Friday, May 26th was my final day as studio artist at the Michigan Opera Theatre. Here I am, 30 years old, two seasons, six main-stage shows, 2 studio shows, and dozens of patron events (they were called Opera Club events) later, packing my things up – once again – headed back home to New York City. In fact, it is now a full week since I stepped foot back into my parent’s home.
While I feel some profound impulse to expatiate, I know that what I have to share is, at best, personal and – more likely – trite. (At this point, most of you reading this entry know my writing quite well; by now you have realized that you’re in for the long haul - a prolix treatise to follow). When caught in the melancholy of nostalgia, I regularly see in myself a thin, often obfuscated boundary between platitude and insight. What I see in myself, rather my plight, floats somewhere between the honesty and self-deprecated musing of – dare I say - James Agee (as I read in Let Us Now Praise Famous Men) and the contradictions espoused by the Underground Man (as I read in Notes from the Underground). I hazard the comparison, maybe it’s a bit self-inflated: I feel that indescribable connection to those books; the connection that one feels when the written word expresses - with so much exactitude and precision - feelings and observations that have never left mute lips, or stubborn fingers, born of inchoate thoughts.
(Was tempted to leave that second paragraph out, after reviewing and editing this blog post - but it is a part of my verbose self. Pay it no heed, it is just my rambling ramblies).
My intention is to, now more than ever, share with you honestly. I don’t mean to imply that this blog entry (or the blog in general) is a selfless offering. No, on the contrary, to organize my thoughts and feelings, and to share them, is cathartic. I hope that maybe, just maybe, there will be something to learn, certainly about me, but more interestingly about the business of being a young opera singer (anything more is far too ambitious). I want to recapitulate my journey as studio artist at Michigan Opera Theatre; to tell you what I learned, what I earned, and punctuate my experience.
Anne Carson reminds that there is a subtle difference (albeit semiological – but, really, what isn’t) between those experiences that we today describe as bitter-sweet and Sappho’s glukupikron “sweet-bitter.” It was Eros that drove Sappho to utter – for the first time in history, to my knowledge - this contradiction of terms; this special conundrum; the ancient oxymoron. Maybe, like Sappho, here I am, now one week since my departure, feeling a similar sweet-bitterness. Carson postulates that Sappho puts sweet before bitter because - one would imagine – Eros’ sweetness is obvious. Here too, I feel that the “sweetness” in my currently plight is obvious:
· I was employed at a major opera house in the United States for two years.
· I added a dozen pieces to my repertoire including 8 roles, one Russian aria, and one Czech aria.
· I am returning to New York City of all places.
· I am returning to my friends and family, from whom I have been remote since I graduated from High School
· I spent two years working with some of the most important names in opera today: David DiChiera, Richard Leech, Kathy Kelly, Carol Vaness, Martina Arroyo, Dean Anthony, Martin Katz, David Daniels, Timothy Cheek, and Stephen Lord, just to name a few (name dropping over).
· I witnessed (and contributed to) the rise and renaissance of Detroit; from a vast lens encompassing the suffering lowest income bracket, and blight to the highest elected officials.
· I made friends with some fantastic singers and conductors, in the studio and in productions
· I had the privilege to meet some fantastic, dedicated patrons. People who will not quit Detroit.
I also have to give a shout-out to the amazing citizens of the city of Detroit who I met while living there. I wish to name some important people: Jim Burda and his berries; Thomas, the elderly man who either lived at the gym or managed to keep, serendipitously, the same erratic gym schedule as I; Patrick at Nancy Whiskey’s; Joe Schubert at Whiskey Parlor; Leslie a.k.a Sassy Pants; Eric, Steve, and Nate at Germack Coffee; Noah and Alex at Duly’s Coney Island; Cato at the security desk. I met some wonderful people. Of course there is the entire staff of administrators, costumers, wig/make, production, the crew, and Detroit Opera house employees who are far too numerous to name.
Michigan Opera Theatre fulfilled its contract. I am a card carrying member of the musician’s union and was employed as an opera singer for two consecutive seasons. That’s hard to beat, truly enviable luck built on the back of hard work and talent.
I know that I have led you to expect a bitter portion to this story. I even wrote several paragraphs that would perfectly balance the narrative I’ve laid, but I am not going to share it (the bitter was in fact the motivator of the blog entry in the first place). I realized, while editing this post, that the darkness of my experience is something more internal. Was everything roses and sweet perfume in Detroit? No, certainly not. I had my share of tears and anger, as well as some very obvious abuse and mistreatment. Were my “bitter” feelings obviously puerile hyperbole? Maybe they were, but they were not invalid. I won’t completely leave you hanging. I just wanted to let you know that as this second shoes falls it will not be as satisfying as you might desire: I feel loss; capitulation; surrender; unfinished; disappointment; some hopelessness; anonymity.
What did I gain and what am I leaving behind?
I learned that the beer in Detroit is not very good (sorry Atwater and Detroit Brewing Company), but Michigan has some fantastic breweries across the state. One of my favorites is North Peak, too good.
I learned that GREAT food it hard to come by in Detroit; good restaurants exists, but the cost of food and going out is outrageously expensive for the median house hold income. Furthermore, it is my observation that the imbalance between cost of living, availability of jobs, and the transplant business owners seems to be making it difficult, rather than easy, for the Detroit citizens. I am frankly skeptical about the “if you build it they will come” model on which the city seems to be basing its development. There are many there who need the work. Only time will tell, I do know quite literally nothing about politics, finance, and city planning.
I elected to educate myself on Whiskey. I can proudly say that I taught myself to like it and haven’t looked back. While I never made Two James Distillery or the Detroit Distillery regular stopping grounds - I would have liked – the Whiskey Parlor and Joe Schubert became my spot of repose.
I learned that it feels really good not to hear gun shots every weekend (or those random mid-week shootings).
It feels good to have bars, restaurants, and groceries stores open 7 days a week in to the midnight hour. I will not miss the dearth of markets in Detroit.
I said good-bye to my 20’s in Detroit.
I said good-bye to Baker’s Piano Bar and Cliff Bell’s.
I said good-bye to my tongue-tie, hello to new vocal freedom.
I say good-bye to the cigar lounge across from the opera house.
I say good-bye to health insurance, but – between you and me – I think I am better off without a disaster like HAP anyway.
Goodbye to late nights in the opera house, getting locked in or sleeping in the studio. Goodbye to singing on the glorious stage at the Detroit Opera House.
Goodbye to riding my bike along the Detroit River and waving to Canada.
Goodbye to Lafayette Plaisance.
I say goodbye to Eastern Market, and buying 90% of my groceries from Michigan growers and farmers.
Goodbye to the strange isolation and my hermitic lifestyle.
Hello to metro-transit system, a bike friendly city, clean streets, and street lights.
I learned that my opinions and intuitions about music are valid, valuable, supported, artistic, and worth sharing.
I learned that there will always be push-back, and often from the places you least expect it.
Maestro Leonardo Vordoni told me I sound like a million bucks; Maestro James Meena told me I was ready to go; Maestro David Abell was confident that I'll be working; Carol Vaness gave me effusive praise; Martin Katz told me “it’s fun to work with someone as savvy as you [me] about music, text, character.” If others didn't have anything to say it was because I showed up prepared and ready to work. If my worst fault was saying the right words and singing the right notes at the right time and my tiny comprimario parts were only supportive, and didn't take away from the principal characters, then I believe I earned my paycheck.
I have a lot of growing still to do. Any singer will admit that it is a life long journey of learning and change.
I believe that the other Michigan Opera Theatre Studio artists and I set up that program to offer the next round of artists quite a valuable and enviable position among the young artist programs around the country.
ok. rant over.
Thank you for reading.