In Conversation with...Michael Solomon

Tuesday, 9 February, 2021

“Don’t do something you wouldn’t want to see on the front cover of the New York Times”.

A simple but relatable statement made by Michael Solomon, Senior Press Manager at the Metropolitan Opera, in a recent conversation with the ABL Aviation Opera Studio artists. Read on as baritone David Howes shares his insights from the session.

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We at the ABL Aviation Opera Studio at Irish National Opera have been honoured to have been part of conversations with key figures in the opera business led by Tara Erraught. Our first took place on 19th November, mid second lockdown, with Michael Solomon. A charming and captivating gentleman whose simple way of explaining the world of donors and social media opened my eyes to the work it takes to be in the public eye but also how simple and disciplined it can be.

In this time of intense political conversation, the conversation naturally flowed towards this topic. We spoke on how to manoeuvre difficult and controversial topics, one’s opinions and how not to alienate oneself from potential colleagues, companies, organisations, and patrons. My eyes were further opened to the way in which it is easy for public platforms to get overwhelmed by personal opinion and debate, but we have the opportunity as artists to offer our followers relief from the rhetoric of politics and intense world conversation.

If we as members of the Opera Studio are fortunate to be international superstars, flying from country to country in high demand, our online profiles may develop a modest following. Michael reminded us, that followers who track our progress our hoping to gain an insider’s view of the opera world; Where we’re flying to, what rehearsals are going and, perhaps a small insight into our lives outside of the rehearsal room. We spoke about the pressures that come with a jet-setting career and the need to be always on the top of your game and sounding your best but also dealing with all the trials and tribulations that travelling and life has to bring us. Like anyone, it’s okay to get annoyed at life and things out of your control but perhaps an online situation is not the best place to do this. Does anyone really enjoy seeing someone being passive aggressive or even outrightly aggressive towards airlines for flight delays, or lost baggage?! Is it really the fault of the person at the end of the airline’s twitter who delayed your flight?

Sure, this is enormously annoying but it’s just as easy, if not easier to think of the positive! Your flight may be delayed but perhaps you’re excited to try an authentic croissant or try a Philly Cheesesteak?! Our followers, or the scrolling addict want to see the joy and thrill of coming to a new city or performing in a new opera house. Perhaps we can share our own thoughts in singing in one house compared to another, or that it’s our first time singing with a conductor whom we’ve always admired. Saying this, that doesn’t mean we all have to be fake or sickeningly positive in the face of adversity but, as Michael put it; “spin is your friend”.

On the other hand, the most powerful and refreshing piece of advice from Michael was simply: be yourself. Throughout this business so many people in various roles, be it directors, producers, conductors, or fellow singers will tell you how or who you need to be. Even in my short time in the business, I have had so many contradicting statements of people telling me how to be. The need for people to appreciate us and “love” us is so strong, it is easy to try and please all of them, except yourself. If people don’t accept you for what and who you are, then they do not deserve your time. Life is too short to be anything but genuine.

On the same point of social media, Michael advised that, “It is okay not to post every day”. It is easy to post when work is flowing but when a global pandemic hits, one finds nothing to post except selfies, our music stands full of all the roles we’re going to learn, and all the boring memes we, as followers, are sick to death of! Take time off. Post sparingly or don’t post at all. Michael informed us that you can actually help yourself by not posting all the time. For when you do, your content immediately gets put to the top of list for all to see. Now if that’s not great advertisement for when you are performing, I don’t know what is!

These are my mindless ramblings of my observations of the insightful and honest Michael Solomon. Someone who reaffirmed in me the confidence to be true to oneself, be careful of one’s self and always be “delighted” and “blessed” to be a part of something!!

Top tips and takeaways:

  1. Don’t do something you wouldn’t want to see on the front page of the New York Times.
  2. Lots of people tell you how to be but you need to be yourself
  3. Always think of the positive. No one wants to hear about your flight being delayed but people may want to hear how you can’t wait to try an authentic croissant!
  4. Be a good colleague.
  5. It’s okay that you don’t know everything. There are so many people working at an opera house who are experts in their own field, don’t be afraid to ask them for help.