Growing up, I was faced with image upon image of New York City. There were movies, television shows and magazines that all told the various highs and woes of the people that inhabited the famous boroughs. These various mediums all showcased an array of fabulous and not so fabulous lives, and the people who meandered there way in and out of them. More often than not, an oddball would come into the lives of our beloved Jerry Seinfeld, Felicity Porter and Carrie Bradshaw that made us wonder “Do people like this really exist?” and then we’d reassure ourselves with a “no… it’s only for shock value and entertainment purposes.” So after years and years of warnings from my favorite New Yorkers, I was still unprepared for the oddballs that would meander into my life.
The day before the Manhattan School of Music’s official orientation, I went to the school for a financial aid meeting, and decided I would take the opportunity to converse with a few of the people I met on the incoming students Facebook group. Anders Georg was a Norwegian baritone who had spent the summer in New York City learning English and was anxious for the school to start. I decided that after my meeting would be a perfect chance for us to meet up and go to a nearby shop for coffee and croissants. I had spent the prior couple of days commuting from a friend’s place in Queens and was excited to spend a little more time in Manhattan.
We went to a little place near the school that sold only vegetarian food and fair trade coffee, so naturally it was the café du jour of Broadway. As we sat at the quaint café, Anders went on about how he came to study with a world renowned teacher at a world renowned school and how it would make him a world renowned singer “but it must take 10 years” he continued “for voice, for everything, then I sing at Met”. If only it was that easy; there is so much more than studying that goes into making a world renowned opera singer. There is also no guarantee that any amount of world renowned anything with make you a world renowned something. Many people can go to Juilliard on full scholarship and never realize a satisfying career on stage. You must go to a conservatory with the attitude that you are in competition with yourself, and to be the best you can be, otherwise, you’ll never survive. Those that do this, realize that they are capable of much more beyond the Mozart concerti and Bellini art songs they have lived on for years. They are invited to a challenging world of Rachmaninov and Strauss, they climb the highest echelons of their art with vigorous energy to achieve something miraculous and unattainable. It was once said that opera singers are natural born aristocrats, through determination one can overcome previous short comings and endure the riches of the world without much thought from “old money”. Its true, what we do as artists is preserve an art form through music that was written for kings, and through serving the composer, we bring to life his characters, his dreams, and his soul. It is through this, that we ourselves become worthy of those so-called aristocrats who thrive off trust funds and hedge funds; by serving the art.
Anders, I quickly realized, was probably one of the most self-indulgent people I had ever met. He continued for a great deal about how he knew everything about opera, and that being European helped him greatly when it came to language study and music. After all, we have to frequently learn pieces in Italian, German, French and English, all which have requisites of there own in curriculums across the country. I learned in this conversation that he was a champion of languages and women. How women loved him, and how he was very eager to have sex with any and all incoming females who would allow. I asked him “Why don’t you try to have a relationship with one of the girls from your language course?” “Because they’re Asian! I can’t, I won’t, I’ll never!” .
It was at this point when I began to try and decide exactly what Anders reminded me of. He wasn’t particularly attractive, in fact, he was quite possibly one of the ugliest people I had ever met, but I couldn’t figure out why. He had pretty symmetric features, but they were incredibly exaggerated. His eyes bulged out of his head like a bug’s, and he never seemed to be able to look directly at who he was speaking to “but yes of course… world renowned” he would say, verbally directing himself almost violently toward you without ever looking you in the eye. It was almost hypnotically disgusting. He also had the posture of Quasimodo. When he began rambling about his distaste for Asian women, I decided that he looked like a cockroach… yes, perfect!
When you attend a conservatory, chances are, when you go to parties, you’ll be with other conservatory students. You never ask “What’s your major?” You can tell immediately whether or not someone is a singer, it’s not necessarily a gift, it’s more like an ability to spot the obvious clichés. Singers have a tendency to be the best dressed of the school; appearance is everything, and audition clothing tends to work its way into everyday clothing. They also tend to be the loudest and most boisterous people in a room. When you spot a non-singer, you simply ask “So what do you play?” As Anders continued with his discontent for Asian women, I noticed that other patrons of the café were looking at us with disgust… not him, us! Without trying to be rude, (after all, I was going to be spending a lot of time with Anders in a very small school), I moved the conversation to another topic. I decided to embrace both my inner and outer singer and pull out the necessary and inevitable questions.
“Have you had a lesson yet” I asked.
“No, but I just had a meeting with my teacher’s husband, he is also world renowned” stated Anders proudly.
“Oh, so what did you discuss” I asked rather interested.
“Technique, and school” stated Anders again “he is much nicer than my teacher, but I need her technique to make me famous.”
“Sounds intense” I said “When exactly did you meet him?”
“Right before I met you” said Anders smugly “We met near Met.”
“Oh Lincoln Center, how lovely” I said “did you go to Fiorello’s?”
“Yes” said Anders blankly “it was too expensive.”
I took a sip of my coffee “So what did you wear?”
“I wore this” said Anders with confidence.
I nearly spit out my coffee. Anders was wearing incredibly unattractive running shorts that looked like they were used for the whole of the 80’s in every city marathon the decade had offered. He also sported grass stained tennis shoes and an ill-fitting gray t-shirt that exposed the disgusting body hair that sprouted in patches all the way up his chest and back. I thought how unfortunate it would be to have pubic hair growing out of one’s chest and back.
“It’s so comfortable; I think I wear to lesson” he said “I learn better when comfortable.”
“So what are you working on” I interrupted.
“Oh! Umm…I learn new aria, very obscure, from very obscure opera, I already memorize, I so good at Italian, best language for me, yes.”
“Well what’s it called” I asked “I’m fond of nearly anything.” This was true; I spent the prior couple of summers working at the Santa Fe Opera, and was exposed to the newest of the new and the oldest of the baroque. My job encouraged me to research a lot on my own, and picked up some new favorites along the way.
“It’s by Handel” he said “from Julius Cesar.”
“I love Giulio Cesare” I exclaimed, and partially correcting him while encouraging he use the Italian title “It isn’t obscure at all Anders! In fact Glyndebourne just did a fantastic production of the opera a couple seasons ago, and now the entire opera world seems to be borrowing that exact production” I started listed off companies that I knew were putting on the opera when I interrupted myself and asked “So what aria are you singing?”
“Its Va Taquito” said Anders proudly.
“Oh… um, do you mean Va tacito e nascosto” I asked mildly confused. Here was a person who had just spent so much energy proclaiming how great he was at not only singing, but languages as well, and not only that, but he had supposedly memorized the aria in question and he was so good at it too. Had he really just mistaken the aria for Mexican food?
“Oh, umm, how do you say it?” asked Anders.
“Va ta-chee-toh!” I said “taquito is a tightly wrapped corn tortilla with beef or chicken inside.”