University of Minnesota - Vocal Performance / University of Minnesota
Vienna Conservatory in Vienna, Austria - Master of Arts in Opera Performance
When she unknowingly launched her career, Anne Wieben was a senior in college unsure of her next professional move and regretting having never studied abroad. She decided to take a fifth year of college (a “super senior” year, as she calls it!), and with several years of studying French under her belt, began looking for study abroad music programs in France. When none panned out, she temporarily went in a totally new direction: one year teaching women’s health in Senegal, a French-speaking African country.
That was until Anne actually went to sign up for the Senegal program. She showed up early that day, and while waiting in the lobby grabbed a random binder filled with programs in countries beginning with the letter “A.” The first page she opened said, “Study Music in Vienna, Austria!” Better yet, there was no language requirement. When Anne’s advisor called her into her office, Anne told her to forget Senegal, she was going to Austria! A master’s degree in opera and a career as a freelance opera singer soon followed.
Know yourself inside and out, and be honest with yourself.
How did you discover your current job?
I started playing the violin when I was 10 years old, which opened the door to classical music. I grew up in Bismark, North Dakota and was fortunate enough to play with the Bismarck-Mandan Symphony Orchestra while I was in high school, so I was exposed firsthand to a lot of really fantastic classical music. However, though I loved the music, playing in the orchestra was not enough; I wanted to be on stage! I wanted to sing!
I was also active in choirs and theater in junior high and high school, but neither choir singing or musical theater singing really did it for me (or utilized my voice to its best degree). I made the decision to study voice at the U of M, not quite sure where it would take me. I then saw my first opera – Bellini's I Capuletti e i Montecchi at Minnesota Opera – and BAM! I knew I wanted to be an opera singer. It combined all of the things I loved most: acting, singing and classical music. Once I made that decision, the rest fell into place.
Then, came the plan for the “super senior” year and that fateful day in the study abroad advisor’s office where I discovered the music program in Austria. Next thing I knew, I was working at the study abroad organization, was accepted to the Vienna Conservatory to get my Masters, started auditioning, began working and here I am, seven years later!
What is your typical day like? What types of things do you do in your job?
No day is typical! Since I am a freelance musician, I don't have a set “schedule.” There are months when I am doing a show and months when I am not. It all sort of depends on what I have going on at the moment and what I have coming up.
That being said, I do practice nearly every day. That involves stretching, breathing exercises, vocalizing and/or learning music. How much and what I practice changes from day to day depending on my health, whether or not I have a performance or rehearsal that day, if I have to prepare a role or if I just need to "work-out" the voice. THIS is the real work. A performance only shows how much hard work has already been done. I often compare opera singing to running a marathon – you have to stay in shape and train! You would seriously injure yourself if you tried to run a marathon (or sing three hours of Mozart!) without proper training!
Since my job is physical, I also have to be really careful about staying healthy. Getting enough sleep, eating right, drinking enough water and scheduling relaxation are all vital.
What is the most rewarding part of your job? The most challenging?
There are so many rewards! I get to travel the world, meet tons of interesting people and surround myself with the most beautiful music. I get to push myself to my limits, explore my creativity and bring people to feel emotions and experience something human.
The challenges are also numerous. It is incredibly physical and requires a constant state of good health. On top of that, singing is also emotional; being in a rough spot emotionally can be crushing to a performance. You've also got to be able to sing in a multitude of languages -- Italian, French, German, Russian, Czech – all from memory, sometimes up to four hours on end!
Finally, you've got to have thick skin. There will be people who perhaps don't like your voice or the way you sing. You have to be confident, not take it personally and know that what you are putting out there is worth it.
What is the biggest personal sacrifice you have had to make because of your job?
I am often far away from my friends and family for long stretches of time, and that is really hard.
What is one lesson you've learned in your job that sticks with you?
Be honest with yourself. Only then can you truly give something worth having!
What do you feel is the biggest challenge for women today, particularly females in your industry?
This is a job that requires people to look at us, so, like it or not, looks are important. It is not necessarily about being "beautiful" per se, but you are judged on your appearance.
Criticism is a common thing in this industry. When you walk into an audition or onstage you will be judged and criticized for everything: your voice, your technique, your hair, your outfit, your weight, your repertoire choices, how sexy you are (or aren't) ... the list is endless. If someone doesn't want to cast you, they will come up with a multitude of reasons why you aren't right – and will often tell you to your face! You've got to surround yourself with ears and eyes you trust (including your own) so you know when someone is telling you something that could be helpful (such as, “Maybe this isn't a good role for you”) or when someone is just saying something negative (like, “You just aren't any good”).
What are some of the rules you live by?
Keep it real.
Don't take yourself too seriously.
What advice do you have for women who want to be in your industry?
Opera singing is about so much more than having a good voice; just because you have two legs does not mean you are cut out to be an Olympic sprinter! It takes hard work, determination, self-discipline, confidence and a huge dose of self-reflection (whether you want it or not!). Know yourself inside and out, and be honest with yourself. Trust yourself and have fun because this job rocks!
Where do you see yourself five years from now?
Hopefully somewhere fabulous singing something fabulous!
What are three things you love aside from your job?
I have the most supportive family and friends. Without them, I wouldn't be here.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
Life is too short to not do what you love. Get out there and live your life! Trust your instincts! Take risks! Have fun!
-Interview by Keriann Strickland
Photo by Christoph Scheuermann