An article in today's Guardian examines the undue pressures singers are subjected to at the highest levels. Tenor Erick Wottrich in conversation with Axel Brueggerman for the Allgemeine Deutsche Zeitung talks about overbooking, drugs, extortion, alcoholism, exhaustion, and depression as some of the problems plaguing famous operatic singers.
My take on this is that hearing the flesh-and-blood singer in performance doesn't always live up to what audiences have been led to expect, given the impossibly high level of perfection on meticulously mastered recordings available at present. Of course singers miss high notes and have bad nights. There are also moments in live performance of such powerful emotion that recordings can only capture the smallest hint of what happens in front of an audience. However, the gulf between what can be accomplished on recording and on performance is perhaps widening, as singers (and all performers) need to compete with their own heavily mastered product night after night in conditions that aren't as controllable as that of the recording studio.
The overbooking issue mentioned by Wottrich in the ADZ interview is nothing new--singers are constantly being told by coaches and teachers not to overbook themselves and potentially damage their voices through overuse. I believe that it is ultimately the singer's responsibility to manage a schedule that combines enough engagements to make good money with enough breaks in it to ensure vocal health (and growth).
The pressure to turn to steriods, plastic surgery, and stomach-stapling is something new. However, I can completely understand that impulse in a field where the desire to build one's art to the highest degree (and maintain that level) overrides every other consideration, including relationships, family, and one's health.
It's okay to be human. That's what art is all about.