ADA artists and real-life couple, mezzo-soprano Megan Marino and baritone Michael Mayes, are featured in a High Times article this month on the normalizing of cannabis use in the opera world.
High Times spoke with the self-proclaimed “Willie Nelson of opera singers,” Michael Mayes and his wife Megan Marino about the role cannabis plays in the opera.
Before getting started, I need to confess; my only exposure to the opera was back in the early 90s when I watched Bugs Bunny play maestro Leopold Stokowski.
Regardless of my lack of experience with and attendance at the opera, with cannabis’ popularity apparent in the theatre, I couldn’t imagine a world in which cannabis wouldn’t make opera better.
The opera house lights dim, the curtains open, and the music starts. A fluttering flute followed by a single, boisterous voice echoing Italian or German, neither of which I speak, but I can understand the emotion behind the words more intimately.
This is my romanticized vision of attending the opera, and I might not be that far off.
But does cannabis play a role in the lives of opera singers? And if so, what are the risks and benefits of consuming as it relates to their career?
Anonymous Opera Singers on Cannabis Consumption
Some opera singers prefer to go off the record when speaking about cannabis consumption. That being said, several anonymous opera singers on Reddit weighed in on the conversation.
One elusively elevated opera enthusiast on Reddit claimed that singers perform while high in top opera houses throughout the world.
A second nameless Redditor said, “Weed made long tech rehearsals bearable.”
According to another unknown Redditor, “From my experience, older generation of singers drink vodka and cognac, younger guys smoke, but not tenors.”
Another unnamed Redditor said, “Soprano here, just sang the Brahms Requiem stoned out of my f*cking mind on Sunday.”
And, my personal favorite anonymous statement on the increasingly apparent: “Only tenors and sopranos get high.”
The Self-Proclaimed “Willie Nelson of Opera Singers”
Michael Mayes, a professional opera singer and the self-proclaimed “Willie Nelson of opera singers,” discussed his experience with cannabis in the opera.
“There’s a boatload of opera singers who use cannabis,” Mayes said. “I don’t think I’d have gotten to where I am in the industry without it.”
“Cannabis really helped me get through a traumatic time in my life and was much less devastating to my health than my old vices that just weren’t working anymore, and were in fact taking a real toll on my health,” he added. “It also provided me with much needed relief from my chronic pain, which had become a real barrier to my expression on stage, without the side effects that a lot of pain relievers have that can be detrimental to the voice.”
But like others performing in the opera houses, he and his wife, Megan Marino, a Mezzo-Soprano, didn’t advertise their cannabis use early on.
“It used to be such a taboo thing in our industry. People were really cagey about it, and it definitely had a real sort of insider stoner kind of vibe—like a weird fraternity of pot smokers who could sniff each other out,” Mayes reminisced. “We definitely didn’t advertise the fact that we used cannabis early on—but once legalization hit Colorado, that all changed.”
Edibles & The Opera
Edibles seemingly brought cannabis use into the mainstream of opera; performers then had an accessible way to consume without damaging their vocal folds.
“Singers could get the benefits of the plant without having to pull smoke across our vocal folds, which for a lot of singers is just too harsh a delivery system,” Mayes explained. “The demands that we make of our voices are so heavy (think elite athletes) that inhaling smoke was just a non-starter for a lot of singers.”
“I find edibles to be the best for me,” Marino added. “Though I do partake in flower when I’m on a long enough stretch between jobs. I barely notice the effects smoking has, but I don’t want to push my luck. I’ve been making my own edibles, butter in particular, since 2005.”
As a benefit of union membership, Megan has access to free online college courses and is pursuing a cannabis concentration as part of her degree. Cannabis justice reform is important to her, and she hopes that by continuing her education, she’ll play a role in changing it.
“‘Reefer Madness’ propaganda and Nixon’s drug war is no longer popular in American culture,” Marino explained. “We’ve seen the dangerous effects of alcoholism and the opioid epidemic. Let’s give folks, especially those dealing with chronic pain or stressful jobs, legal access to the safer option of cannabis.”
Megan is continuing with her education and shares her infused foods with her friends and colleagues.
“I used to make lots of confections (from the traditional brownie or cookie to pies & patisserie) to share with friends and colleagues in almost all corners of the biz—from my fellow singers to rehearsal pianists, stage managers, directors, administrators, artist managers—at ALL levels of the business and nationalities,” Marino said. “Now that it’s so readily available and legalized for medical, adult-use, or decriminalized in so many of the places I work, that part of my sharing is less frequent.”
“Anecdotally, I would say that I know more administrators now who use/have used cannabis that don’t, and they will often pick my brain about making their own edibles and extracts,” Mayes added. “This is something I would never have dreamed of contemplating 10 years ago.”
Other Consumption Methods in the Opera House
Those in the limelight of this genre are also familiar with other consumption methods, but the preferences among opera singers vary.
“Once the cartridges came out, a lot of folks found that they could use them without much stress on their cords, but the way inhalable cannabis affects the voice really varies by the individual; a lot of singers just won’t inhale smoke of any kind, while others don’t seem to suffer any fatigue or negative effect on their singing whatsoever,” Mayes explained.
Tinctures are popular, too. While living in Colorado, Mayes and Marino grew cannabis and made tinctures. After recreational cannabis became available in the Centennial State, there was a shift in the attitude surrounding it in the opera house.
“As more singers began to use cannabis—and spoke freely about using it—administrators’ attitudes began to shift toward acceptance, and now acceptance has become almost ubiquitous among admins—especially in legal states,” Mayes said. “They’re the ones who do the hiring and the firing, so this was a welcome development for those of us who partake.”
Mayes also cleared the air around his own consumption.
“I’m never high before or during a performance when I’m singing opera … just too many moving parts and things that could go wrong,” Mayes explained. “But when we’re playing with our bluegrass/Americana band, that’s a different story…”