My theme revolves around the soon-to-be published memoir I wrote for opera singer, Donald Braswell.
"J" is for "Juilliard" audition
This vignette is one of my favorite scenes in the book.
Donald's offered an audition the Juillard School in New York and listens in wonder to the many singers ahead of him...
Some of the greatest singers I’ve never heard of drift up to the plate, and they all hit a home run. I’m supposed to match or beat that? Never mind knocking it out of the park, I’m going to strike out singing.
Like a hobbled marathoner focused on the finish line, my audition time slowly drags itself closer. Should I leave? I don’t want to go anywhere near that huge, empty stage. Moving to the back of the staging area, I pace near an old, dirty coffee maker, like a caffeine addict waiting for his next shot of Joe.
This is the dumbest thing I’ve ever done in my life. I’ve totally wasted everyone’s time. I’ll leave. The judges haven’t called for me yet. Yeah, I’ll make like an amoeba and split. I can’t compete with these folks.
And, then someone calls my name.
And, then someone calls my name.
The walk out onto center stage takes months. My mouth’s dry, but my palms were wet. Lights in my eyes. Don’t squint. Own it. Own what? The only things I own right now are heart palpitations.
I expect a long table filled with stern-looking judges, ready and willing to cast several evil eyes, but there’s no one. My heart pounds like I’m back under the Friday night lights again. I glance toward my left and right. Nameless stagehands watch, frozen. Waiting. What if I suffer a heart attack? Okay, I can do th—
“We’re up here,” said a voice.
It sounds as if he’s all the way back in the lobby. Like a lookout on an old ship—The Titanic?—I cup both hands at my brow and squint (again) through the powerful spotlights to locate the Voice. The stage lights are brought up a little and the panel emerges from its dark lair. There you are.
I smile, and some stress slithers away into the dark, empty rows.
“What are you planning on singing for us?” asks the Voice.
“Hi, well, um, I, er, I brought… Cielo e mar from La Giaconda, by Ponchielli…” and without the apparent need to take a breath, I spew forth the rest of my list and stop, not knowing what else to do. The few seconds of silence is nerve-racking.
“Why in the hell would you want to sing Cielo e mar?”
“You requested an Italian aria.”
“How old are you?”
too young to be singing Cielo e mar,” dismisses the Voice, whose clipped
Philly accent crawls inside me. “You need to be at least thirty years old, and
a trained professional before you even attempt Cielo.”
I’ve no response, not that he waits for one.
“Tell me again, slower, what more do you have?”
I mention the French aria, Salut! dumeure chaste et pure, but I can’t sing that one either, he said. Nerves rattling, I glance at my list and follow with En fermant les yeux by Massenet. It’s a fine piece, I say, but they don’t want to hear it.
“Er… I’ve, I have Clorinda?”
“I don’t know what that one is.”
Buoyed that the Voice didn’t say I couldn’t sing Clorinda, I explain it’s an English art song by Robert Orlando Morgan.
“Oh my God! Do you have anything—anything that we would like to hear?”
“Well, I have Torna a surriento…?”
The mention of the classic Neapolitan song by Ernesto De Curtis draws snickers from the judges and beyond. The panel calms itself and the Voice said, “Please, sing the Torna a surriento for us.”
Annoyance flanks my frustration. I dig in deep and sing like my very life is at stake, (perhaps it is.) I finish with a flourish and as hoped, a huge hush drapes itself over the dark theatre. But, after an appropriate moment of silence, there’s no corresponding murmur of approval from the table. There’s nothing. From between my teeth comes a knee-deep sigh. I bow in the general direction of the judges and turn for stage left when the Voice speaks.
“Excuse me, Mr. Braswell, we didn’t dismiss you yet.”
Let’s beat another laugh from the dead horse. Great.
“Sing me that Clorinda song, please.”
Huh. “Yeah… Yes, of course.”
I sing, suffer through another silence and wait for the Voice to decree.
“Okay, thank you.”
What? Now I’m done?My mind spins like a margarita blender at a Key West happy hour. Walking off stage, I have at least the presence of mind to stutter thanks to the panel for the opportunity and their time. I step outside and suck in a lungful of New York-infused air. Exhaling slowly, I run my hands over my face and head toward my sister’s place.
Tomorrow: "K" is for "Koopmans" (hey, that's me.)