The full story that pictures don't tell
Updated: Mar 5, 2020
Monday, March 1st, 2020
Arriving back in our apartment in Phoenix last night was completely different than the last time we had arrived after a long trip. Our current apartment is cozy and quaint and not fancy and it’s in an older building, so when you first return, there’s sort of a musty smell that occurs from dry Arizona air that hasn’t been circulating. When we arrived after our holiday break back in late December, our place had felt bare and weird and devoid of memories compared to our families’ homes where we had just spent so much time. This time, I have never been happier to be back in our Phoenix apartment.
Although Scott and I arrived back to our place together, Scott had flown to the east coast early, and Hazel (our puppy) and I had been the last ones to leave it. The day before I left, I had performed an hour-long brunch recital with Chris Cano for Arizona Opera, went to the dog park with Hazel and our friend Brandon Morales, and then went home to be quiet and clean and pack for my flight, which was the following day at 6:10am. Was I going to be gone for one week? Two weeks? I wasn’t sure. It all depended on the results of the Metropolitan Opera National Council Semi Finals a week or so later.
I had cleaned the apartment (I hate coming back to a messy or dirty place) and did the most STRATEGIC packing job I’ve ever done in my life. One large bag that had to be under 50 pounds, one small purse or backpack for my music and snacks and travel items, and my carry-on, which was a thirteen-pound, seven-month-old angel puppy named Hazel in her carrier. In my large bag I had to make sure I had all the essentials for two (or three) days of voice competitions, layers for cold winter weather, dog toys and treats and food, two full-length gown options as required by the MONC, my personal steamer, the list goes on. Not gonna lie: I did a damn good job.
But yeah, where was I? Upon returning, the apartment was just as I had left it. I was reminded of how I had diligently cleaned and methodically ticked off items on my very specific packing list. I had given Hazel a bath at 10pm the night before we woke up at 3:30a for our flight because we were going to be guests in friends’ homes during our trip. I remembered how my brain had been going haywire, not just from thinking about my to-do and packing lists, but from the anticipation of the upcoming trip – knowing I would compete on the Met stage and knowing that I was in for the journey of a lifetime. It was pretty interesting to observe the little details I had left in my apartment upon returning and to compare my mental state from when I left to my mental state last night when I returned.
And what an emotional adventure that week or so was.
When I flew into New York with Hazel, we were immediately was picked up at JFK by two of my dearest friends in the entire world, Jon Wibben and Alex Perry, whom I've known for almost twelve years now. We had planned to spend quality time with each other and with Jon’s family for a day or two, as Jon had just recently and tragically lost his dad Dave very suddenly. Although our time together came in the wake of such a tragedy for one of my favorite families, we had a really great time and it was worth it just to give Jon a huge hug in person (you don't take these moments for granted when you're traveling all the time). Although I had hoped to lend my own support, Jon, his brothers and his mom Nancy, although grieving, filled me up with more love and positivity than I ever could have possibly given to them. They all made me feel loved to an overwhelming extent. My trip was off to a heartfelt start.
Then, I had the George London Competition. This is a prestigious competition with a hefty award that I had applied to when I realized I had the opportunity to be in New York around the same time. I did not have any expectations going into this one – but then, I won! I was shocked beyond belief and all of a sudden, the adrenaline rush that I knew I would eventually encounter had begun early, before any events for the Met semis had begun. Even now, I’m not sure that the magnitude of this award has hit me. There was no time for it to sink in. I’m still stunned.
Less than sixteen hours later, it was our first day of orientation for the Met semis. I don’t usually deal with excessive nerves, but the subtle ways that anxiety crept over me leading up to the semifinals was crazy. I couldn’t keep track of any of my belongings in my NYC lodging for the two days before semifinals – misplaced my credit card, important receipts, etc. I couldn’t have a relaxed conversation with Scott for a few days and felt like I had to excessively tidy and clean and organize. I had to take more deep breaths than usual and I did extra placebo-y things to ensure I wouldn’t get sick and to make sure I was in the best physical and vocal shape I could possibly be in. I wore masks on planes and subways, but took a bubble bath to calm my nerves. I meditated on my arias and my characters and made sure to remind myself to have fun and enjoy the journey. I set aside time to relax and steam and I took care to not over-sing. I watched Netflix with Scott and walked my dog along the river. I. DID. ALL. THE. THINGS.
Then came the day of semis. I had done all of the prep and I got so many wonderful messages from excited friends and family on all communication platforms throughout the day and responded to as many of them as I could. I felt like the luckiest person in the world. Despite my nerves and adrenaline, I took those deep breaths and remembered to have fun and be myself. Before my audition slot, I laughed with Brady backstage and tried to see if a Tide To-Go pen would help the permanent marker stain on Natalie’s sleeve. Instead it looked like smudged the ink all around and we laughed. I was trying to remember to act like a normal human.
Then, the moment happened!!!! I stepped out onstage at the Metropolitan Opera. I smiled and did what I planned and most importantly, I remembered to keep each moment spontaneous and real. In my memory, there was only one moment where my brain took over and said “Meh, that note could have been a little better.” When I felt that my judgmental brain was going to take over one more time during the Cenerentola, I said “NO” to that evil little voice and remembered to sing the final moments of the aria to Nathan, my late Prince Ramiro, who had spun me around during that aria for over thirty performances. I looked up to one of the highest balconies, grinned, felt such joy and thought “This one’s for you, buddy – and from the Met stage, no less!”
I stepped offstage with such a feeling of triumph and bliss (and also into the arms of a happy-crying Brady Walsh). If there’s one selfish and yet healing reason I’m writing all of this right now, it’s to remind myself of how I felt in this moment.
I had never wanted something more in my entire life. The Metropolitan Opera National Council auditions is something I’ve followed for as long as I’ve been professionally studying opera. At age 29, soon to be 30 in less than a month, I knew I was about to age out of this competition, and I had taken my time in getting to this point in my life and career. Slow and steady. Like, really slow and steady – but steady, nonetheless.
So, then we came to the announcement ceremony. I jumped for JOY for some of my colleagues as their names were read out (specifically my love Jana, and a handful of other friends or colleagues I had recently met or connected with). But when the last name was announced, preceded by the word “and” to indicate it was the final name that would be read, I was devastated.
You know what the hardest parts were about not hearing my name? Two things. The first was knowing that Scott, Dudney, and my parents were standing there in the crowd and had spent all day in the audience, equally as devastated for me, because they love me and support me to the ends of the earth, and they had been convinced that I had given a performance worthy of advancing (but, don't all family and best friends think that every time?). Chris Cano had flown all the way from Phoenix to watch me perform and had given me some incredible support, musically and mentally, in prepping for the competition. I hated that they were feeling sad for me, even if I knew it was because they loved me.
The second hardest part about feeling that devastated was knowing how lucky I’ve already been, and currently am. I get to do what I love and make money doing it with my husband and my dog by my side. I just recently won one of the five awards at the London competition. I had just gotten to sing on the Metropolitan Opera stage, and that by itself was achieving a dream, or so I thought. How could I forget about all the blessings in my life, and more importantly, why did being so disappointed seem so disrespectful? I was upset at myself for being upset at all. This was the hardest thing to face: Letting go of this particular dream and not living in disappointment.
I dealt with all of these thoughts and feelings over the next few days in New York. Once I knew I wouldn’t advance to the Grand Finals, I was like “Wow, I can enjoy a glass of wine (or five),” and I did enjoy more than one glass of wine with Scott and a couple of close friends for a night or two. I’m a pretty social human, and I had told myself that I was going to use our extra free days in New York to recover and rejuvenate myself by spending time with old friends that lived in or just outside of the city. Although I did do a little of that, I didn’t get in touch with half of the friends I wanted to. The adrenaline let-down that I experienced was intense: It was like, that feeling of when you’ve just finished the run of a show but the stakes felt unspeakably high, and this time, add in the fact that the outcome wasn’t what you had hoped for. I didn’t want to do anything, go anywhere, talk to anyone. My body and my brain and spirit were exhausted. Luckily, I had Scott and Hazel (and I did feel the support from friends and family still, I promise), and they let me feel all the feelings while still keeping me distracted from myself.
Why am I writing all this? I don’t know. I do know that I’ve been wanting to write a blog for a really long time now. I’ve missed it. I hesitated because I only like to share my thoughts when I feel that I can string multiple experiences together into one common theme, or share important lessons and parts of my journey so that I can help others. To be honest, this blog feels like a more selfish one (or a diary entry) but if it does anything at all, I hope that it sheds light on real thoughts and feelings that we experience as artists or as people: the good, the bad, the ugly…and the complex. Also, this has to be said: So much of social media can feel fake and presentational. And I did post a big ole grateful post on Instagram and Facebook, with pictures of me smiling with my friends and family and thanking my support system for their love throughout the Met competition, and to be clear, I meant the words that I wrote. But I feel I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge a little of the reality in this experience. I hope it doesn’t sound ungrateful, because listen, when I recap how I felt walking on and off that stage – it was magical, and I am grateful. It just takes a little time to remember that my worth is not attached to the fact that I didn’t achieve my dream of winning, or even making it to the Grand Finals. I think all performers on all levels need this reminder.
And again, now I’m home in Phoenix in our retro apartment complex filled with fallen leaves and bubbling fountains, surrounded by trees and Arizona sun. It seems like there’s no better time or place to get back into a routine and to recover from such a roller coaster of emotions and opportunities. This morning, and upon wrapping up all these thoughts, I really am rejuvenated and grateful for what life has thrown my way so far. Thanks for reading and I hope it’s been helpful or interesting or real in some sort of way. I hope that all of us as artists, and just people, can learn to appreciate what we have, ride the waves, and accept all outcomes no matter what. Our worth is not attached to what we do for a living, whether it’s our passion or not. I am “hashtag-BLESSED”, and to repeat myself: I’ve never been happier to be back in our Phoenix apartment.
Thursday, March 5th, 2020
Hey ya'll. (Sometimes I still can't believe that this little ole Vermonter says "ya'll". I love it and I have all my amazing Texas friends to thank for that.)
I've pored over this blog for a few days now because it felt too personal to share. After getting a little feedback, I feel comfortable sharing it now, a few days after I've written it. A trusted person in the field recently told me "You're not a robot" and that it's okay to be disappointed for a while and then let it go. There's also so much that goes into this career that lies behind the surface that again, I think / hope it can be insightful for others.
I also realized a few other important points, of which I'll share one now. I said above that I don't usually deal with excessive nerves. In keeping with the fact that I'm "not a robot," maybe I should just flat-out admit that I was SUPER NERVOUS and that I do get nervous more than I am aware of in the moment!
It's been so incredible to get back into a coaching and learning routine here at Arizona Opera. I'm feeling much more myself and even more grateful, and I thank all of my friends and family for their endless love and support.