Marcel Beekman (53) is a tenor and sings operas from all eras: ‘I fly business class because I do not want to sit next to a coughing baby.’
‘I just had hay fever, the white fluff floating in the air is delayed pollen. It was also inconvenient that I recently went to wipe out my closet, all the dust and mold. My voice was gone for a while. The best solution is to give less during the rehearsals, so you save the voice for when you really need to: the premiere. It’s not collegial, but it’s the best thing for yourself.
“Exercise is important. With a foreign production you are usually on location for a month or two. I see it as a training camp. I go to bed at 9 if possible and get up at 5:30 to cultivate cardio in the gym.So my whole body, including vocal cords, is well supplied with blood and warm.
‘Right now I’m in yet another hysterical period of health. Then I eat things like oily fish, avocado and spinach leaves. Maybe it’s between my ears, because it’s a different channel. But it slides in so easily and you do not get any mucus from it.
“I make sure the conditions are right. I do not sleep in hotels whose windows cannot be opened. I fly business class because I do not want to sit next to a coughing baby. Recently I sang in a production in Stuttgart. It was hot outside, they had sprayed a little in the hall, set the humidity at a low level and used cold ice for fog effects during the performance. I went to the production management and said: it’s not going to happen. Drought kills your voice.
To relax, book a shiatsu massage. This is also good for the physical attention that you miss when you are alone on the spot somewhere. Be sweet to yourself. What you should not do is complain on social media about your sore throat and your pain. Nobody really wants that. ”
Iris van Wijnen (32) is a mezzo-soprano and one of the big promises in the dramatic opera repertoire: ‘I’m not a robot, I’m a diesel.’
“If you want to sing the roles I want to sing, you are not done as a 32-year-old yet. My voice goes towards the great German and French subject, the high romanticism, think of Richard Wagner. It is only around the age of 40 that your voice has endurance for the big roles.Even though I have graduated, I still have a teacher I visit every two or three months, Gregory Lamar.I record those lessons, and when I study, I often sing along to those recordings.Just that hearing my teacher’s voice keeps me in line.
‘First I study for an hour and a half and after a break usually another hour. I warm up with quick, short staccato notes, always half a note louder. Then I change pace. Then I sing everything that is still small and I try to get the voice going with an aria by Handel or Rossini. Then I know what to take into account today. Singers are not robots, it’s different every day.
‘Then I sit down at the piano and work on a repertoire that I have to study. I’m a diesel, once I get started, I want to push through. But you really have to take a break. 2.5 hours full voice You should not sing Wagner. Going to a pub the day before a concert, going to places where one has to speak louder is no longer an option. The day before I do not drink anyway, and if I’m just a little less comfortable, neither do I. I want to have done everything I can.
‘I study six days a week. I sometimes take time off on weekends or holidays, but I always want to be in shape. When the phone rings and I’m asked if I can fill in somewhere, I’m ready.
Thomas Oliemans (44) is a baritone and sings repertoire from Mozart to French chansons: ‘Your mental health must be in order, then you better eat well.’
‘I have always protested that as a singer you should only eat left-handed macrobiotic yoghurt. When I met colleagues who followed special diets, I thought: is it really getting that much better? Our work already demands a lot of us: we are on the move a lot, we are not always with the people we want to be with. Mental health should also be in order, so you better eat well.
‘Before an opera starts, I always look past my colleagues to say’ toi toi toi ‘. Sometimes one sees that a locker room is filled with nebulizers, sprays and inhalers. It’s a kind of superstition. I have no such rituals. I test my voice all day long: mmm, mine, to hear how my midrange sounds. Against that background, I drink more water or rest more. If you drink alcohol, coffee or tea, the vocal cords dry out, I’m careful. Like I should not eat jalapeños the afternoon before a show.
‘If my voice does not want something so easy while I study, I switch back to the middle register. I used to be afraid that the highs and lows would not work, so I started knocking a lot on it. The danger is that you neglect the basic muscles – because those are your vocal cords. I have learned to listen to what my voice indicates.
‘Just over a year ago, I finally managed to quit smoking. It is certainly not the case that as a smoker you can not achieve great achievements. My teacher Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau lit sixty cigarettes a day. Now that I’m stopped, my general condition is better and my voice is recovering faster. But the biggest advantage is that if my voice does not cooperate, I do not keep throwing it on those cigarettes, but ask myself: what is the problem? ‘
Annemarie Kremer (47) is a soprano and sings mainly major opera roles abroad: ‘A hard bed is really a no-go.’
‘I jog, swim or otherwise do yoga exercises. During practice periods, I drink more than two liters of water a day and no alcohol. When I fly, I wear a mask that keeps your oral cavity moist.
‘I do not eat in the evening, it gives you reflux. Stomach acid affects the mucous membranes and thus the quality of your voice. My whole life, as well as my husband’s, has been devoted to my health so that I can perform well. He will not eat or drink wine in front of me at night. It is sometimes quite difficult here in the South of France because wine is not even counted as alcohol. We ended up here by chance; we were accompanied by friends who were looking for a cottage, fell in love with this house – an idyllic place on a mountain – and bought it the same day.
‘A drink after a test is not a good idea. In turn, it is important for the togetherness, it improves performance. It is also good against any loneliness. If you do, do not laugh too hard and try not to reach anyone on the other side of the table.
‘My husband is often with me so I can relax after a show by talking to him. As a behavioral coach, he helps people overcome fear and insecurity. I also benefit from that. We would like to train singers together in the future.
‘For a healthy mind, I meditate regularly so I’m in the moment and not in a hurry on stage with other things. I will first settle down in a new room. I am not affected by everything. The conditions – acoustics, climate and hotels – are different everywhere, so you have to adapt to the conditions. Except on a bed that’s too hard, it’s a no-go. ‘
The International Vocal Competition has been held in Den Bosch since 1954. It is a great place to discover talent. For many singers, the competition has contributed to a great career: Elly Ameling, Robert Holl, Thomas Hampson and Pretty Yende were among the award winners. This edition, which starts on Thursday and lasts until July 2, focuses on opera and oratorio.