Opera Singer Francesca Chiejina Journey to Carnegie Hall

LONDON–My journey to Carnegie Hall began in January of 2015 when I first met Joyce DiDonato in London. She was artist-in-residence at London’s Barbican Centre and agreed to give a Masterclass at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. My voice teacher signed me up for the audition even though I had only been in London (let alone the Guildhall School) for less than two weeks. Needless to say, I was a little clueless about the whole ordeal and hoped that I would sing well enough to represent myself fairly.

By some small miracle, I was chosen to participate in that London Masterclass. In retrospect I realize that I was on a strong cocktail of culture shock, the loneliness of moving to a different continent on my own, being homesick, and the fear of failure. At the time, I just translated it all to, “Oh no, I’m an imposter and I’m going to be found out by all my peers and the YouTube world.”

From personal experience, I can tell you that the fear of failure is a very good motivator to practice, albeit not a sustainable one for someone who hopes to enjoy the thing they are practicing. Well, the months passed and the day of the masterclass arrived.

A big component of what enabled me to sing a decent masterclass was Joyce’s outpouring of encouragement, ideas, and practical tools in preparing a role and performance. All these things made for a masterclass that basically changed my life. She was so nurturing, generous, and offered tools that helped me focus on the character and text therefore enabling the fears and insecurities to fall.

Two degrees and a young artists’ program later, I am an artist embarking on a different chapter of this career. I’ve worked incredibly hard but I’m not exactly sure what the next steps are: What tools am I missing? Are there gaps in my knowledge? What don’t I know that I don’t know?

I decided to apply for an intensive Masterclass series in New York City. I figured if I ever got the opportunity, maybe working with Joyce again would shed some light as it did in the past. I turned in the application which was due on my 27th birthday. Several weeks later, I received a letter that I had been invited to Carnegie Hall to participate in the masterclass. The feelings went from shock to incredulous joy, to that familiar feeling: “Oh no, I’m an imposter and I’m going to be found out by all my peers, the YouTube world, and now, Carnegie Hall.”

This time around, the time between learning I was accepted to flying to New York was filled with finishing two opera productions, two recitals, and an international competition. I was too busy to panic and worry that I might suck. Basically, I was in survival mode with little time for reflection, which is not recommended if one wants to keep enjoying what they’re doing.

Why after all these years of dedicated hustle and proof of my hard work do I still feel like an imposter? I know I am not alone in these fears, doubts, and insecurities. In sharing my journey to accepting that I (my work, my intellect, my confidence, my efforts, my voice, my love, my passion, my strife, my commitment, my potential etc) am enough; I hope other women can gather encouragement that they’re not alone and perhaps feel inspired to risk their own adventures truly knowing they are enough before the journey, and after the journey, whatever the outcome.

Eventually, Carnegie Hall crept up and I had to deal with this “imposter syndrome” feeling head-on.

The day came for the flight and I was excited to be back on American soil for the first time in two years. Feelings of relief from homesickness, heart-breaking joy and excitement overwhelmed me. I was home.

Carnegie Hall put us in hotel rooms a stone’s throw away from the performance venue. We received a schedule detailing activities for the next three days. There were morning yoga sessions with Joyce followed by breathing sessions with Deb Birnbaum, a lunch break, the livestreamed master class, and finally an evening activity like recitals, Opera Awards Gala at The Plaza, and seeing Joyce perform at the MET.

They were fully packed days with many exciting moments of experiencing New York City, focused exploration in the morning sessions with Joyce and Deb, and so much fun in the livestreamed masterclasses. It was just one of those experiences: it lasted about six days but will take at least a decade to fully understand what happened, what I learned, and how I’ve grown from it.

There were so many powerful morsels of wisdom that will carry me through this career and beyond whatever I’m meant to do with my life as an artist. The biggest and most impactful message I got from the Masterclass was that I don’t need to hold on to the self-flagellating tools of perfectionism and Imposter Syndrome to subconsciously motivate myself to work hard and achieve on a high level.

This habit is not only unsustainable, it will suck the joy out of anything I attempt to create. In other words, I will practice self-acceptance, trust in my abilities, and trust my hard work is enough so I can focus on things that really matter: the music, and communicating it to people.

Nigerian-American Soprano Francesca Chiejina is currently a member of the Jette Parker Young Artist Programme at London’s Royal Opera House, Covent Garden. She will be performing on July 27 at London’s Royal Albert Hall for the BBC Proms and will have a solo recital at the Royal Opera House.


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