Months before the performance I spend time plunking my parts out on the piano--learning the words, figuring out where to breathe. I listen to recordings of the famous singers performing the pieces. Sometimes I ignore practicing and listening for days on end.
Weeks before the performance I (try to) spend an hour or so each day perfecting the music. I hit problem spots and scary runs harder than the rest. I work on technique and hope it is as solid as it can be without a teacher to guide me.
Days before the performance I really do insist on practicing at least an hour a day, if not more. The Maestro practices with me often and really gets ticky about rhythms and tempi and even a little technique. It's almost like having a teacher. I rehearse with the orchestra a few times, and learn what I need to work on further at home.
One day before the performance I wake up with a sore throat and a voice that isn't working quite right. I take it easy by napping, not singing at all, sipping hot tea with lemon and honey, sucking zinc lozenges and vitamin C and drinking Airborne. And praying that my voice will last just one more day. I rehearse with the choir and orchestra that evening, and I have to work very hard to get my sick vocal cords to obey me. I begin to worry.
The morning of the performance I rehearse with the orchestra and choir yet again. Things are still not working quite right. The Maestro doesn't make me sing my most difficult aria (But Who May Abide?), but he does make me run through O Thou That Tellest Good Tidings because I struggle hearing the orchestra on it, and then second-guess where I am and get off. The others are not too difficult vocally, but I'm still feeling a bit discouraged.
Hours before the performance I nap. I drink as much water as I possibly can. I take a long, hot shower. I spend an hour or more on my hair and my make-up, warming up as I blow dry, flat-iron, blush and mascara myself.
One hour before the performance I am in the green room. I dress in my gown, slide my shoes on and tweak my hair and make-up. The Maestro finishes getting ready and we bow our heads and pray together, dedicating the performance to The Messiah himself. Hoping that those in the audience will be touched by the music of Handel and that the spirit will deliver our performance to all that listen.
A half-hour before the performance I hear the choir warming up, so I join them. Two of the other soloists had the same idea. We comment on the weather, our gowns, and our anticipation for a good show. Then we visit the bathroom one last time before heading to the stage.
Minutes before the performance I find a quiet place just before I go backstage. I pray again that the time and effort I and the others have put into this performance will be enough. I pray my voice will work correctly. I leave it all in God's hands and open the stage door.
Seconds before the performance the Maestro meets us backstage. The house lights go down. The orchestra tunes, the audience claps. The Maestro counts down and the four soloists head onstage, followed by our conductor. The adrenaline begins to rush along with the applause. The Maestro turns around and lifts his baton, we sit, and the first notes of the Overture fill our ears as his hand comes crashing down.
A little more than two hours passes by, but it seems like only a few minutes. My eyes fill with tears as the final "Amen!" of Worthy is the Lamb rings through the hall. We stand, we bow, we smile, we walk off the stage, we come back again, we smile, we nod, we applaud.
And we know it was all worth it.