by Weston Hurt
as part of the Living Opera Series


When I first decided that I wanted to pursue a career as a professional singer, it never occurred to me that being born without my right hand would ever be an issue. To some extent, it never really has been. Yet, in other ways, it has played a significant role in shaping the artist that I have become today. I remember the first conversation that I ever had about performing with a prosthesis was during the summer while at my first apprentice program. At that time the artistic director mentioned that it could be a factor at some point that people might have an issue with, but then jokingly said, “only until you get famous enough to when they won’t care anymore”.   


 Weston Hurt as Sharpless in Puccini's  Madama Butterfly  at Seattle Opera (2017). Photograph by Philip Newton. 

Weston Hurt as Sharpless in Puccini's Madama Butterfly at Seattle Opera (2017). Photograph by Philip Newton. 


It wasn’t until sometime later, after I had finished my education and formal training that I saw his words turn true.  I remember singing an audition in New York City where many different companies from Europe came to the United States to hear singers in audition. My manager contacted me and said that an important opera company in Germany was very interested in offering me a fest contract as long as I had a prosthesis. At the time I didn’t possess one, so I ended up losing out on the offer. It was then when I began thinking about various companies in America that might have been too politically correct to mention anything, but had decided to pass on me simply out of fear that I wouldn’t be able to portray a certain character with only one hand. In fact, there was one audition in which I was told point-blank that while I had sung perhaps the best "Largo al factotum” (Il barbiere di Siviglia) that he might have ever heard, he didn’t think that a Figaro with one hand would be marketable to his audience. So, I decided to seek out financial assistance to acquire a cosmetic prosthesis in hopes to level the playing field.


Only a year later, I had attained a cosmetic prosthesis and was surprised in what a difference having my prosthesis made in my auditions. One could argue that I had improved as a singer/auditioner over the past year, but I also had industry people telling me (in whispered tones) that they were so happy I had made the decision to procure a prosthesis. My biggest surprise came once I arrived at my first contracted engagement after receiving my prosthesis and was asked by the director if I would mind not wearing it for the role of Sharpless in Madama Butterfly. After talking about the character with the director, we decided that this was perhaps why Sharpless had the desk job. Maybe he was injured in war and had been assigned the American Consulate position after being discharged. It made perfect sense, brought a uniqueness to the character, allowed me to be myself on stage, and brought something new to a story that audiences had seen time and time again.  It wasn’t until the review appeared in a major industry magazine, "Weston Hurt was a sympathetic Sharpless, his own real-life physical limitation - he has no right arm - never preventing him from singing with caring and poise.” that I realized our plan had backfired.  Still being able to sing with care and poise even though I only had one hand wasn’t the image that I was trying to portray.  


 Elizabeth Futral as Lucia and Weston Hurt as Enrico in Puccini's  Lucia di Lammermoor  at Portland Opera. Photo by Ken Howard. 

Elizabeth Futral as Lucia and Weston Hurt as Enrico in Puccini's Lucia di Lammermoor at Portland Opera. Photo by Ken Howard. 


Thankfully, I am at a place in my career now where I can make the decision alongside the director whether or not my character would have one hand or two and reviewers, for the most part, have stopped mentioning it.  I find, as it always has, that it brings greater depth to the character should we decide to not wear my prosthesis for Nabucco, Sharpless, or Rigoletto or to start the role of Valentin with the prosthesis only to return in act 3, home from war, without it.  Or better yet, in my Houston Grand Opera debut as Scarpia in Puccini’s Tosca, the brilliant director John Caird had the idea for me to remove my prosthesis on stage during Act II to heighten the level of drama with Tosca. These choices are unique to me and are simply there to add to the drama of the storytelling which allows me to create a four-dimensional character.  


At the end of the day, who’s to say that any of these characters had two hands, to begin with? I understand that it might initially draw attention on stage, but is that such a bad thing? We are fortunate enough to have artists who possess their own unique characteristics of all shapes, sizes, and abilities - and THANK GOD we don’t all look and sound the same! The sooner we begin to realize that the things which define us are indeed the things that create that attraction from the audience, the sooner we can embrace that which makes us unique. 


An affecting performer who is best known for performing iconic Verdi’s roles, American baritone Weston Hurt is recognised for his emotionally honest portrayals of characters both sympathetic and monstrous. His ability to balance machismo and vulnerability with equally expressive intensity captivates audiences, and his focus on authentic communication informs his mentorship of the next generation of vocal artists. Weston’s approach – fueled by his experiences as a singer born without a right hand – centres on the embracing of one’s unique traits.

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This article has been published in collaboration with Opera and Disability, all rights reserved.


Cover Image: Evelina Dobraceva as Floria Tosca and Weston Hurt as Scarpia in Tosca at Tulsa Opera (2017). Photo by Shane Bevel.