Double Bill – Soprano Sara Duchovnay & Mezzo Claudia Chapa On Balancing Careers As Singers & EntrepreneursBy David Salazar
The double bill of Puccini’s “Gianni Schicchi” and Michael Ching’s “Buoso’s Ghost” is currently enjoying a successful run at Opera Delaware, where it will finalize its run this coming weekend.
Two of the performers taking part in the production are soprano Sara Duchovnay and mezzo Claudia Chapa, who also have a unique connection through Shoperatic.com, a peer-to-peer online fashion marketplace where opera singers (and opera lovers) can buy and sell performance gowns and high-end attire. It has also become a platform for many performer-owned entrepreneurial “side-hustles”, and since its launch in September of 2016, has put over $180,000.000 into the pockets of the many opera singers who operate as vendors on the site and use it as a means of supplemental income.
Duchovnay and Chapa recently spoke with OperaWire in an inspired interview that mirrored their unique abilities to balance burgeoning vocal careers with second careers as entrepreneurs.
Duchovnay is one of the co-owners of Shoperatic.com alongside fellow soprano Suzanne Vinnik. Chapa is one of the top vendors on the site, and specializes in selling Huichol beaded jewelry, which she sources directly from artisans in Mexico. She didn’t set out with the intention of starting a side business, but after receiving so many compliments on her personal collection and conversing with Vinnik and Duchovnay, she opted for entering the world of sales. Claudia’s striking sense of personal style, magnetic personality, and bilingual fluency made the venture an immediate success.
“It’s been great! I have a passion for this amazing wearable art and am so happy to have a platform to make this jewelry visible,” she told OperaWire.
Undeniably, one might question the sanity of anyone attempting to engage in entrepreneurship and singing opera professionally. After all, both are risky projects.
To that end, both artists acknowledged the challenges of finding that balance. For both artists, the key comes down to establishing boundaries.
“You are balancing two freelance businesses,” noted Chapa. “Set office hours! Take into account your workload. How much time to you need for music learning and practicing, and how much time do you need for talking to your customers, researching your vendors, and figuring out what comes next.”
“I do a lot of my Shoperatic customer service and administrative stuff in the morning because that’s when I am fresh,” added Duchovnay. “If I try to do it at the end of the day after I get back from rehearsal, I’m a lost cause. Especially when I’m dealing with technology, I have to have a clear mind.”
Duchovnay also noted that communicating with clients is crucial as well.
“If I get an email or message from a customer while I’m practicing, or getting ready for rehearsal, or in a rehearsal or performance, I have to communicate with them about what is going on, “Duchovnay added. “I find that if I acknowledge them and let them know what I’m doing and when I will be able to help them, they are very understanding. After all, most of them are also performers.”
In speaking with both artists, it was rather fascinating to learn that the stress they endure from both jobs are minimized by the fact that their differing careers actually complement one another.
For Chapa, the financial aspect relieves a great deal of the stress of being a freelance singer, while adding other practical benefits.
“It’s actually a perfect fit!” stated Chapa. “Like most freelance singers, there is some down time between gigs, and depending on how long that down time is, having a side business helps supplement financially. I also personally love doing live sales, which help me sharpen my public speaking abilities.” Live sales have become a popular selling format on the Shoperatic facebook group, during which Shoperatic vendors utilize Facebook’s live video feature to create a Home Shopping Network-esque interactive video sale and interact with potential customers in a more personal and immediate way.
Duchovnay also acknowledged the financial benefits, but also noted that owning and running Shoperatic is therapeutic. “I found that as a younger singer, I could get wrapped up every little thing that happened in rehearsal. I would worry about a lot of things that I had no control over,” she explained. “But now I don’t really have the time to obsess about things that are out of my control! I trust myself and what I have to offer and I know that there are more valuable things to do with my energy than worry. Running a business has taught me that when I’m calm and confident, my customers have a better and more enjoyable experience. In a way, any opera company that has hired me is also my customer. If I’m calm and confident, I can give them a better experience than if I’m constantly worrying and seeking approval.”
Puccini & Ching
This has allowed the two to flourish in both careers, enjoying such unique experiences as the current run of the double bill “Gianni Schicchi” and “Buoso’s Ghost.”
Everyone knows the Puccini opera, but the Ching work is new. Obviously, given the disparity in time periods of composition, one might wonder about whether that translates to the music styles. Duchovnay was quick to push aside that notion.
“Michael [Ching] weaves many motives from Schicchi into the new opera,” she noted. “As he explained to us, the first duet is about setting the audience’s mind at ease and assuring them that this is not going to be outside of their comfort zone. It’s going to be in the same vein as the Puccini and it’s going to be fun! It is very melodic and funny.”
But the opera undeniably sets out to do something different, even if it hues closely to the comedic and musical tone of the Puccini opera. “Lauretta and Rinuccio get to come out and sing this beautiful duet and then leave and never return. It’s a lovely little cameo with lots of great high notes,” Duchovnay noted, emphasizing that the work starts where the last one ended. But then comes the twist. “We get some hints at what their life together will be like, and we get to watch Rinuccio realize that Lauretta is probably going to be a bit much for him to handle. The rest is up to the audience to imagine where their lives go, because after that duet, we get to go hang out in our dressing rooms while the rest of the cast does the heavy lifting.”
Chapa also noted some unique character development for her character Zita, as well as the vocal differences.
“Zita is a schemer in both operas. The major difference is that in the second opera, elements of love come into play between her and another character, which is fun! It’s nice to give her that emotional arch,” she noted. “Also, Zita in ‘Gianni Schicchi’ is higher, and in ‘Buoso’s Ghost’ I get to play with different vocal colors and styles.”
The double bill’s final performance is on May 5, 2018 at The Grand Opera House in Wilmington Delaware.