseph…. I can understand perfectly how you feel…..God Bless You and Keep you strong. You have a beautiful family …. treasure every moment you can.
    Shame on us who just come and listen to a performance and most of the time do not appreciate or realize what huge sacrifices you Singers have to do.
    Keep Up the Good Work….:-)

  7. Vincent

    You have such a wonderful gift and what a great joy it must be for you to share it with the world of music. Your many fans realize the sacrifices that you make to share your voice with them. You are one of the greats!! Thank you for your gift!!

  8. Anne Boardman

    Joseph –

    I have always admired the effort you put forth to spend time with your children. And as they grow older, you’ll need to work even harder but the rewards are certainly there. My husband and I have worked very hard to maintain solid relationships with both our children and actually to parent them (this seems somewhat rare in this day and age.) It hasn’t been easy at times and we didn’t have careers that take us all over the world like you do. However, now that my youngest is 31 (Vicki) and my oldest is 33 (Billy), we can truly say that we have participated in the formation of two fine adults that we can also call our friends.

    All the best.

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Joseph's Blog

November 15th, 2015

Men in Black

Men dressed in black shooting indiscriminately, young people fleeing in terror, some leaving trails of blood behind them – broken bodies dangling from windows three stories above the street. People fleeing and trampling over the dead trying to escape the line of fire… Is this the latest Dan Brown novel? No, this happened yesterday in Paris and was the second attack in less than a year.

I sometimes get the impression that the majority of people have become desensitized to footage of fellow human beings being slaughtered in the middle of a major European city. Modern technology allows us to video people trying to flee whilst the terrorists take pot shots at them. One such video showed a young man limping leaving a trail of blood behind him, another was very bravely pulling along the body of another of the fallen. Young women were hanging from windows by the tips of their fingers and others were crying for help in the most unimaginable distress. When exactly will enough be enough?  Not since World War II has there been a time when Europe needs to stand united and legislate new laws that give utmost protection to the bona fide immigrants and take to task those who are here just to incite violence, thinking that they can impose their archaic and often barbaric way of life upon us Europeans. Some might argue (at least in the case of France) that the hatred is born and bred at home and the attackers might be holding French passports. Well in the latter case new laws have to be passed with haste to allow the government to strip citizenship and take all the necessary precautions and actions to extrapolate these evil human beings from society permanently. Something has to change and something has to give but will it?

Nor is it a problem exclusive to Europe. Lebanon, Syria, Iraq etc. and no these acts are not less serious because they happen to happen “there.” Scores of videos showing decapitation of anyone who doesn’t agree with their barbaric ideology, children shot point blank and/or buried alive, the rape of countless women, the selling of young girls in slave markets and all this in 2015. Need I continue? Isn’t it high time that the Western World takes a no nonsense approach and sends a clear message to the perpetrators and those who support them. Yes we do know who they are. We have known for years but they are “allies” so we cannot really do anything about it or so we think. Just google Clinton Wiki Leaks and those who are uninformed are in for quite a nasty surprise. Then again I might be out of my depth discussing the above – I am sure there are those who will say as much and they would probably be right. However there is one thing I know very well – our entertainment. We do take the latter very seriously in the West and it is ingrained in our culture…

Many will ask  why I am bothering to write “off topic” and how this is relevant to classical music. Oh, but it is very relevant and this recent attack could indeed mark the end of live performances, theatre, cinemas etc. Hyperbole? Think about it – how many attacks will it take in Europe for people to start avoiding theatres, stadiums and restaurants? Few other venues lend themselves better to be used as a platform for mass carnage than a space where hundreds of people sit in close proximity to each other whilst they enjoy themselves with their guard let down. Make no mistake, these terrorists new exactly what they were doing and they drove the stake right at the heart of one of the world’s most beautiful cosmopolitan cities. I am afraid to say that if such an attack would happen in Malta it would wipe tourism out for months if not years, crippling the industry altogether. Globally change for the worse has already happened. How many opera productions were modified, changed or dropped altogether because it “might” offend some minority or other? I am also guilty of the latter – in the 2012 proms I wanted to dress as a Knight of Malta but had second thoughts after someone pointed out to me that it would be seen as a provocation by some since it evoked memories of the crusades! For crying out loud,  it is the year 2015 and some living with us in the streets of London and Paris seem to think that the price for Blasphemy should be death – think Charlie Hebdo and the Scandinavian incidents. A simple youtube search will serve you with an alarming number of results of some of these “protests” and some of the “messages” conveyed during such rallies.

What is sure is that something  has to change and something has to give. We can’t ignore helping the genuine refugees who are fleeing this exact same massacres in their troubled lands but we can’t continue to succumb to pressure to give up our way of life or our own security at the same time. It is a very tough act to balance. A no nonsense approach with  people who refuse to integrate or are trouble makers strikes me as a very civil, fair and logical solution to the plight Europe is facing.  Yes, we need to take serious action against those who hate our way of life and we would have the full support of the real Muslim moderates who are escaping that way of life anyway. Think of the Australian model – they seem to handle this nonsense in a concise and strong way.

Priorities must be put in the right order. Mediterranean is in turmoil  with scores of men, women and children drowning and washing up on beaches, hundreds of thousands fleeing persecution and certain death from countries like Iraq and Syria, the ever growing threat of global terrorism and an ever growing dangerous far right movement in the Western world, yet what some want us to worry about in Malta is whether a Muslim woman can wear a “Niqab” or “Burka” in public. This mollycoddling and fake liberalism has to stop. These absolutely ridiculous requests and expectations have to be ignored and focus must be directed to the issues that matter.

I am inclined to think that a family of refugees fleeing the threat of beheadings, rape, slavery and wanton murder would not be concerned about Christian symbolism such as Father Christmas, Baby Jesus and the occasional cross. It is neither racist nor bigoted to be proud of our way of life. We don’t have to change for anyone and the real, moderate Muslims will appreciate and embrace the new culture that took them in and they will be thankful that they are in a safe place where they can go about their business in peace.