I have arrived safe and sound in New York to begin my Lady Fairfax New York Scholarship supported by The Opera Foundation for young Australians. I thought I'd give you an update on what's happened in my first week here!
My flight left Brisbane at 10:20am, so after a 5am start (and a late night checking everything was in my suitcase), I boarded first flight of 13 hours to Los Angeles. Once in Los Angeles, I joined their intense customs processes. I had only two and half hours until my next flight to New York, and the entire time was spent in customs. The man checking visas was concerned that my proposed length of stay nearly reached the entire allowed length of stay under an ESTA Waiver Visa, and also thought it odd that I was travelling alone. With many side eye glances, lots of waiting and shuffling papers, he gave me the stamp on my passport with the strong advice: "Do not over stay here or you will find it very difficult for yourself and to travel in America again"- Yikes! A little flustered, I scooped up my suitcases, put them on to another conveyor belt that I was told "headed to New York" (can you imagine a conveyor belt that long?!...), and I boarded my flight for another 4 hours to New York. A long, expensive cab ride took me to my little apartment on the corner of West 84th and Columbus Avenue. After not sleeping on either flights, and very little before I left, I immediately passed out!
THE FIRST COUPLE OF DAYS
I did my first grocery shop at Trader Joes, only 10 minutes walk from my apartment. It is their grocery store equivalent, but with no toiletries at all. It was so full of people that navigating the store with a trolley was like playing bumper cars. I often had to reverse and then found myself stuck amongst several busy New Yorkers not having time for all this civilised trolley traffic nonsense. There were some things that I delighted in at the shops, especially their seasonal offers. All kinds of berries (in bulk!) were so cheap, so I treated myself to a large punnet (perhaps contains 2 of our standard size punnets!) of raspberries, blueberries and strawberries. Very lucky indeed. In addition, as their Halloween holiday is approaching, there were lots of little decorating pumpkins, autumn leave wreaths and fall themed foods. I treated myself to a packet of "pumpkin shaped dried pasta", pretty much only for the novelty. After waiting in 3 different queues, with the tail of it starting in the freezer section, I asked the server if it was usually that busy, to which he replied "Oh today's been a really slow day, don't come on Sundays if this is too busy for you!"
The queue at Trader Joes!
The first thing I noticed about New York was truly how busy and how noisy it is. There are many, many people out at all hours (12am, 6am, 3pm no matter!) - there are taxis and cars honking, ambulances wailing in the distance, children playing, loud chatter and animals yapping. I actually find this quite comforting, it feels like I am not alone or bored in this city.
As of yet I have had two coachings, and have seen "Manon" (Massenet) at the Metropolitan Opera House! One coaching was in Upper West Side on 181st street, with excellent conductor/coach Steven Crawford. He is a really kind man with some insightful ways to achieve more legato in my singing and to achieve more colours in my voice. Then I saw Edith Wiens for a consultation, who is a vocal coach from the Juilliard. We worked on achieving consistent vibrancy in sound and emphasising certain notes in rhythmic groupings to bring out the harmony. I have a very busy week next week, with seven coaching sessions with several new coaches. I am so excited to learn from these incredibly knowledgeable people.
The Metropolitan Opera has an amazing offer where on the day of a concert, $30 tickets are available for sale after noon. I obviously jumped on this offer and bought a cheap ticket to Manon - a five act opera by Massenet. It was four hours long, starting at 8pm and after three intermissions (and several pauses for stage changes), it finished at 12:30am. I sat up in the Gods in the 'Family circle', with quite a few young people, perhaps close to my age. 'Manon' was the incredible American singer Lisette Oropesa, and was well matched against American tenor, Michael Fabiano. The audience cherished these singers! When they first entered on stage, even before singing anything, it initiated several loving cheers from the audience. The singing was beautiful and affecting (even from my distanced seat!) and the movement embodied the characters' personalities and ages very well. I was however, disappointed in the set. The set was large grey blocks of concrete at varying heights - quite a bit uninspiring. When Manon made her entrance as the most beautiful, most admired woman in Paris, the set looked looked like it's a grey ramp with silver chain fences that could only lead to a prison! Overall it was a wonderful evening and wonderful music.
The theatre really is beautiful with its deep red velvet carpets and walls, and especially the signature chandeliers that really do look like exploding stars. There seems to be at least three shows at once in the theatre - currently Turandot (Puccini), Porgy and Bess (Gerschwin) and Lady Macbeth (Verdi) with Anna Netrebko! I think I will be spending quite a few night here at the theatre...
I have been walking a lot to try and explore most of the city on foot, which means someday I walk for a couple of hours. From a coaching studio in Upper West Side it took a record two and half hours down Broadway to get back home. It was so interesting to see the changes between the communities and the spirit of the people as I walked along Broadway. Central park is just beautiful. It is just like a little oasis in this big noisy, grubby city. It's delightful to see how many people are in it all the time, it seems to be a well loved part of the city. Central Park West
So that ends my week. I'm about to head back to "Staples" - an Officeworks equivalent, but far less sophisticated. I must print out extra copies of my music/scores (for the accompanists and coaches) and unfortunately with their slow system has made this process very tedious. Today will be my fifth trip. It is quite possibly my least favourite place in New York, but I can't complain as everywhere else has been just magical. Please let me know what you would like to hear more (or less!) about. I hope to do letters like this regularly, and please do reply and tell me what you're up to and what is happening in beloved Australia. I bet it's warm!!
I miss you all very much and send all my love, Xenia xx