January 14, 2014

How to deal with pressure of performing

How to deal with pressure is one thing that any budding opera singer needs to come to terms with pretty quickly. Years of study in a small studio, conservatory or a young artists program suddenly fizzle into oblivion when you go on stage, the orchestra starts playing and the spotlight is shining on you, literally. Strangely enough I was pretty much immune to pressure during the early part of my career. I had my professional debut at the age of 19 in a leading role. I won a couple of competitions, aced a couple of auditions and my calendar was steadily filling up in spite of my young age and relative inexperience. Still I faced the stage with artistic hunger and a hunger for success and I didn’t really even think of pressure or chance of failure. But then again most teenagers think they are bullet proof and I didn’t have anything to lose…

Then the game changer happened and the latter came into the form of a word called “reputation.” Audiences are the best form of publicity a singer can have and audiences TALK! Slowly but surely I was becoming “a name” and people came to the opera house with “expectation(s)” My recording contract with Decca a the tender age of 23 further catapulted me into the public foray and the much dreaded “pressure” came knocking at the door with a vengeance.

I didn’t know what to do hence I did what I always did in these instances and I called my teacher Paul Asciak. He first teased me and told me the proverbial “I told you it will catch up with you” (he always loved “I told you so” scenarios!) and then proceeded to give me some of the best advice I have ever received. He told me to live the operatic life like a vocation. No talking, socializing, drinking or even eating badly the days  before a performance. That way, if something did go wrong on stage, I couldn’t possibly blame myself given that I took every single precaution possible. I didn’t mention hard study and preparation because that’s a given but many artists, especially young ones, think they can do without the mostly “monastic” lifestyle that an opera career requires. That is why an opera singers way of life is as much a vocation as it is a career. A long conversation in a noisy pub (even one without smoke) is a no go even two days prior to a performance. Even a seemingly harmless bottle of wine can dehydrate your cords and give you enough acid reflux to make a difference in your sound. Even a night of passion the night before is a no go, especially for tenors, although the latter is controversial with some artsits claiming that sex actually helps their performance. Boring? Yes! But still a must. I know of no major artist with a reasonably long career who didn’t exercise this discipline. Of course I hastily add that singing the right repertoire and not singing too often are also musts unless you are the Great Placido Domingo. The latter, with vocal cords forged out of Wolverine’s Adamamtium. is simply unbreakable and unstoppable…


Last but not least is to never underestimate sickness. My rule of thumb is to never sing when the vocal cords are at all compromised or when there is a lot of mucus in the nasal passages that will get dislodged from the nose right down to the actual cords by the actual vibrations caused by singing. You only have one pair of vocal cords and they are very hard to repair if compromised. Take care of them!

In the end no two performances will ever be the same no matter of the precautions taken. That is one of the beauties of performing live opera – its unpredictable!






  1. Leslie

    Nothing like live opera, live chamber music, live orchestral music.
    CDs, HDs and such, just don’t make it.

    That said, I travel 400 miles to the MET in NYC several times a year.
    I pray all the way up till curtain time and beyond that the singers I”ve traveled to see are healthy.

    Such a worry for your audience, too.

    Looking forward to Boheme the end of the month.

  2. Lorry Boschman

    Excellent advice. I do a lot of amateur entertaining ( I do have a couple of c.d.’s out, mainly for friends and family ) and I have noticed how a few drinks can affect my voice. I always drink warm water before I sing to keep the vocal cords soft and supple. Of course I don’t sing anything like you do ( I sing baritone ) but it is still important to follow a discipline. I ordered your Be My Love album in August through our local HMV store and received it just before Christmas. I have always liked Lanza. It is a very good c.d.Will you ever record with Sissel Kyrkjebo? Lorry.

  3. Thank you! Very interesting and enlightening.

  4. Kiki Posthuma

    dear Joseph, if I may call you so. It’s really interesting te hear you tell about the engagement off body, mind and singin/performing. When I’m watching you I really admire the relaxation of your body while making such effort. It must feel wonderful to make beautiful music for so many people which is only possible with commitment to “a way of life”. The challenge is to find balance in work and social life. Humour and seeing things in proper prospective will be a good support somehow. I’ve seen you have both 🙂
    About the presure; stand by the strengths of your soul where vulnerability and power are going along together.
    I hope La Boheme will be a wonderful performance and brings you joy as well. Warm regards, Kiki

  5. Thanks for the advice Joseph, some of my friends call me Cinderella because I don’t like to stay late at parties especially if I’m busy at the Conservatoire.
    Having just suffered my first serious throat infection I hear you!
    How often did you sing at 20 years of age each day. What do you consider optimum now?
    People assume I’m in a rush because I love to perform but I’m not I understand that it is a long haul, it took me nine years to get my second dan black belt in karate and five years of intense swimming practise with an amateur swimming club to build up my lung capacity and improve my breathing to help my singing.
    La Boheme – how wonderful – best wishes

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Joseph's Blog

May 16th, 2016

Quo Vadis Eurovision and other stories

Malta did not win the Eurovision but lo and behold the sun still rose and the island (the center of the known universe) still spun…

My two cents is that Ira Losco gave a really good performance and that the whole presentation was excellent. She shouldn’t have performed cause she is pregnant? Come off it – I have performed repeatedly with pregnant opera singers well into their 7th and 8th month of pregnancy and trust me when I say that rehearsing and performing for a full opera production is much more physically demanding than a couple of days at the Eurovision. Of course there are those who know much better than the undersigned and who went on to say that the presentation was a tad “camp”…oh the irony when one considers that the Eurovision is the campest of them all.

Meanwhile, this wouldn’t be Malta and the Eurovision wouldn’t be the Eurovision unless its politicized to the exhaustible hilt. The inevitable “mud slinging competition,” which we will see a lot of in the coming 22 months, ensued and even yours truly (inexplicably) ended up in the midst of the fray, in yet another “supernova” in a tea cup. The Eurovision suddenly became an interchangeable bullet to be used ad nauseam by both sides much like bitter parents who use their innocent children during disputes.  I have always found sycophants interesting, even amusing but they will not be getting the much desired Streisand effect from me, thank you very much. It is part of human nature after all to conjure conspiracies and we are not going to let the simple truth get in the way of some exciting and convenient fiction.

Speaking of “conjuring” is it me or is a company advertising real estate using a chap “connected” with the tragic and unnecessary death of an underage girl? It must be a clone or a”doppleganger”, otherwise this would be the epitome of bad taste and a 100 shades of wrong. Don’t get me wrong I am all for “second chances” and all of that but shouldn’t there be due process first? After all Lisa Marie didn’t get a second chance did she?