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Dear competitors, tonight more than half of you will receive bad news: the jury will release the list of semi-finalists, and it might well be that your name is not on that list.

At that point, you will feel disappointed, angry and frustrated – I should know, as I’ve been in your position. It is totally OK to feel sorry for yourself for some time: you’ve invested time and money to come to Helsinki, and even though you might have time to spend, money is something young singers seldom have plenty. Or enough, for that matter. So, you lost the cost of flights to Helsinki and the stay in a hotel, and gained very little. That stings.

Perhaps you already have an idea why your name is not on the semifinalists’ list: some small glitch on the high notes, or perhaps you did not sleep well the previous night, or simply anxiety got the better of you. Even worse is if you did your best, your instrument worked perfectly, and you felt good on stage: you did your absolute best, and it simply wasn’t enough. That really hurts.

Depressing and frustrating as it is, this is the reality of musicians’ profession: you will be rejected, time and again, in auditions. You will be bad-mouthed by critics, who think it their duty to tell their audiences you’re fat, or too short, or otherwise unbelievable in your role. You can sing like a cherub in an audition, and receive lukewarm compliments and an acrid comment on how old you are (at the mature age of 27 or something), or that your dress does not flatter your figure. You will see roles given to other singers who are thinner, taller, younger and prettier, and – in the positive case – perhaps even can sing a bit. You will be abused by festival and event organizers, who want you to work for their events, but are not prepared to pay – and you cannot say “no” to those vultures, because, well, a young singer is in no position to say “no” to any festival or opera house manager. So you agree to some arduous task with long hours but no other pay than maybe publicity, only to learn later that the managers you tried to impress do not even remember you toiled days and nights to help make the event happen.

So, this is a good opportunity to ask yourself if this really is what you want.

Most of you will still, against all sense, want to become singers. And you know what? Most of you really will be able to make it! One competition – even if you are eliminated before the semifinals – does not really mean that much. And this one is a very prestigious competition, where the standard of singing on the first round was outstandingly good – there were no “tourists”, only talented aspiring professionals on the Sibelius Academy stage. I really enjoyed listening to all of you, and there were many positive things to be found in each and every performance. Well done!

Glorious singing careers can be built without any success from competitions, as well. In competitions, minuscule mistakes in singing, in building a competition repertoire, and performing your short program will make the difference between a finalist and a drop-out: the jury judged your one twenty-minute performance; they did not pass a judgment over you personally, or your future career!

So, the best you can do now is to ask for feedback, write it down so you can think about it when you are ready, and give yourself the permission to feel self-pity for a day – but not more than a day! Go home, lick your wounds behind closed curtains, then put on your happy face and apply for the next competition or audition. You just received a valuable lesson in the art of tolerating disappointments, which is a crucial skill in our profession as opera singers. Never let setbacks dishearten you! Every hardship and every disappointment will be fully paid back the moment you climb on stage in your dream role costume – I should know that, too, as I’ve been there as well.

All the best for your future career!

Jenni Lättilä

Jenni Lättilä is a Finnish soprano whose natural habitat encompasses both operatic and concert stages, as well as academic circles, but she prefers spending her leisure time in the silent Finnish forests with her beagles. Jenni is doing her best to break every possible “opera diva” stereotype, but still can’t help loving high heeled designer shoes passionately.