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Hello again from NEW YORK!

Another update from my adventures abroad on The Opera Foundation for young Australians' Lady Fairfax New York Scholarship... Somehow it is already my third week in New York - Can't believe how fast time is going! I haven't yet assimilated into this city but little by little I am knowing more of the ways of a New Yorker...


To get around, the metro subway is a cheap (but dirty!) option, with a single ride only costing $2.75. A New Yorker told me that the New York City Subway is one of oldest, functioning train systems and disgruntled, she definitely thinks its age shows. For a system that is well over 100 years old, I think it's pretty fascinating. To enter, you have to have a flimsy paper metro-card. This is bought for $1 and topped up with specific amounts: 5.50, 11 ...these amounts prevent your card balance from going into the negatives. You swipe your card in like a credit card, push through the turnstile and catch the train.

The turnstile alone has its own tricks. If you delay entering and don't push immediately, it locks. Also if it's a turnstile door and you don't push the closest gate to the entry point, it locks. When it locks, you have to swipe and pay the fare again. The station platforms are also often silent without announcements and some of the trains are not marked with its destination. So if you're not near a board that shows the train, the platform number and the time until it approaches, you can easily hop on the wrong train, an express train or doubt the train that has arrived is the one you want. As you can guess, I have learned all of this from experience... but it has amused me to explore the underground through the scenic subway routes. 


As we all know Halloween is a big event in America and it has been very exciting to see homes and shop fronts suddenly transform in spirit of the upcoming event. Little gourds are put on window sills, pumpkins and corn stalks line the steps to the front doors, trees are wound with white felt and, skeletons and spiders pop out from between the branches. Decorations extend indoor to the apartment foyers, and some cafes go as far as offering halloween themed meals. Apparently there is a very popular halloween parade in Greenwich Village that is televised, where people formally apply with their costumes to walk in the parade. In addition, the Spanish festival 'El Dia de los Muertos" (The Day of the Dead) begins in the US on Halloween and continues until the 2nd of November. It is a much loved event and as New York is a very ethnic city, it'll be interesting to see how these two events combine and how the city celebrates both. 


Between my lessons I have had some time to explore this wonderful city. After a lesson, I caught the train to visit the Natural History Museum. The lady at the counter assumed I was a student and (without disagreeing) I gleefully got a student ticket that included a museum pass and one special show to the Planetarium. The museum was actually far more interesting than I thought it would be. The displays of the (poor!) stuffed animals were pretty stunning. Each animal was positioned in lifelike settings of their environment. For example, most settings had leaf litter, weeds, seed pods, and what looked like real plants. The descriptions of the animals were also really witty and enjoyable. There were so many sections other than the animals - Arabic History, History of the Amazon.... Unsurprisingly I didn't get through it all, but I would like to go back probably on a cold rainy day, which is occurring more frequently as we get further into Autumn. 

The Californian Jack Rabbit 

I also had a chance to go to the Chelsea Markets; a market downtown, which is a collection of several shops of food and little knick knacks. I sampled a few treats from the stalls including a very buttery lobster bisque and a honey basil lemon shortbread ice cream.

After eating too much rich food, I walked it off on the high line, a former rail road turned garden/walkway above the streets of Chelsea. It was luckily a beautiful day, and with the sun out many people enjoyed the walk with me.


Most of all I have been busy with my studies.

As I go, I meet more coaches and my weeks become more full. I had my first coaching at the Met itself (!!) with Marianne Barrett, an excellent German coach. I was pinching myself to walk past Le nozze di Figaro rehearsals with Nadine Sierra inside, and to hear excellent voices as they practice echoing in the halls. I feel so lucky to have these kind teachers to let me peak behind the curtain to see the inner workings of these incredible music houses. Earlier in the week, I was able to audit a class at the Juilliard and listen to the students in their performance class. They were excellent - all talented and all very hard working to prove themselves. Dona D Vaugh, the Artistic Director of Opera at the Manhattan School of Music invited me just last night to the dress rehearsal of Orfeo ed Euridice with Jamie Barton!! I was given the best seat I've had yet at the Met, and we watched the lighting team work, staff running back and forth, cameras flashing to capture photos for marketing, and the singers taking notes from the stage manager. I have been a very lucky girl indeed. 

Excitedly waiting for curtains of Orfeo ed Euridice!


To be able to practice has been a challenge. I can only do quiet exercises in my apartment as the walls are too thin. I have to book a studio to practice and it's a bit of a travel from where I am. The cheapest room is USD$5 a half hour, and it ranges up to a large room with a grand piano for $50 per half hour. For instruments that practice several hours a day, I do not know how they manage the expenses!! I usually go for the cheapest and smallest room as it does the trick - it is probably the size of a cubicle with a tiny pitch pipe keyboard for reference. As I have been paying and travelling to practice, I really have to plan my sessions and make the most of my time there. That has been a challenge in itself. There have been times where I wanted to experiment with sounds and didn't achieve what I wanted within the session. Visualising (mental) practice and reflection outside the practice session has been a great tool to help. I know this is probably an important skill to develop for when travelling and spaces aren't available, or suitable to practice in! Within my time here, it's hard to pick just one teacher as a favourite as they all offer something entirely different with such commitment to its value within this craft. Excellence and devotion are values that are praised here, and although I strive for both, they ask for more. I have been challenged in all aspects of myself in these lessons and am learning a lot about myself as a performer, as an artist and as a person. It's tough work but I'm facing this challenge head on, setting my sights higher and excited for how I'll grow on this trip

Do you have any recommendations for things I should go do, see, or places to eat at? - let me know! As it gets colder and Australia gets warmer, I'm holding on to any sunny day here and imagining what warmth and sun you must be experiencing back home. Soak it up for me!

Missing you all and sending my love

Always, Xenia 

I'd like to dedicate this letter to wonderful Stuart. Very much thinking of him and his loving family. 

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