Opera

The Met

On December 28th, 2013, I made my debut at the Metropolitan Opera at Lincoln Center in New York City singing the Queen of the Night in Mozart’s Magic Flute.

met

Christmas morning 2013 looked very similar to many from the past. Christmas breakfast casserole was in the oven, hot coffee in our mugs, my family gathered in front of a crackling fire by the Balsam Fir tree we had each had a say in picking out at the tree farm a few weeks before. As Dave Brubeck’s Christmas album played softly in the background, we all tried to pretend that this was the relaxing beautiful holiday that it was supposed to be.

Except… 3 days.

And I had ALL of the emotions.

1521586_10201008537767242_1697691892_nSince I was a little girl, my most wild and fantastical goal was to sing on the Met stage. Everyone needs to have a dream, and the Metropolitan Opera was mine. Maybe that’s why for months I’d felt a tingling sensation all over my body when I thought about the Met, and I had several heart stopping moments per day when I envisioned singing my first note on that stage. I’ve dedicated my entire life to this art form, with the words “Met debut” tattooed on my conscious as the ultimate moment I was designed for. Now I had a specific date and time — I could practically predict to the minute, WHEN I would sing that first note — and all my energy was focused on that moment, like I was peering at it through a microscope, but at the same time it felt gigantic and I could only see it through a telescope, and I felt very small.

See? ALL of the emotions…

The evening went by in anything but a blur – more like a calculated inventory of feelings and moments. I was present and enjoying every second, but at the same time it was as if I was watching it all happen from outside of my body. Now, a year later, I still feel like I can replay every moment of that entire day as if it I could see it on a heart monitor screen- and the tallest spikes are my strongest memories. Here are some of them:

1) My family.

I told them all weeks beforehand that I could not and would not see them before I left for the theater on the evening of. I didn’t want to be distracted and emotional. But minutes before I left, I changed my mind. They were killing time a few blocks away, waiting for me to leave so they could come up to my short-term rental to change their clothes for the big night. I had Tom call them to tell them to come early. Almost all the lights in the apartment were off, except the Christmas tree (yes, we got a second tree for our NYC apartment because I love Christmas.)

There was a soft knock on the door, almost like they were trying not to wake a sleeping dragon (not far off…) My mom (and best girlfriend in the world whom I have shared everything with since the moment I was separated from her body at my birth) was unsure if she should make eye contact and desperately tried to show no emotion whatsoever on her face, and instead plastered a sort of horrifying pleasant wide-eyed close-mouthed half-smile on her face that hid a mountain of IMG_5215vicarious excitement and nerves.  My dad couldn’t stop grinning, and the twinkle in his eyes rivaled Santa Claus. If no one else was going to enjoy the moment, by golly, he was GONNA. And my big brother, who had flown overnight from Honolulu, having found out only a week or so before that he would be able to make the trip to see my debut performance (he’s an officer in the military… it’s complicated… and when he called me and asked “if someone were to be trying to buy a last minute ticket to a sold out performance at the Met, how would one do so?”… I burst into tears…) He had that big brother look on his face that made me feel the same sort of awesome that Kevin felt in Home Alone when his big brother says “Hey Kev, it’s pretty cool that you didn’t burn the place down.” All is right with the world.

And my partner of life, Tom. He has been here and there and everywhere since the day we met. Quietly, yet boldly supporting me at all times. He knew just what to do. Hug my mom. Shake hands with my brother and father, take their suitcases, and act normal.

I’m so grateful they were all there together to distract me and remind me that it all means more with an amazing family surrounding you with love and support.

2) I found my nail.

The sets that amaze audiences night after night are elaborate pieces of a whole and take a lot of backstage man-power to construct and deconstruct.  There are always many operas in circulation during any season at the Met, and so therefore there are always a lot of sets being sewn together with large nails and then quickly being torn apart to prepare for the next set to take the stage.  Because of this, backstage at the Met is almost always littered with bent nails that have been yanked violently out of the set pieces before they go into temporary storage on the left and right stage wagons (deep side stages) or into the storage underneath the stage via giganta-elevator. It’s the debut tradition to go backstage on your night and pick out a nail that speaks to you.  Mine looks like a beach chair.

3) Smelling the roses.IMG_1967

I have never received so many beautiful bouquets of flowers in my life. I think there were literally more flowers in my dressing room on the night of my Met Opera debut than at my wedding. Everyone who entered was bombarded with the scent of fresh flowers and I even was accused of trying to open a sideline IMG_1960day-job floral business out of my dressing room (just in case my night job of opera-IMG_1966singing didn’t pan out…) It was wonderful. Seriously, seriously, wonderful.

4) O Zittre Nicht… Yeah, right.

I remember very clearly walking from my dressing room to the stage and being preset up on set to sing my first aria. I thought I was going to pass out up on that platform in the dark as Tamino sang the last lines of the portrait aria. I concentrated on breathing and trying to calm myself but my heart was pounding and I was sweating, and also very cold. I’ve always found ways of dealing with my stage nerves, but this was like nothing I had ever felt before. I knew I had to pull myself together, but how?  I was getting even more nervous thinking about how nervous I was!

And then Mozart rescued me. The mellow and powerful sounds of the infamous Met orchestra playing the intro to my aria surrounded me in the blue-tinged darkness backstage as the platform began to rotate outward to the audience’s view. Just before exposure I realized that a gigantic grin had covered my face – this was happening and I was ready for it and I was about to have the time of my life. But the smile had to go… not in character!

5) Oops!

Just before going onstage to sing the famous “Der Hölle Rache”, I put my giant fingernail right through the delicate mesh fabric IMG_1977of my blood red sleeve! I panicked – but luckily Annie, my dresser, did not. I’m pretty sure she flew to the costume room and before I even had the time to whisper some sort of obscenity, she had snapped a reserve sleeve on my left arm.  Ah, the amazing world of live theater.

6) The aftermath.

Curtain call was a thrill! Then my friends and family poured into my dressing room in a steady stream with huge hugs and special heartfelt messages whispered into my ear. I scrubbed the stage makeup off my face until I resembled a human again, donned a sparkly cocktail dress and floated across the street to Bar Boulud where close to a hundred family, friends and colleagues gathered to celebrate with a big glass of wine (but not too big… I still had three performances to sing in the coming week!)

IMG_1961

A picture paints a thousand words, and this one- shot right before I entered the room of my debut party, is no exception!

Now, a year later, it is completely odd to say that not only is my debut season at the Metropolitan Opera completed – but I have just a few short weeks ago, finished my second season there! This season was less like a dream and more like the most amazing reality that I could imagine into happening.  Another year of singing Queen under my belt and I felt more confident and ready to enjoy the experience fully (and with a little more oxygen in my veins!)

A few more photos to peruse!

IMG_1946

The wig!

IMG_3644

Annie took this funny photo of me backstage in my dressing room on Halloween Night 2014 (second season)

IMG_3637

IMG_3633

I’ll let you decide which is the before and which is the after.

And a little family history to sum it all up…

IMG_3560

This is my grandmother and me outside the Met at Lincoln Center Plaza when I was about 6 years old. I called my grandmother “Mimi” and it is from her that I received the singing and performing gene.

Mimi’s name was Joyce Sparrow, and she was blessed with a gorgeous rich true contralto voice and studied first with the legendary Louise Homer at Lake George (with a little Samual Barber running around, Louise’s nephew!) and then with Paul Althouse in NYC. She and the (also legendary) Richard Tucker had back-to-back lessons with Mr. Althouse and were great friends before and during WWII, and my Mimi used to sub for him at his synagogue gig all the time! She herself was the alto soloist at the Riverside Cathedral on the upper west side for many years and sang many oratorio and opera roles with the abundant regional opera companies in the New York and New Jersey areas.

She made her New York City Hall debut when she was just about my age and even auditioned at the Met (the old Met!)- but shortly after, my grandfather came home from the war, they started a family, and her professional ambitions we put on hold (permanently). Such were the times…

I always told my mother that I would one day take up the reigns of Mimi’s dream to sing on the Metropolitan Opera stage. Her dream became my dream. She remains my most treasured and powerful inspiration and is never far from my thoughts and my heart… Especially when that curtain goes up!

Processed with VSCOcam with f2 preset

Standard
Opera, Paleo, Travel

Born and Grass-fed in Connecticut!

MOOI love to support local farmers wherever I am on Earth, and I always make an effort to do so, but it’s extra fun to support local farms that are actually close to the only place I truly call “home” – the beautiful and diverse state of Connecticut.

Tom and I own a cutie little 1937 “Cape Cod” with a little bit of grass one block from the beach in the very densely populated Rt. 95 corridor shoreline area of Fairfield County, about an hour from New York City by car (without traffic) or by train. Neither of us have any desire to live any closer to NYC, but this location makes for a pretty easy commute when I’m working in the city, or going in for coachings with various experts in the field or voice lessons with my beloved guru teacher, Diana Soviero. It’s also been a great area for Tom to base his own graphic design business, as there are many thrumming communities and smaller cities besides NYC around us where he has found most of his clients.

We cherish every scarce moment we get to spend inside this cosy little oasis which we completely gutted and made our own about 5 years ago. There is nothing more beautiful in the world to me than my husband’s loving face, but a kitchenVERY close second is my perfect kitchen, clad with roomy white cabinets, oodles of stainless steel, black honed granite countertops and white and gray marble tile backsplash. (This isn’t the MOST flattering picture, nor does it show the huge double window over the giant sink on the wall you can’t see, and we’ve since put in a pretty french door leading out to a little deck where you can see that open wall space, but it gives you at least a bitty idea) Below is a picture (same angle) of the kitchen mid-reno as it was being converted from a first floor bedroom.

We were on a tight budget back then, and did most of the work with our own hands, which wouldn’t have been possible without the genius help and hard labor of my father, and we came up with a lot of ways of cutting costs, includingReno salvaging ALL of our original hardwoods, and even reusing much of the old lumber as we tore down walls and built new ones in a totally reoriented floor plan. We bought the house (our first house) for it’s exceptional bones, and even though we basically broke all of it’s bones inside and put it back together, it still holds up to it’s original core strength.

Case in point, a microburst (mini tornado) blew through here at lighting speed a few years ago and brought our huge maple tree right down on the roof. There Tree on housewas an article about it in the local paper, as we needed a giant crane to have it carefully heaved off of our house several days later, where we expected to see the worst, but thankfully, found NO STRUCTURAL DAMAGE.  Amazing… but then we were reminded of the fact that our house had survived the 1938 hurricane in it’s infancy, and since that microburst I mentioned, it has also sustained no major damage in the last few years during either hurricane Irene or Sandy. Which is more than I can say for many of the newer homes in the area. (Fun fact:  You opera fans out there might find it interesting and amusing to know that I gave my Metropolitan Opera audition on THE day that hurricane Sandy hit the Northeastern coastline. Remember when they shut down ALL of the mass-transportation in and out of NYC? I barely made it on one of the last trains out of the city after my audition, hurried back to our little baby house and hunkered down for the storm. I don’t know if I was more nervous that our house (and we) would be blown away, or if I wouldn’t get the job…)

I digress. I’ll get back to the point, which is that we did our very best to revamp our modest beauty in every cost efficient way while upholding the quality it deserved, but when it came to the kitchen, we did it RIGHT, yes sir!! They always say spend money on the things you touch everyday. Well, I wish I could touch my kitchen everyday, it’s the thing I miss most about our house when we are up, up and away. It still takes my breath away when we walk in after weeks or months of being on the road. Indeed, I am quite the happy homeowner.

Back to farms. One our favorite pastimes is to take little field trips to area farms. Flower farms, vegetable farms, herb farms, livestock farms, wine farms (ahem… vineyards) you name it, we dig it. Tom and I have enjoyed taking day trips together to farms since we met the summer before my sophomore year of college, and that was sort of a while ago, so this is no new thing. But since going paleo, it’s become a passion. AND If you drive just about 45 img_0943minutes to an hour north on some smallish roads, you can leave behind the congestion and find areas of CT that look more like they come out of a country story book setting than one of the most densely populated states in the continental US. Rolling hills, pastures, gorgeous historical New England homes (that come with a price tag you wouldn’t believe) with beautifully established grounds that are worthy of any “real estate porn” addict’s fantasies. Certainly mine.

We took my parents on an especially rewarding drive up to the edge of Litchfield county to the Bridgewater area last weekend, and the duet between me and my mother of “ooohs” and “aaahs” dotted with screams of glee and songs of adoration (no joke, we sang…) as we drove by country estate after country estate, and historical manor after historical manor, was enough to send Tom and my dad into fits of laughter. But for the record, even Tom emitted a small cry of unabashed delight when he spotted his admitted “dream house”. (A gorgeously well-kept colonial gem, complete with trickling stream and ancient stone wall, looking proudly updated but diligently kept in historical character and accuracy. “Since when do you like old houses?” said my mom, to which he replied “Since I saw this house” while his head practically twisted off the rest of his body so he could catch another glimpse of it through the back window as we drove by…)

So, back to farms. This particular trip was very exciting because of a recent discovery I had made while doing some research online when I was still working in Washington, D.C. a few weeks ago. Family owned and run in Bridgewater, CT, Stuart Family Farm has been in operation by the same family since Henry Stuart purchased the land in 1926 and opened for business three years later. These people don’t kid around. Their beef is 100% GRASS-FED GOODNESS. Happily romping in the pastures in the warmer months, and fed hay from their very own fields in the wintertime. Not even one grain of nasty gets into these pretty Moos. And that’s the way we like it in the Lewek household. Their farm stand is open on the weekends and their goods, which also include free-roaming pasture raised chickens and their eggs, and at certain times of the year, pastured pork, are for sale in bulk, or by the small cut, at a very fair price. Grass-fed beef will always be pricier than the beef you get at your average grocery store (and if you don’t know where THEY get THAT beef, you should do a google search of the words “feed lot”) so when you come across a well-priced, grass-fed, local, (those are all such lovely words, eh?) you stock up. And we STOCKED UP REAL NICE. We bought a few whole chickens, too. In other words, we won’t be going to Whole Foods for anything but GT’s raw organic Kombucha for the next month, or as my family calls it, “Paleo Soda Pop”. One of these days we will get around to making our own Kombucha, which has turned into a bucket list item of Tom’s. He’s just itching to try his hand at homemade Kombucha, but it’s brewing and fermenting process is time consuming, and when you travel all but a few weeks out of the year, it’s difficult to find the time and the means. In any case, stay tuned, because it will happen one of these days, and maybe I’ll make him write a guest post on The Nomad Singer about his experiences. (If we can find a way of getting ahold of a starter scoby (WTH is THAT??? Click here!) in Austria this summer, we may try it there, since we’ll have 7 weeks at our disposal).

Um, back to farms. We are super excited about finding Stuart Family Farm and are eager to make our next trip up there in August when we return from our summer adventures in Bregenz, Austria. We will be inhabiting our CT home again for a few months in the fall when I return to the Metropolitan Opera to sing Queen of the Night in their October/November production of Mozart’s Magic Flute, and we are SUPER looking forward to enjoying the autumn harvest time that New England is SO good at.  Seriously, there isn’t any other area of the world I would rather be in during the bountiful picking time of August-October, and the last several years we haven’t been home for it.

It is now time for me to preen my little postage stamp garden, so I will leave you with a couple pictures of the adorable little piggies growing up on the farm… It was amazing to see them already relishing in natural healthy pig behaviors, basking in the mud, trotting around their pen and sneaking through the gate toPiggies greet us then darting back over to their (GIGANTIC) mother pig, rooting with their little snouts in the dirt, being bossy and pushy with one another around the water bucket. After playing and petting these darling little personalities, I have to admit that I am not so disappointed that we’ll be out of town during the December pork sale at the farm. I will never consider being a vegetarian for several reasons, but my love of animals does complicate my enjoyment of farm One Piggievisits at times. However, it is so wonderful to see first-hand how happy, healthy, and well-treated all the animals were on this farm, and I’m much happier being part of a “circle of life” that includes passionate sustainability and animal welfare.

 

Here are a few of my favorite resource websites dedicated to helping people eat locally and sustainably:

Eat Wild – Find farms in your area that raise grass-fed beef, pastured pork and poultry, eggs, dairy, lamb and more!

Local Harvest – Just pop in your zip or city to find awesome businesses (farms, restaurants, CSA’s) in your area that sell and serve locally grown, raised or made products!

And specifically for my CT buddies:

Buy CT Grown – A nice Connecticut resource for farms and related local businesses of all kinds.

CT NOFA – This is the website for Connecticut’s chapter of the Northeast Organic Farming Association.  Here you will find an exhaustive listing of CT’s farm markets by county, as well as local NOFA events.

Standard