Monday, January 3, 2011

New York New Years, Met Heart Attack, Pinstripe Bowl, & Sprained Ankles

What an incredible last two weeks.  Christmas came with lots of family and presents, who could want anything else?  Dusti and I had our personal Christmas on Festivus Eve (Dec. 22).  Dusti got a surprise and elaborate poetry adventure to discover her gifts - almost 30 pages of poetry.  Perhaps I went a little overboard...

After that we went to Great Bend to see my parents and brother for a few days, also with homemade games (as you will discover is a crazy family tradition).  I was able to attend the St. Patrick's Church Christmas Eve Mass.  I had a lot of fun seeing Connie Schneweis, my mentor and teacher for so many years, and to see all the children sing.  I was part of the Mass for 17 years starting in 1991 when I was only six.  This was the first year I could attend without being part of the production.  It was very sad for me in a way, but I genuinely love the music and the joy in the kids.  Sometimes all the pre-professional students or professional singers I am around get really bogged down with their studies and the business of singing, you cannot find the joy of it all.  I genuinely love to sing and love artful music.  Seeing these kids belting away, purely enjoying what they are doing, really makes me feel great about life.  I am very serious at times and have an extreme work ethic, but I am so glad that the things that I am passionate about are still pretty primitive.  There is so much more depth to the world seeing things in black and white than just a wash of gray.  Of course you need moderation at times, but when it comes to something you are passionate about, go all the way and don't be afraid to fail!  

After Great Bend, we saw my Grandparents and my Dad's extended side in Salina.  My brother Brent brought a friend from China as he has done in recent years.  We always enjoy pampering his friends with the Christmas experience.  And again, also included was a game, which eventually paired Dusti and I against each other playing the Oreo game where we place Oreos on our forheads and without using our hands, have to slide the Oreo down our faces and into our mouths.  After Salina, we spent two days in Wichita with Dusti's family and celebrated Christmas and Dusti's birthday with her parents, sister and her boyfriend, and extended family.
Me playing the Oreo game - with Grandpa in the background
Then it was off to New York.  I had made plans to go to the bowl game earlier in the year when it looked like we were going to be able to go to one.  I have been a lifelong fan of K-State but have never been to a bowl game.  This year, K-State was invited to the first Pinstripe Bowl in Yankee Stadium in New York.  K-State would play against Syracuse on Dec. 30.

Our flight left the day after a huge winter storm hit the East Coast.  Flights were being canceled all day and our flight was to leave in the evening.  Amazingly we were able to make the flight and the connecting flight to Newark without any delays.  It was a miracle!

I went with one of my very best friends, Evan.  We landed and checked into the hotel in New Jersey and didn't get into town until the next morning.  Once we got to Penn Station, we went all around town, looking at the sites.  We had the whole day to do whatever we wanted.  I have been to New York four times in only a year and a half and this was the first time that I didn't have any business or auditions to worry about.

We went to the Empire State building, Times Square, Macy's, Rockefeller Center (with the big Christmas tree), Central Park, ate at a local pizza place, St. Patrick's Cathedral, and one of my favorite new places - Pop-Tarts World!
One of my favorite places.....POP TARTS WORLD!!!! They even served pop tart sushi...it's wrapped like sushi but it is raw pop tart dough and frosting. I had an ice cream s'more thing - it was great!

 Now since they had a huge snowstorm, there was slush and snow all over the place.  I was hopping all around on the piles of snow and sometimes accidentally stepping in a freezing slushy mess, freezing my foot.  Later in the day, we went to Grand Central Station and my foot was hurting really bad.  I took my shoe off and adjusted my sock and shoe, tied it up, and took a step.  There was a sharp pain going from the arch of my foot all the way up my leg.  Unfortunately, every single step of the tens of miles we walked I would feel the sharp pulsing pain.  By the next morning, both feet were in pain, however I only admitted that one foot was.  There was no way I was going to skip going to a bowl game and the Times Square New Years.

That day we were trying to get tickets to see a show.  Unfortunately, as you might expect, everything was sold out except for some very expensive seats.  We eventually went to the Met and got standing room only seats for the night's opera Pelleas et Melisande by Debussy.  I have never seen nor heard the opera before, but I know Debussy's music very well.  I have been wanting to see an opera at the Met for such a long time, and I finally was able to see one.  This was also the final performance of the opera before the Met retired it for another season of productions.

View from our standing room only spots

Now the Met is the center of the opera world.  The best of the best perform here.  I was so excited!  Every seat and the standing room railings all had personal displays to give the subtitles in any language so you can understand what was going on.  Debussy is an impressionist composer, so much of his music is very sentimental and sexy, very beautiful.  He wrote the piece without any arias, and in a way that was more like continuous recitative - similar to other French composers like Poulenc.  In other words, the singers have melodies that are written in a way that is more like continuous speech instead of in separate songs.

The staging was immaculate!  It was one of the more beautiful operas to watch.  The stage rotated around entirely to give several simultaneous settings.  The singers were even more brilliant.  The detail was amazing and I very much appreciated the delicate singing, which can be hard to find in a bombastic art form.  One of my personal favorite attributes in a singer is the use of vibrato as an ornament.  This was brilliantly shown by Melisande, making use of the beauty of vibrato and the tension in straight tone.

But here is where the critique gets a little weird.  The tenor, Pelleas, had a difficult segment of about 4-5 minutes long, which included several high leaps.  I could not believe my ears, but in my first Met opera, the last production of it at the Met, and recorded live on National Public Radio, the tenor CRACKED!  It was short, but very surprising.  In any other theatre or opera company, maybe it is not a big deal, but this was the Metropolitan Opera.  There have been tenors, very very famous tenors, booed offstage in other opera houses like La Scalla for cracking.  But this was not the end.

A person near us also had an annoying cough.  I usually can control my anger about coughing during live performances, but it is just not acceptable.  Don't get defensive about it, many in the audience are entranced and concentrating on the performance intently, and coughing ruins it, especially if you cannot cover your mouth.  This was especially annoying because the cougher coughed making a vocalized sound!  It sounded like "hoohph".  He literally made a vowel sound when he coughed.  Try it, it's weird.  It was particularly annoying because a vowel sound has pitch and when listening to live music, it makes people a little frustrated.  This went on for 10 or 15 minutes.

The cough and the crack were not even the most amazing part.  During the last act of the opera at the same time that Melisande dies, at the exact moment when she dies - a person stands up in the audience and yells "DOCTOR!".  Later a person runs up the aisle, whisper-yelling to the usher that "she's having an attack!".  Several people run up and down the aisle, and at one point an elderly couple trudge their way slowly to the back. No medical people interrupted the show, and the performers continued.  The only noticeable distraction was to the conductor who took a brief look back.  Otherwise, the show ended as scheduled.  What an incredible experience!

Unfortunately, the libretto was quite boring and made little sense.  The only musical surprises were with the boy soprano role, offering a little humor.  The staging and music were equally elaborate but both progressed slowly, almost as if in slow motion - the opera was four hours long by the way.  I very much enjoyed my first experience, however I do not think I would have enjoyed this particular opera outside of the Met.  I was however completely impressed by the perfection of the orchestra and singers.  I am excited to go back for another experience.

When we left my feet were hurting so much and by the next morning, I was in immense pain.  My right foot had a bruise all along the right side of it.  I later found out that I had sprained BOTH of my ankles!  I was in a lot of pain, but that would not keep me from New York.

We went into town and were jam packed on the train - smashed together like sardines.  We went to a small diner near Grand Central Station and I got an incredible chicken pot pie.  We then took the Subway and left for Yankee Stadium and the Pinstripe Bowl.
View from our seats at the Pinstripe Bowl

Unfortunately, K-State lost in part to an egregious call by one of the referees.  K-State scored in the last minute attempting to tie, and after the receiver ran into the endzone, he gave a salute to the crowd.  The referee penalized him for unsportsmanlike conduct.  Thanks in part to my love of being a fan, I - very resonantly - gave my disapproval, as did 20,000 K-State fans.  The game was very exciting and I loved that it was at Yankee Stadium.  Oddly, even though we lost in a very ugly way, I have no bad memories about it - it was a lot of fun.

That night we ate an Irish pub and I had an excellent meal of pasta with clams and oysters, mushroom and spinach soup, rhubarb pie, and a guinness (pictures can be found on my facebook page).  The next day we went to Ground Zero, and we looked at the new World Trade Center Freedom Tower still being built (it will be bigger than the old World Trade Center - take that terrorists!) and we saw the Statue of Liberty.  We then ate at a nearby Cuban restaurant and I had one of the best meals of my life:  Oxtail Soup, Moro Rice with Beans, and Fried Sweet Plantains.

My favorite meal! Oxtail Soup, Moro Rice w/ Beans, and Fried Sweet Plantains
  
We took the subway to Times Square and got there at 1:00 or so.  The police were to close off the streets at 3 and start securing the area for the ball drop.  Well, there were so many people there, that they started corralling them right as we arrived.  I later found out that over one million people attended!  We decided that we were in such a great spot, right up front, that we would go in right then and wait for 10 and a half hours for the ball drop.  We weren't allowed to leave to go to the bathroom and keep in mind that I am still wobbling along on two severely sprained ankles.

View from our spot in Times Square!
We waited and waited.  At one point it was so packed that I couldn't take a full breath.  We had to move to the middle of the gated area to avoid being crushed up against the railing.  It was beginning to become something we regretted - I was in pain, Evan had to pee (we all had to).  In our heads we each were thinking about leaving until Nivea passed out all kinds of free stuff and hats and the live concerts began.  One person from Korea who was standing right behind us had to pee so badly, somewhere like seven hours into our wait, that he took a balloon that we were given, untied it and relieved himself in it while everyone circled around him and laughed.  Thankfully, he was able to tie the balloon back up without some inadvertent pee-splosion.  I do not know what happened to the balloon though.
Evan in Times Square

Me, with my Nivea hat, dancing in Times Square


We all danced for hours and hours.  It was a lot of fun - I will never forget it.  We saw New Kids on the Block, Backstreet Boys, Ke$ha, and many other live performances.  There was a big ceremony to hoist up the ball to the top.  Once this happened, we were so excited and began to forget all our problems with the long wait in the crowd.  Shortly before the ball drop, a performance of John Lennon's "Imagine" was performed, and then the ball drop.  Watch the video below to see the view from where we were and the reaction afterward.

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So, now I am at home and have been sitting for many consecutive hours resting my severely sprained ankles.  I loved the experience so much, but Evan and I decided that we probably won't ever do it again.  Next week school begins and I will update everyone with my future schedule.  This will be an exciting semester, life is so fun and new; I am looking forward to what lies ahead in 2011.

HAPPY NEW YEAR!

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