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Thu May 1, 2014
The Secret Lives Of Local Opera Singers
When you see someone singing onstage at the Florida Grand Opera or the Adrienne Arsht Center, do you think about what goes on behind the scenes -- not just the costumes or the sets, but in the singers' lives?
Believe it or not, some of South Florida's opera singers work in electrical and mechanical engineering, accounting, education and law enforcement during the day.
Husband and wife Martin Nusspaumer and Maria Antunez worked as engineers in their native Uruguay.
"In Uruguay, if you're a singer, it's like you are not working," says Martin. "You're just having fun, so you need to study something more serious than singing."
So for five years, Martin studied and worked as an electrical engineer, designing car alarms for Uruguay's automobile industry.
Then he moved to Montevideo, the country's capital, for further schooling. Across the street from the engineering building was a music school.
Martin felt an impulse and walked in to ask for voice lessons. Then he started simultaneously training as an engineer and as a tenor.
"The whole day when I was working, I was listening to opera -- especially Pavarroti, and I was dreaming about it," says Martin.
Electrical engineering and opera training eventually became too much for him to handle. So Martin chose opera.
"It's not very normal that a person wants to become an opera singer anyway, but in Uruguay it's scary," says Maria. "They always ask you ,'Oh, and what else do you do?'"
Maria started training as a soprano when she was just 8 years old, but science also came naturally to her, so she studied mechanical engineering.
"And I loved it, but it took a lot of work," she says. "It didn't give me any time to my singing, which was not an option for me."
The couple made a choice. They left Uruguay and engineering behind to follow their vocal their coach to Miami and pursue opera in America.
"My mom didn't speak to me for, like, a month. It was pretty dramatic," says Maria. "But once I decided to quit with engineering, I had more time for the music and I got better and better."
Maria’s mom came around. And now she and Martin make their living as full-time singers.
Susie Diaz is a light lyric soprano -- and a personal accountant in Miami.
"The beauty of being an accountant is that I get to listen to music all day long while I'm working," says Susie. "It's a really nice compliment to use the other side of my brain."
But balancing rehearsals and accounting can be stressful. When it's tax season, and she’s in an opera, her clients are always in the back of her mind.
She does both, she says, because there’s a "shelf life" for opera singers.
"Companies now would rather have the younger, fresher faces," says Susie.
She says accounting will be there if her opera career doesn't go as she wants it to.
The Middle-School Teacher
Anthony Zoeller is a baritone. He’s also the chorus director at Forest Glen Middle School in Coral Springs.
"Right now I'm more of a teacher, but I guess I still identify as an opera singer," says Anthony.
His day job gives him benefits opera can’t.
"I don't think many people fully understand the freelance nature of being an opera singer," he says. "You don't get hired long-term by a company. You go from show to show."
His time to sing on stage is limited to the summer, or whenever he isn't teaching. He can't be away from his students for too long. It’s not like he can go on tour.
Now Anthony thinks of himself as a teacher who sings, rather than a singer who teaches.
The Police Officer
Jorge Pita’s career went in the other direction -- sort of.
He started singing opera as a kid at South Miami High. He was only 22 when he moved to Austria to sing for the Vienna State Opera.
But then he came back and gave up singing to join the Miami-Dade Police Department.
"I often wondered if people, as I was driving in my police car, thought I was crazy because they would see an officer driving by with his mouth wide open," he says.
He’d sing the national anthem for police events, but that was it, until his wife convinced him to go back to singing. And when he did, he had a whole new perspective.
"Being a police officer kind of gives you a front seat to life's events," he says. "That actually has helped in the depth of characters that I play within the opera world."
South Florida Arts Beat