Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Dream Big

Hello, is it really morning….Can someone please tell me that last night wasn’t a dream?? Okay, confirmed, not a dream. It was REAL, folks! I went on as Marie in La fille du Regiment last night at the Metropolitan Opera in New York City!!! I can’t even believe I just typed that sentence and I can’t believe that what I have had as a faint picture in my mind for many years, actually happened.

I am going to try and write about what it was like, but as I even begin to start, I realize that there are no words for the emotions that I had yesterday and there will be no way for me to really describe how I felt and how I feel now. Stay with me, I shall ramble a spell.

We grow up in this business being taught in school that at any moment we could get “the call” and be asked to go on for an ailing singer. I remember being told this in graduate school and actually thinking that after one of my performances at Indiana University that the MET could have heard about it and might give me a call. I’ve always taken things very seriously, you see. We were drilled into believing that we could never be prepared enough because we just may be called upon to save the day. We have been told numerous stories of careers being made by someone stepping in at the last minute. I know Renata Scotto rocketed to stardom after filling in for Maria Callas and I remember a similar story about Franco Corelli…you get the point, it happens. People get sick, things come up, they cancel.

Well, I have known it was a possibility that I would go on since I am covering this season at the MET. It has been in the back of my mind for some time that I very well could go on, and the thought of it sometimes made me crazy and sometimes made me wince. However, after doing the cover rehearsals last week, I was feeling pretty confident and excited about the possibility and after all, that is the job I signed up for and that is what I was prepared to do.

So let me give you all the details, because I know many of you are dying to know how this all works. I was notified Monday that Diana Damrau was sick and that she would be canceling rehearsals that afternoon for her upcoming run of Barbiere. People in the MET office said that she may feel better for the performance but that they wanted me to be on call just in case. So, I canceled my Hamlet coaching at 1:00 (I am also covering Natalie Dessay in her upcoming performances of Ophelia in Hamlet…..hmmm what if…….well, let me not get ahead of myself) and went to see Greg Keller, the fabulous assistant stage director at the MET. He and I went through the role together. He spoke the other singers’ lines, oh yeah, let me mention that this particular production has tons of spoken French dialogue. I have been working on it for months. We went through the staging quickly just to make sure I remembered where I was supposed to be. Then I spent an hour alone going through some of the phrases that I knew I wanted to double check. I left the MET that day feeling pretty good and on my way out I ran into an old friend.

Get this, the old friend I ran into was none other than Larry Brownlee. We went to school together at Indiana Univerisity not too long ago and we were catching up on things. The dialogue went a bit like this, “Oh that’s great! So, good to see you…..Wow, it has been so long…what two years?....How are things? Yep, married and you are a newly wed too, right?......Yes, I am covering Fille here and am on call because Diana is sick, but she probably will be fine for tomorrow…..insert more dialogue about how long we are both in NYC and about roles coming up etc…..then the big ender…… “So, we should get together while we are here and do something fun…….Yeah! That would be great!” Then we swapped phone numbers and went on our way. Who knew that less than 24 hours later that fun thing to do would be an opera at the MET! You can’t make this stuff up!!!!! Larry was called on Tuesday to fill in for the ailing Juan Diego Florez.

Tuesday afternoon we both got the call that we were going on. I was so excited! Really, I have imagined this moment many times. I usually do so when I hear other singers tell their stories about getting the call and when I have thought about it, it would always bring utter terror into my body and I would imagine the sky falling in. Luckily, when I got the call I heard my mouth say, “Sure, I’d love to sing tonight. I’ll be down at the theater as soon as I can!”
I calmly packed my bag, grabbed my score, an extra pair of underwear (it’s amazing what we can remember during these moments) and headed to the theater. It was blizzard number 2 in NYC yesterday and the roads were a mess. I hopped in a cab and within half an hour of sliding down West End Ave, I arrived at the Met stage door.

I went to the 5th floor studio and when I walked in, Larry and I burst into laughter. We told everyone the story of what had happened Monday afternoon and how casually we suggested we should get together again. Goose bumps. We rehearsed our scenes together and Larry was amazing. He had never seen the production and was learning French dialogue on the fly!! Fearless is this man and what a brilliant artist.

So, fast forward…..yes, I know, get to the good stuff. I went to the MET cafeteria and got something to eat and then went to my dressing room. It was 6 pm and make-up came. I don’t even remember that whole ordeal and hardly remember getting my wig put on. But, what I do remember is looking in the mirror and seeing Marie! I know, weird, but when I was dressed and all put together my energy surge was enough to power all of Manhattan. Yep, just like that. I started jumping around. I went into the hall to show everybody my cute little wig and bouncy pony tail. I WAS Marie!

People started coming by my room. Music staff, props people, microphone lady, dressing people who had worked with me before, colleagues who needed to rehearse lifting me up (yep, my Lincoln Co. cheerleading days came in real handy last night.), it seemed like Grand Central for a spell. General Director Peter Gelb stopped by to wish me luck and Maestro Marco Armiliato, the conductor for the evening stopped by to give me a pep talk. You would think that we talked about music, but we didn’t. He is a singers conductor for sure. I was not worried in the least that he would be with me. His kind eyes and exuberant face say everything about this man. He told me, “Leah, give the audience a good time. You have a good time, and they will have a good time.” Simple. Good.

I went out onto the stage. They were holding the audience so that Larry and I could walk on the set. I checked my props. I moved things around so that they worked better for me. I ran around a little bit. I made peace with the vastness of the MET. It’s huge but very intimate. I was feeling good. On my way from the stage I saw Peter Gelb talking with Kiri Te Kanawa. Without a thought I ran over to them and introduced myself to Dame Kiri. She is a legend. I was going to be sharing the stage with her and I wanted to introduce myself. She was lovely and very encouraging. Then, I bounced all the way back to my dressing room.

I stood a moment. I sang a verse of Blessed Assurance. I flipped through my score and sang a few passages from the beginning of the opera. I was calm. I don’t know what happened exactly, but the mean little gremlin that sometimes creeps his way onto my shoulder when pressure is high took the night off. Hallelujah. I went to my place off stage to wait for my entrance. I had such support backstage. My friend and colleague Steven White, who is assistant conductor on this production, was in the wings and told me he would be there. He was just an arms length away. It is a marvelous feeling having positive energy that close to you when you are about to throw yourself into the unknown.

The next thing I knew, I picked up a pile of laundry and walked out on stage and started singing. Everything became like an out of body experience. Really, there were times that I felt as if I were hovering above myself. I was having fun. I was playing with my colleagues and I was FLOATING, BEAMING, REJOICING, PRAISING…..I don’t know. It was all the hard work of my entire life coming out of my body. It was all the people who had helped me in some way holding my hand. It was all the memories of people I miss so much now, there with me. I know, I sound like a commercial and please let me have this moment of indulgence, it was unforgettable.

I can’t remember every detail, but some of my favorite moments were singing with Larry in the duet. We were both so happy to be there and his energy was so positive and confident. I loved singing with the soldiers and all the energy I was getting from them as I slapped their hands during Chacun Le Sait. I really enjoyed the lesson scene in Act II playing with the hilarious Meridith Arwady as my Aunt. Meridith and I were in the MET competition in 2004 together. She went on to be a winner, I believe, and I was in the semi-finals. She was a sweetie and gave me a back massage during Tonio’s 9 high C’s aria. I absolutely loved singing Salut a la France and running across the stage and banging on the piano. I messed up the ending to the aria because I just had a brain slip, but I kept going and ended with a heartful high note while being lifted into the air by 5 strong dancers. I laughed out loud on stage when Kiri Te Kanawa screamed in my ear. She did it exceptionally long last night and Larry and I were in shock just looking at her. It really was like a silly dream, all of it.

I had some random thoughts throughout the show like, I am glad I shaved this morning, I wonder if these Army pants give me a camel toe, thank God I remembered my toothbrush….those kinds of things that make you laugh at yourself. Most of my thoughts were of telling myself to breathe. Then I would tell myself to exhale and then breathe again. I found this really works. Simple, huh? Hard to do when the world is watching.

I was so happy that some of my dear friends could come at the last minute and I was THRILLED beyond words that my loving husband braved all the snow and drove from Philadelphia and was on the third row. He was a nervous wreck from it all, but so proud. I never thought I would be thankful that he was laid off from work and forced to move to Philly, but seeing that it is 80 miles from NY, that painful layoff allowed him to share in my big day. That is how life works.

Today I am happy. I had an incredible time doing my work last night. I love, absolutely love and adore what I do for a living. Sometimes, I have such fear that it all will come to a screeching halt. Last night those fears were very far away. Was it perfect? No. Was it fun? YES!! Did I give all of myself? Hell, yes! I am sore in so many parts of my body today like I am when I work out with a personal trainer. Would I change some things? Oh, of course. But, it is live theater and anything goes. Oh, did I mention it was broadcast live on the radio? I didn’t really let myself think about this aspect, you know that thousands more people were listening live on Sirius Radio. Better that I didn’t think to hard on that one. But, I was thrilled to find out that a bunch of Mercer Students listened together at Jittery Joes on the Mercer campus! C'est chouette!

Well, I know that my story was a ramble and you can probably tell how frazzled my mind is today. I slept 4 hours and I am coming off one gigantic adrenaline rush. But, there is work to do! I have Hamlet rehearsal in a few hours. Who knows, maybe I’ll have another story to tell in a few weeks. I would like to share some music with you. I got in the shower this morning and turned on my ipod to shuffle. This song by Ryan Shupe and the Rubberband came on and I cried like a baby. Tears of joy, of course. DREAM BIG!!!!!!!!! Cause when you dream it might come true, so when you dream, DREAM BIG.

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