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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... I am now 6 weeks into my stay in this vibrant city. 


HALLOWEEN

As you all know Halloween is a big event in America. Little gourds, pumpkins, ghoulish puppets and props had been popping up in shop windows and households for several weeks prior to the big day. In the spirit of Halloween, I bought myself a little gourd to decorate and put it on my windowsill overlooking Columbus Ave. 

Some of the creative and dedicated halloween decorations!

As I emerged from the Met around 5pm, hundreds of little children in complex (and probably expensive!) costumes were running rampant to each house and store to collect sugar. I found it quite surprising but most shops (chemists, coffee shops, beauty salons etc.) actually gave out candy. Politely many children queued to build their stash, with their accompanying parents encouraging their thank yous and a limited candy intake! Many costumes were fantastic, and I found myself laughing out loud at the creativity - Where’s Wally, The Wiggles, Beetlejuice and I did see more than one dressed as Trump with an 'impeached' sign hanging around their necks. 

Costumed children out to collect their candy on West 71st.

I decided to head to the Halloween Parade in Greenwich Village -  a huge event that continues for one and a half miles with various marching bands, parade floats, puppets and highly costumed individuals. Apparently one must register months in advance with an approved costume or puppet to get the privilege to march! This was more an activity for young adults to enjoy the creativity and hilarity of each other's costumes. I half-heartedly went as a gypsy/fortune teller - I pulled a scarf around my head, big hoop earrings and bought some dirt cheap tarot cards - blending in to the costumed festivities without much effort. Despite all this halloween extravagance, I actually didn’t have any candy or end up with any at the end of the night. Who would have thought?


CHEAP FOOD THINGS AND COFFEE

I am always on the hunt for a good food deal, my years as a music student has definitely made this a part of who I am. There's the obvious, terribly unhealthy but very American cheap foods that you can find anywhere - large $1 pizza slices, $2 hotdogs at Gray's Papaya, $3 pretzels, and Matto Coffee shops where all pastries and coffee are $2. I’ve learned buying your vegetables and fruits from the street vendors are much fresher and cheaper. They’re a good quick healthy snack whilst on the go, although they do need a good rinse. Most of the time if you order a salad or soup, they’re so large you can stretch them for two meals. Particular favourites are: Pho King (large and generous Vietnamese soups), Dig Inn (yummy and big seasonal salads, with all kinds of vegetables that I can’t get my hands on at the shops), Shu Jiao Fu Zhou (dirt cheap Chinese dishes) and delicious, delicious Russ & Daughters (traditional Jewish bagels). As it is getting too cold to wait outside in between coachings, knowing cheap places like these have also helped buy me some respite in indoor heating. 

Coffee might seem like a good place for a cheap treat, but you might think otherwise. We are very lucky in Australia to have the coffee we do, because there are only a few places where I’d recommend for a decent coffee. I did buy some of the popular ground coffee from Trader Jo's, but it is just awful and I only use it if I am desperate. Often coffee shops have several different kinds of syrups that are incredibly popular, perhaps more than the coffee itself.


Some orders I have heard:  Skinny hazelnut latte with half shot,  Decaf almond maple latte,  Drip coffee with splash of milk with half pump hazelnut, and half pumpkin spice! Sometimes I just find it's easier to be a tea drinker here. 

SINGING


Now I have been here for 6 weeks and have gotten into the routine of things, I have finally developed a good rapport with my regular coaches. Some particular favourite coaches of mine have been my language coaches: Pierre Vallet, Corradina Caporello and Marianne Barrett. I would recommend any singer heading to New York to work with these fabulous educators, they are very picky but in the most exciting way. Both Corradina Caporello and Marianne Barrett have been emailing me and talking to me in Italian/German, which is also keeping me on my toes. I've also been fortunate to meet some people on their visits to New York, including the editor of Opera News, and wonderful conductor/coach John Fisher who is already well-loved in Australia. I am very excited that I have been fortunate to get some good auditions in December. I won’t jinx it and share the names of the programs but please keep your fingers crossed for me! It’s honouring to have been offered the chance to try in the first place as the standard of singing here is very high. I am often in awe of the singers I hear before my coachings - people, just like me, who have travelled here to learn with these wonderful professionals and to find opportunities. It really reminds me to work hard to make the most of this opportunity here. 

OPERAS

Some concerts I have been lucky to see recently was the Richard Tucker Gala Concert (featuring Lisette Oropesa, Lucas Meachem etc), The American Contemporary Orchestra (featuring Jamie Barton), Madama Butterfly at the Met, and a play called “Great Society”,  which explores the time and the politics of the Nixon presidency. All fascinating and engaging. There is always a great show on every night in New York and it is very easy to get cheap tickets if you know the right website and the rush hours. 

I have been very lucky to get into more dress rehearsals at the Met. And one particularly worth mentioning was Philip Glass’ Ankhnaten. I was absolutely blown away by this production. It began at 10:30am and concluded at 2pm, although it felt like time stood still. This piece captures moments in time during Pharaoh Akhenaten's reign in Egypt. There wasn’t necessarily a plot per se, instead brief moments of time (as if paintings or scenes) were energised and put to music. The sets and costumes were visually breath-taking - golds, against deep blues and reds, where slow stage movement contrasted with the juggling on stage that complimented the repetitive rhythmic music and symbolised the Sun that was worshipped during Akhenaten’s reign. This production was nothing like I had ever seen before in opera. It was just magical and Glass’ music really evoked an amazing atmosphere. If it comes to the Met Live in HD, I would really recommend going seeing it. 

Next week is Thanksgiving and I feel very excited to have been invited to my singing teacher's place in Long Island for the festivities. It hasn’t been commercialised like I thought it would be (I know so cynical!). So it appears that it really is just a lovely meal shared between those who care for each other. It is truly very kind of my teacher to invite me and I am definitely very much looking forward to it.

I can’t believe it is already mid November, I am now 23 and have only a couple more weeks left in New York this year. How time flies! Homesickness is always there - I miss the warmth, my family and you all. I hope none of you have been affected by the tragic fires that have ravaged Australia. It’s just awful and I hope a large wash of water hits the needed regions (or perhaps more humidity and less wind). I bet it's very hot nevertheless, so I hope you are all keeping cool and definitely not getting too sunburnt! 

What are your plans for Christmas? Are you home or travelling?

Sending love Always, Xenia  X

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© 2020 Xenia Puskarz Thomas