Once upon a time, I gave a solo recital in Paris. France. This is that story.
It all started in 2000, when my dear friend, Bettina Matthias, professor of German extraordinaire (specializing in music and theatre), asked me to come to Middlebury College to give a German Lieder recital with her at the piano, in conjunction with a class she was teaching. It was such a success, she had me back the following year to do another one. Unbeknownst to either of us, one of her students who attended the second recital had been an aspiring classical pianist in high school until her grandmother, her musical mentor, passed away, and she gave up music completely. Until she attended our recital.
Apparently, our performance reminded her how much she truly loved music and playing the piano. So much so that she left Middlebury and transferred to the École Normale de Musique de Paris Conservatory. (She spoke fluent French.) And as a thank you to us, she gave a recording of our recital to the schedulers for the school’s concert hall in the hopes that they would put us on their artist series. AND THEY DID.
When Bettina told me about all of this, my mind was blown. I could barely comprehend it all. I was going to sing in Paris? A solo recital, in PARIS, FRANCE? Still to this day, all these many years later, I can barely believe it. Thankfully there are photos so I know it wasn’t just a dream.
And so, on October 24, 2002, Bettina and I did in fact give a recital of American art songs and German Lieder at the Salle Cortot in Paris, France. In keeping with this blog and my brand (that I didn’t truly understand at the time), I closed the recital with a set of Gershwin songs. It was the first time my mother had left the U.S. and she loved every minute of her Parisian adventure. I did too, except I freaked myself out about speaking French, and therefore uttered not a word of it the entire time I was there. Absurd, I know. I had always heard that the French were very picky about their language being spoken by foreigners, and it had been so long since I had studied it that I panicked. I had even prepared a little thank you speech in French for after the recital, but the words flew out of my head when it came time for it because I was overcome by the enthusiastic response from the audience. The whole experience was so overwhelming, my brain struggled with my native language, let alone a foreign one. I said as much, in English, and got a big laugh. I did get to sing one song in French (an American simply does not sing in French in France unless one is über famous): my encore was Les filles de Cadix by Delibes and the audience seemed appreciative of my choice.
This is the closest I ever got to living my former dream of being a professional opera singer. It seems appropriate to mention here that the world-famous baritone Thomas Hampson was giving a recital in the same hall a few weeks later! They say it’s the company you keep… It is also the most humble I have ever felt, the most awed by someone else’s generosity and by an experience so unexpected and profound. “At times our own light goes out and is rekindled by a spark from another person. Each of us has cause to think with deep gratitude of those who have lighted the flame within us.”(Albert Schweitzer) We never know who is in the audience. We never know how we affect people. I will be forever grateful to that young woman, to Bettina, to the concert hall scheduler, and to all those unknown Parisians in the audience. Thank you for making a dream come true.