The tall, strapping baritone singer took center stage at the opera, belting out the role of Snug in Benjamin Britten’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream with emotion, humor and beauty. His costume was huge: a giant lion’s head nearly smothering him in baroque awesomeness. His voice soared, thrilling the crowd.
Unbeknownst to the audience, the wardrobe department had sewn a special pocket inside Thomas Glass’s costume to fit an insulin pump. Because Glass, a rising opera performer at 24, lives with type 1 diabetes.
“I’ve had it since I was five, so I’m just used to it,” he said of diabetes. “I don’t know life without it.”
Following his passion
At one time a hard-core football player, Glass discovered as a young teen that music was his passion. Surrounded by the choral culture of Lutheran Minnesota, he started to sing in school. That led him to the University of St. Thomas, where he majored in music and fell in love with opera. After a full ride and stipend to get his master’s in opera studies at Rice University, he now joins the prestigious Minnesota Opera Resident Artist Program, where he will both play roles and understudy. It’s an honor to perform with the Minnesota Opera, Glass said, as it’s a “tier 2” venue (followed only by a tier 1 and international opera houses).
Being “on” – with diabetes
On any given day, Glass said, he is singing, in another language, from a 400-year-old composition, while emoting the character… oh, and acting, too. “In a field where I have to be thinking about blocking, singing, language, acting, and all at the same time; it’s so important to be on.”
That means he needs to be on target with his blood sugar management and clear of mind, for the sake of his performance and that of the entire show.
“You have to treat it like you would a football game or any other sport,” he said. “You have to center your whole day around it. Even the rehearsals, you have to be sure you are on and ready – and prepared.”
Glass keeps fast-acting carbohydrates close by at all times, which may call for some creativity.
“One time I was Jesus in Godspell and I had Skittles® hidden in a set piece right onstage,” he said. “No one in the audience knew. But they were there for me if I needed them.”
Glass looks forward to performing in Minnesota, and in the future to move to tier 1 spots and eventually – his great dream – to perform at the highest level of opera – in international houses.
But like the easy way he melds diabetes into his challenging performance career, he sees his dreams as simple, too.
“I’m just so happy I have a job doing this,” he said. “And diabetes? It shouldn’t inhibit me. I’ve never met a person out here who wasn’t willing to help me figure this out.”
Moira McCarthy is an acclaimed writer, author and public speaker who has shared her story – and lessons – on raising a child living with type 1 diabetes. Her six books include The Everything Parent’s Guide to Children with Juvenile Diabetes and Raising Teens with Diabetes: A Survival Guide for Parents. McCarthy is a paid contributor for The DX. All opinions contained in this article reflect those of the contributor and interviewees, and not of Sanofi US, its employees, agencies, or affiliates.
Skittles is a registered trademark of the Wm. Wrigley Jr. Company.
© 2016 The DX: The Diabetes Experience