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To deal with their tensions, “soloists are taking beta blockers to control their angst, some tenors take cortisone to push their voice high, and alcohol is everywhere,” he said.

“The real pressure is no longer good old stage fright but comes from a new dimension that has penetrated opera _ it now lives from glamour, and normal human mistakes are a disruption in such an environment.”

Kasarova describes cortisone use as “an infernal circle” that sometimes becomes an addiction. Others, she says, abuse sleeping pills to try to escape stresses of performing that have grown in the past decades as stages get bigger, orchestras louder and opera seasons longer than ever.

Singers now get paid by the performance, meaning no money for no shows. The best are now in demand all year round, leading to exhausting globe-trotting. And even those who avoid long-distance travel often have little time between the late spring end of the subscription season, the start of rehearsals for summer festivals, and tours promoting their own recordings.

Adding to the pressure in this telegenic age, opera star allure now depends as much on looks as voice. To meet the challenge, American soprano Deborah Voigt underwent gastric bypass surgery, reportedly losing nearly 50 kilograms _ more than 100 pounds _ after being fired from a 2004 London production of “Ariadne auf Naxos” because she couldn’t fit into the costume.

Back in the 1960s, when life was slower on and off stage, singers “focused on a career that lasted for years,” says Kasarova. “Today, everything has to happen quickly _ if you don’t play the game you are soon replaced.”

Still, it is possible to last and grow. Kasarova, who has been recognized as world class for more than two decades, says her inner voice has helped her avoid traps that she says some colleagues have fallen into by allowing her to recognize that every voice _ and singer _ has his or her limitations.

But she, too, has suffered from her demanding profession.

Her speaking voice is a light soprano, giving no hint of the power and color it is capable of in singing mode. But there is a sudden catch in it as she speaks of past family events _ “my son’s first communion, birthdays” _ missed because of a gig somewhere else.

“I’ll never forgive myself for that _ never,” Kasarova declares.

Her son, Yves Lucien Kaufmann, is now 13, giving Kasarova somewhat more time to focus on performing than when he was an infant. Back, then, she says, trying to be both a loving mother and a diva was a Herculean effort.

“He flew with me, he was only three months old, and I was in New York,” she recollects. “I hardly slept all night, and then rehearsal the next day from 10 a.m till 1 p.m and then from 5 p.m. until 8 p.m. Where did I get the energy?”

Then she catches herself.

Yes, life is hard. But, she says, it can also be intensely rewarding.

“It is impossible for a normal human being to experience what I sometimes have experienced on stage,” she says of the highs generated by the exuberance of an audience that is on its feet and cheering wildly moments after the curtain falls on a perfect performance.

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