Category Archives: Careers in opera

Singer Sunday with Jonathan Estabrooks, vlogging virtuoso

Baritone Jonathan Estabrooks

The official line on baritone Jonathan Estabrooks is that he is an emerging, classically trained artist based in NYC, originally from Ottawa, Canada.

Unofficially, he is a captivating singer/entertainer across disciplines, a compelling host, a gifted actor, a director, and visionary who speaks both English and French, and whose joie de vivre is, well, infectious.

He is also an avid opera vlogger, make that a vlogging virtuoso, of his show “A Singer’s Life”– a delightful series. Each episode is a pastiche of mini-interviews, backstage banter, and rehearsal and performance clips from numerous locations edited and underscored for maximum impact.

While his vlogs showcase all the artists around him, they also reveal a multi-talented, versatile artist who is as much a keen observer of his environment as he is an entertainer.

Here’s a show he filmed at the International Vocal Arts Institute Final Concert Gala in Virginia that *I’m certain* you will enjoy watching:

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If a behind-the-scenes world of a performer trained in the classical arts interests you,   there are many, many other wonderful episodes of “A Singer’s Life” on Jonathan’s YouTube channel.

Can you tell me a little about your childhood? How did you grow up and how did it affect your decision to sing opera?
I guess I could say that my childhood was pretty normal, aside from how busy I was. Both my brother and I were very active  both in terms of activities (gymnastics, skiing, track and field, swimming) but even more so in the arts. From the age of 8, I was a member of a local boys choir affiliated with Opera Lyra Ottawa, and soon joined a thriving musical theatre company called the Company of Musical Theatre. We also spend hundreds of hours each year performing at various charity and fundraising events known then as the Estabrooks Brothers. I learnt so much about collaboration but more importantly, how to interact and communicate with an audience. Through simply doing, I that realized what it took to step out in front of any audience, large or small and communicate a message through music. I guess it was sort of a natural progression to study music, and classical voice seems like the strongest base to allow for healthy singing in any genre.

A map, in case, like me, you're wondering where is Ottawa anyway?

When did you decide to relocate to New York and why?
After completing my Bachelor of music at the University of Toronto, I applied to a number of schools not knowing where I would be accepted. I was open to a new city and a new adventure. When I was accepted into Juilliard, I took the leap and moved to the Big Apple.

What has been the greatest thrill in your career thus far? Greatest challenge?
It’s hard to choose just one thrill because if I wasn’t constantly thrilled and challenged, I would find another career. I would say that there have been a few. Singing for then President Bill Clinton (1999) was certainly one, and my debut with The National Arts Centre Orchestra in Ottawa under the baton of Pinchas Zukerman. Then there are the less showy moments like having the chance to touch someone through music. Perhaps thrilling is too big a word, but bringing meaning to a special moment for even one audience member has to be up there. We are privileged with the ability to share great art and with that comes great responsibility. Not to sound cliche, but without a doubt, it remains a thrill and an honor to connect with and touch someone even for a moment.

The challenges are ever present from the constant turning wheel of auditioning, performing, learning new music and PR, but there is never a dull moment that’s for sure. Sometimes the traveling can be tough, but then I think about how blessed I am to work with such incredible artists and travel the world. It sure beats the 9-5; for me at least.

Jonathan in performance | The Elixir of Love

Do you have any favorites? Composer? Opera? Baritone role(s)? Venue?
I would say that among my favorites are Rossini and Mozart roles (Figaro, Papageno The Count, Guglielmo), though Pelleas was also a thrilling role to perform, because of its high tessitura and the fact that for once, the baritone was the romantic lead! I will be making my Carnegie Hall Stern Auditorium debut in November, so I am extremely excited to perform in that venue.

Do you miss Ottawa? Any desire or need to go abroad to sing?
I do miss Ottawa but surprisingly, I have returned quite a bit in the last few years to perform so I get my fix. My parents live outside of the city, so I enjoy seeing them, but most of my friends are in Toronto, Montreal, New York or abroad. It is a global world we live in, but thanks to Facebook and the Internet, it makes staying in touch a whole lot easier.

(Here is a fun little clip all about Jonathan produced by a TV show in  Ottawa prior to his opening in Pagliacci:)

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Why and when did you start vlogging?
I have always had an interest in video production and how the camera can capture moments, whether performances or short films. There is something very intriguing about the power of the editor to share and shape how a  viewer experiences an event. This lead to a hobby in video making at a young age and has remained with me. It seemed like a natural move to use my interest and skill with video to share my life as a singer and the many intriguing people I continue to work with. ‘A Singer’s Life” on YouTube has certainly been a labor of love.

sitting by the Hudson River with the Brooklyn Bridge in the background

What do you think of the increasing numbers of big-screen Simulcast operas around the world produced by the Met and others?
You know the discussion of Opera in movie theaters has come up a great deal in recent years and even weeks. It is a two-edged sword. I think there is no denying that these broadcasts are bringing a new audience to the art form and hopefully peaking their curiosity enough to attend a live performance, but I worry that when they do see a live performance that there will be a let down because they don’t have the luxury of a close up, a wide shot and a sweeping camera crane shot at that most dramatic musical moment. My hope is that they will attend the live performance and continue coming.

The other challenge is on the performers because singing and acting for the stage vs camera are very different. It is certainly a balancing act but certainly more positive than negative.

Where would you like to be in five years? In ten years?
In 5 years I would like to be booked 3 years in advance performing world wide in a variety of traditional Opera roles, new works, concerts, pops concerts and even film/music collaborations. I am open to interdisciplinary art, making and breaking down the boundaries between genres. It is so hard to plan so I say bring it on! I am excited to see where my artistic life will take me!

What is something most people don’t know about you, something not on your professional bio?
Well, like most singers, I love food and cooking when I get the chance. My favorites are my mom’s recipes often involving some sort of comfort food, be it Shepherd’s Pie or her signature-ish honey/dijon/curry chicken and rice. And how can I forget apple pie! All this talk of food. I think I need a snack!

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Jonathan has some great upcoming gigs at Carnegie Hall with the Oratorio Society of NY this November and with Toronto Symphony and pops conductor Steven Reineke in October. For more of his wonderful “A Singer’s Life” vlogs, visit his YouTube channel.  Though his website is currently under construction, you can like his Fan Page on Facebook. You can also follow him on Twitter @estarp.


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Filed under Baritones, Careers in opera, Interviews, Opera and food, Opera and humor, opera and technology, opera challenges, Opera vlogging, Performers, Q&A, Singer Sunday

Opera singers, aria ready to go pro? You need this book!

Here’s a one-question quiz for classically trained singers: Who is the product, the company, and the person who *really* manages your business?

(Here’s a hint: it’s someone you’ve known all your life, no matter how old you are.)

Artist and author Carol Kirkpatrick believes it’s you, opera singer extraordinaire. And she knows of what she speaks. She’s thrilled audiences and critics alike throughout Europe and North America during her professional career as a dramatic soprano. You can read more about Carol’s background here.

And she has stopped by to do a little Q&A,  to tell you that it’s your responsibility to build your career while learning how make prudent use of your time, energy, and money in the second edition of her handbook for opera singers:

ARIA READY by Carol Kirkpatrick
The Business of Singing

All-New Second Edition of the Acclaimed Career Guide for Singers
ISBN 978-0-97705-240-0, paperback, 304 pages, including index

Welcome to, Carol. Aria ready for my questions? All righty then.

Q. Who is most likely to benefit from this book?

A. Anyone interested in pursuing a career as a singer or musician from high school through to professional singers.  It is also important for teachers, coaches, apprentice programs, summer music programs, opera guilds, etc., who are interested in giving their students the best foundation they can for building a career in singing. My book not only tells you what needs to be done to prepare for and enter the professional world of Opera, but you are given step by step instructions on how to get there. First you have to know the name of the game you are playing, then you need to know the rules, but most importantly, you need to know how the game is played.

Q. What resources were available to you when you were launching your singing career?

A. At University sad to say, there just wasn’t much available especially where I grew up and where I went to school. And I think that was pretty much the case unless you were involved in a more metropolitan city where they had Schools of Music like Juilliard, Curtis, Indiana School of Music, etc. I really didn’t know what I was getting into which was an interesting experience. The first opera I ever saw, I was singing in, with the likes of Corelli, Tebaldi, etc., with the San Francisco Opera!

Q. What are some things you wished you would have known when you embarked on your career?

A. I had no idea of how a career was built, or what I needed to be thinking about to prepare myself for a career. My career just sort of rolled me along which was OK, but if I had been more conscious of what needed tending to, I would have spent more time on creating and maintaining relationships and networked on purpose.

Q. This is the second edition. What prompted the update? Technology or something else?

A. All of the above. The 1st edition helped me put together my Aria Ready Bootcamps, and I called them that because they were grueling and demanding in ways that always surprised those who signed up for them. Everyone expected the same ole, same ole when they came but what they got was not only what to do, but how exactly how to do it. The singers also went through a process that gave each participant the opportunity to create a Personal Mission Statement that got rid of a lot of the old behaviors that were not creative or useful. This new way of thinking and representing themselves gave them a foundation on which to build their careers and live their lives going forward. It allowed them to become more of who they were each and every day and express that through example. Working through that process and as I got better and better at honing it down to its essence, I realized that much of this new, updated and expanded material needed a place to be; thus the 2nd edition of my book.

Q. Isn’t developing one’s Personal Brand a lifelong journey? It may be critical, but how is it possible for someone launching a career in classical performance to become that self-aware at such a young age?

A. Of course developing one’s Personal Brand is a lifelong journey. Rarely do others spend enough time on helping those wanting to launch a career in classical performance, to dig deep into and really get to know that person inside the singer. To me this is of paramount importance and should start from an early age. Yes, growth and change is always happening, but when you understand how you are wired internally, what your inner systems, patterns and traits are and how that colors and influences your choices, it illuminates the “why” to many of the questions, doubts, anxieties and insecurities we have about ourselves. And once we can accept that, it gives us permission to allow others to be their unique and authentic selves as well.

Q. Is there a shortage of practical advice for singers? Are training programs long on artistry but short on industry?

A. Yes is the answer to both questions.  I have found that most training programs tell you only what to do. The singer gets motivated and excited about what is talked about, goes home and tries to take some kind of action on that information, but because no one ever gives these singers the “how to” part of the equation, they feel like they must be stupid, because they can’t make it happen so they stop trying. They are so hungry for real, honest, and practical information that answers the question how you do it and why.

Q. Who is likely to be more successful? A singer with loads of talent who isn’t grounded or a singer with less talent but with more self-awareness (stronger personal brand?)

A. In the long run it will be the singer with less talent (they still need to have a solid vocal technique) but with more self-awareness, a stronger personal brand if it is authentic and genuine. Having a singing career takes so much more than having a beautiful voice. If you watch “The Voice” or “American Idol” you always hear the judges and coaches talking about making it real, about getting into the emotion of the song and lyrics and letting the audience feel that. That is always a big part of getting your foot in the door, which means you have to have much more self-awareness, that inner mind-body connection to one’s self. That also requires a strong sense of self worth, feeling comfortable with who you are thus being free to express emotionally and musically the story, because we are after all, story tellers. And you also have to understand the business aspects needed in getting you to where you want to go.

Q. Don’t the spoils always go to the most talented, the virtuosos?

A. No, they don’t! Most people want to be transported to a different place, a different time, and have a front row seat into someone else’s period of time and life. I have been to performances where the singing has been absolutely spot on technically, but boring because it was all about making beautiful sounds only. I have also been to performances where every cast member transported me to that other time and place, and I felt a bit guilty because I was so up close and personal watching others’ struggles, joys, anger, pity, love, etc. It swept me away. Of course, the best would be to have amazing voices with great vocal technique and the ability to take the audience on a journey like this. And that is why we continue to go to performances, because we want to find more of that!

Q. What about reviews, particularly critical reviews and reviews that are not constructive? Any macro advice about handling reviews in the long-term?

A. When I was just starting out in this industry, I was told by several amazing singers that the best way to handle reviews was to either not read any of them or to collect them without reading them, put them away for 6 months to a year, then take them out, read them and only look at those specific things that were mentioned by more than one reviewer. You could either do something about it if you felt it had merit or not. Then put them in the trash. It is, after all, just one person’s opinion and if you continue to get work, you must be doing something right.

Q. What are some key takeaways about a professional career in opera performance that your book offers?

A. This is an excerpt from the forward to my book by Matthew Epstein: “The vocal study, artistic decisions, self-discipline, teaching, marketing, and audition process are all carefully analyzed, and detailed advice is given on a wide range of crucial matters, in the complex and often confusing progressions needed to arrive at a professional career in classical singing. Our field is very old-fashioned, in its personal requirements, not, surely, a path of instant gratification, and this book shows very powerfully the needs of patience, hard work and self-assessment required for the beginning of a career.”

Q. Where can readers get your book?

A. You can go to my web site, or

Q. What’s next?

A. I have just been asked to be part of an ongoing blog on Classical Singer’s Auditions Plus Blog so watch for me there. You can also sign up for my free monthly newsletter on my web site. I have a pretty full schedule with a very select vocal studio and do lots of consultations.

My newest project has been prompted by so many requests from Music Schools, Universities, Apprentice Programs, Summer Programs, etc. for my Aria Ready Bootcamps. So in response, I am now busy putting the final touches on my program to train Certified Facilitators of the Aria Ready Process (Bootcamps) in North America and Europe so we can meet these demands for teaching the Personal Skills and Business Aspects needed to build a singing career.

I also wanted to say that I have had the adventure of a lifetime with my singing, teaching and writing career. Now it is time for me to give back and I am doing just that as a Mentor through all that I do. Thanks to all of you for a great ride.

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You can sign up for Carol’s newsletter here. And you can also become a fan of Aria Ready on Facebook.

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Filed under 21st Century Opera, Books, Careers in opera, Interviews, profiles, Q&A