Here is a roundup of some famous examples of singers who have suffered injuries and reportedly had to cancel performances due to vocal injury, strain, or related issues.
Most of these injuries were caused by the ways that these performers used their voices, and better self-care or training could have prevented them. This can include singing too long and too loudly without sufficient rest, excessive use of vocal fry, and belting.
Dessay was marking the notes: singing them in a tuneful but subdued near-whisper, an octave lower than they would be heard in performance.
A spectator unfamiliar with Dessay’s capabilities might have taken her not for an opera singer who can act but for an actor with a surprisingly pretty little voice—a voice that, given some training, might really turn into something.
“La Sonnambula” is rarely played for humor, but Dessay was finding a new way into the work, and Zimmerman bounced on the balls of her feet in apparent delight, offering her celebrated star only the gentlest of guidance as to how to play a celebrated star. A week earlier, after concluding a short run of “Pelléas et Mélisande,” by Debussy, at the Theater an der Wien, in Vienna, she’d been struck with laryngitis.
While she could still speak—her conversational voice, surprisingly low, was only slightly husky—she could not use her operatic voice, which is prodigiously high and supple.“For me, acting is receiving, and singing is giving, and that is why it is so difficult, because your body does one thing and your mind does another.”Some of the most successful singers in the history of opera refrained from acting entirely—Pavarotti was most convincing as himself—but among the greatest of singers there have also been formidable actors and actresses, and Dessay, who calls herself a “singing actor,” is the performer who best represents that tradition today.David Gockley, the general director of the San Francisco Opera, said, “She is extraordinarily demanding on herself, and her colleagues.As a result, they often learned destructive habits that eventually resulted in injury.However, even trained singers can sustain a vocal injury, particularly if they sing too often.Zimmerman’s singers would appear as members of an opera company rehearsing a production of “La Sonnambula,” with Dessay playing an adored, self-absorbed soprano cast as Amina, the sleepwalker of the title.At the outset of the opera, the set would be a mock rehearsal room (coffee machine, water dispenser, a chalkboard reading “Act I, Scene 1”) and the cast would show up onstage wearing street clothes.That is what made Callas an extraordinary experience compared with Tebaldi, who was regal and stately and uninvolved dramatically.That’s good enough for some people—to hear the world’s most beautiful voice.Dessay says that it is her highest artistic ambition to embody a character so persuasively, and tell a story so convincingly, that the audience forgets that she is singing.“What is interesting is to have this incredible, unbelievable way of expressing ourselves vocally paired with a total controlled and quiet body,” she says.