When I moved to San Francisco 21 years ago, I never would have guessed that in 2011 I would be working not one, but TWO dream jobs at the San Francisco Opera.
My first break came in 1996 when the Opera House was closed for seismic renovation and the company took over Bill Graham Civic Auditorium for a year.
I auditioned for the Extra Chorus that season and was hired for Prince Igor
, and Aida
. I was so excited to be singing with the SF Opera that it didn’t even bother me that there weren’t any showers (or hot water, for that matter) at Civic Auditorium to remove makeup, or that the distance from the dressing room to the stage seemed like a mile and a half. Granted, it was a little challenging the night the video monitors in the house went out for a while during a Lohengrin
performance. Those video monitors were the only way to see the conductor, since the orchestra was placed behind and above the stage on an elevated platform. The Chorus learned the true meaning of “flying blind” that night....but we managed. That’s what professional singers do. [Right: Jess Perry in costume for 2010's Aida
That season was my first of ten consecutive years in the Extra Chorus, and I was hired for two dozen operas, including Fidelio, Billy Budd, Don Carlo (once in Italian and once in French), Peter Grimes, Nabucco, Norma, Carmen, and others.
In 2006 I joined the administrative staff as the full-time Senior Budget Manager for the company. Not knowing if I would have the time or the stamina to perform and
manage a multimillion dollar budget at the same time, I took a few years off from singing to learn my way around the Finance Department. Then in 2009 I rejoined the Extra Chorus, singing in the Verdi Requiem
honoring Donald Runnicles, followed by Aida
, and Turandot
. [Above: Jess Perry in Costume for 2011's Gotterdammerung.
I admit that each job has its own unique set of challenges: hot and itchy costumes, long days and late nights, spreadsheets with columns of numbers that just don’t want to add up….but all in all, I can’t think of a better place to work than the San Francisco Opera.