The Amneris Complex

Amneris Complex or in colloquial terms “Waiting for the other singers to die so I’m the only one left to hire”

Often as a professional singer, I hear my colleagues of a younger age discuss how competitive the field is.  And it isn’t just in the operatic field, as I teach at a college for musical theatre studies, and hear the same thing there.  When you start this conversation you can gather a crowd quickly.  Soon we are all sitting around and nodding our heads in agreement about how hard it is to be a singer and how competitive it is and gosh, a lot of singers just won’t make it (what ever make it means). Welcome to the voice of fear.  Cold, hard, gut wrenching ‘keep you up at night’ fear.  These are our scary ghost stories about the horrors of the profession.  Suddenly the word competitive means that there isn’t enough for all of us.  Someone has to go.  It seems to me rather like there are 6 people on a desert island with only two water bottles and it is hot.

I know your inner voice is getting ready to tell me  in it’s so reasonable tone that I’m inviting people to live in a fools paradise not to accept this truth about the business.  You are telling me that this is a competitive field and being realistic you have to be prepared for the fact that you might not ‘make it’.  I believe that this is the equivalent to a politician writing his concession speech and ordering only stiff drinks and coffee for vote night.  Yes kids, he’s just being realistic.

Let’s go back to the Amneris Complex.  Do you remember the plot of this opera?  Amneris wants Radames, but he doesn’t want her. He is in love with a slave girl and despite the Dad of Amneris (the king no less) getting involved and declaring their wedding a victory prize for Radames, he just doesn’t want her.  He meets with Aida (princess disguised as a slave girl-historically the toughest rival of all) to plot their escape. His fiancé wannabe sees him with the enemy.   Filled with jealousy towards Aida and feelings of revenge for Radames what better solution than to call in the guards on them both.  This does not lead to a wedding but rather just a cozy underground death by lack of oxygen for two-Aida and Radames, with our favorite hard done by mezzo, Amneris, up on top regretting the way the whole thing turned out.  The opera ends as they both run out of air. It is the mezzo soprano’s voice that finishes the opera.  I won’t lie to you.  Many times when I’ve been asked what my favorite opera is I have named Aida because the tenor and the soprano die leaving the final word to the mezzo.  The things a girl has to do to get ahead.

True Confessions of a Diva Wannabe in recovery

Like Amneris, I often focused on what ‘others’ were doing or getting, and plotted.  Not quite as dramatically, but still, I was invested in an outcome that worked for me.  The focus of who got hired here, who was being featured in the magazine there, who got the gala concert, who got the chance to audition for so and so etc.  Every time I look out there, the view from the inside I have is of me wanting.  Grasping.  Without.  Asking the eternal question of the singer and Amneris- “Why not me?”

What comes from this question is your voice of reasons chance to give you the litany of reasons of why not you. Your inner critic has been hard at work assembling this list and is only too delighted to share it with you.  Why not let your inner critic loose to play along here and choose the ones that it thinks fit you best.

You didn’t get that job because:

You are too tall/short

You are too fat/skinny

You wore black/red/heels/flats at the audition

You must have sung the wrong aria/tempo.

You didn’t practice enough/ you were over prepared and peaked early

You sang too low/too high

The day of the audition you were sick/jetlagged/slept poorly/allergic

Or they never hire blondes/brunettes/redheads that have German/Slavic/French last names

The path we have when someone else is succeeding and we’re not is a well worn torturous walk.  It carries stories from others and the ones we made up on our own.  Oh how these events cause our ego to cry and gnash its’ teeth.

Now I’ve brought ego up, let’s define our terms here.  When I say ego, I mean the self concept you carry around that defines itself by what it has and what is has done.  It is how you think others perceive and value you.  Your ego manages the publicly traded you in the worlds commodity markets.  Ego is about outside. And the competition is outside of you.  The sense of lack, of fear, of want and need are all outside.  Amneris is living on the outside.

You don’t have to wait for all the other baritones/tenors/mezzos/sopranos to die for you to be happy.  Your ego can let go of this competitive style of measurement.

The problem with the Amneris Complex is not that it is wrong to want to be the last one of your voice type standing, but that harboring these ill thoughts of jealousy and envy is like taking poison and expecting the other person to die.

The only person suffering is you.  The only person who can’t sing or rehearse or who is crabby to their significant other, or who is racking up the big phone bill calling their friends world wide to whine about this, is you.   The ‘other’ outside of you who ‘stole’ your chance for happiness isn’t giving you a second thought.  They are busy with their own egos care and feeding.  And while you stand here wishing you were them, their ego has them busy wishing they were someone else too.

Back to the Amneris Complex, how do you move that perspective so you can live happier and fulfilled from the inside? What do you do to stop this hamster wheel of ego, fear, depression, and long distance phone bills?  Here are three things you can do starting today:

  1. Good Wishes:  Soon as you hear the news about who got this or that, stop, take a moment and silently congratulate the other singer.  Wish them well.  Celebrate their achievement.  You many not mean it at first, but keep genuinely looking for the joy and reward this is for them.  Do this every time and see how your ego softens.  It was never you against them in a cage match anyway.  If there was no Aida, I suspect Radames still wouldn’t have chosen Amneris.
  2. Abundance in an expanding universe of infinite possibilities.  If this isn’t your perspective, then now is the time to change it .Ever been in a conversation with someone who is needy, desperate, wants something from you?  (Simulate this by calling your singer friends and tell them you were just named artistic director of a local opera company and you can experience it first hand)  Being on the receiving end of these conversations doesn’t feel good.  It makes people pull back, recoil, and push away.  It is just a psychological truth.  If you stand in scarcity and plant those seeds of want and need-complaining, whining-you will grow more scarcity.  Old fashioned term, self fulfilling prophecy.  Biblical reference “reap what you so’ or the Buddhist view “I create reality with my ideas and concepts”.  In an odd way I’m saying “you are what you think you are”.  Again, you don’t have to genuinely buy in to start.  But do start making a dialogue of plenty, optimism, and opportunity your new tape and see what comes your way.
  1. Be with what is.  This is last but not least if you want to step over the Amneris complex.   Being with what is means just that.  Hey, we are all born drama queens and kings to one extent or another, which is why we are stage animals.  Missing one opportunity is not a one way ticket to ignominy/the poor house/artistic no mans land/ or proves your mother was right and you should have taken a college degree in accountancy.  It is a job opportunity that you did not get.  Start challenging yourself to see things as they really are.  Not as Verdi would have set it or Von Hoffsmanthal would write the libretto.  This isn’t a garret, your not Mimi and as far as I can tell, you probably don’t have consumption.

If you think you can’t be with what truly is today, quote Scarlett O’Hara on your next breath and say “Tomorrow is another day” and start fresh tomorrow with a southern accent.  It can’t hurt.

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