“Fidelio” at London’s Royal Opera House was a gig like any other for soprano Amanda Forsythe; another long flight, another Airbnb, another block of intense rehearsals and performances. So when she started experiencing chills, fatigue, respiratory difficulties, and loss of her sense of smell during the early February rehearsal period, she did her typical sick-singer routine — sleep, hydration, inhaling steam. It made no difference. She went to a doctor, who asked if she’d been to China recently. She had not.
“They said, ‘It’s got to be the flu, just rest,’ ” said Forsythe. And she rested; she missed a week of rehearsals before returning to work while still on the mend, ultimately singing five performances in early March. “I was OK. I never felt well during the rehearsals and the performances,” she said. “Singers are really used to performing when they don’t feel 100 percent.”
In hindsight, this is a tale that could only come pre-pandemic; performing while sick may now be a thing of the past. Only after Forsythe returned home to Massachusetts did she realize she may not have had the flu after all. “When I read about the loss of smell and taste [with COVID], I was like ‘Oh, hang on!’ ”
She got a COVID antibody test. It came back positive. “It was kind of validating, getting that news, because I had felt really poorly, and I thought I was just being a wimp." (Soprano Lise Davidsen, who starred in the same production, told The New York Times she had also tested positive for antibodies after experiencing fatigue and loss of taste and smell during the run of “Fidelio.”)
Now, Forsythe is focused on the present and future. In November, she has some dates in Ohio with Baroque orchestra Apollo’s Fire. She just released a new CD (recorded pre-pandemic) of works by Johann Gottlieb Graun with Italian ensemble Opera Prima, led by gambist Cristiano Contadin. And Oct. 13 sees the public debut of Handel and Haydn Society’s The Magic of Vivaldi virtual concert, recorded at GBH’s Fraser Performance Studio with her as a featured soloist. Forsythe spoke with the Globe by phone from her home in Belmont.
Q. Did you experience any lasting side effects? Was it harder to sing after COVID than after a normal cold or flu?
A. When I was still in London, performing, I did feel short of breath. I struggled to reach my high notes. Then when I came home, to be honest, I didn’t try singing for a couple months. I knew I didn’t have anything coming up. So I just rested, and I did probably have some small lung damage, because for a couple of months afterward I had that tight feeling in my chest that a lot of people have described. Now I feel totally fine. I haven’t had a chance to test my stamina because I haven’t been performing at all, but in the practice room, everything sounds normal.
The loss of smell is one symptom I still have. I can smell a bit, but it has to be directly in front of me. I told my kids, if you ever smell smoke, let me know — I’m worried that the house is going to burn down and I won’t know about it!
Q. Has the Vivaldi concert with Handel and Haydn already been recorded?
A. Yes, we recorded that last month at GBH. The instrumentalists all wore masks and I had just come back from a trip, so I had already taken a test. I consider us lucky to live in a place where everyone’s taking this seriously.
Q. How are you feeling about going back to live performances next month?
A. I feel really lucky. Because yes, we don’t know that I’m immune forever. But it’s taken a lot of fear out. In that sense, I feel fortunate. I’m gonna feel free singing. And I really, really miss being in front of a live audience. [Online] is not the same at all. As performers, we need the energy from the live audience. I look over to Europe and my friends and colleagues who are working over there. ... I wish we’d been able to get it under control. We’re not doing the best job. My partner lives in Italy, and he’s been performing pretty much since June. I guess they have more outdoor venues there, so it’s easier.
Q. Nicer weather, too.
A. Yeah, I have traveled twice to visit my partner in the countries we’re both allowed into, which are few and far between. I think the whole mask thing on planes should be a permanent change, because how many times do you fly and just get some common cold?
Q. I bet you’d have fewer internationally traveling singers getting sick if that were the case.
A. Exactly! If everyone felt like an opera singer — we’re such germaphobes, we never want to get sick!
THE MAGIC OF VIVALDI
3 p.m., Oct. 13. Presented by Handel and Haydn Society. Free with suggested $10 donation, through the website at handelandhaydn.org/streaming-concerts
Zoë Madonna can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @knitandlisten. Madonna’s work is supported by the Rubin Institute for Music Criticism, San Francisco Conservatory of Music, and Ann and Gordon Getty Foundation.