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Paul Balmer in front of some of his work. Photo by Melissa Moehlman; taken from wikipedia.

This past Friday, I had the exquisite experience of attending Paul Balmer’s artist reception for his new collection Cityscape to Landscape at the Campton Gallery at 451 West Broadway in New York City. Mr. Balmer hails from South Africa and his since been somewhat of an international citizen; with exhibitions over the past two decades in London, Chicago, Sydney Australia, Boston, and New York to name a few.

Over a Red River, by Paul Balmer

Mr. Balmer’s Cityscapes capture a unique essence of both New York City and the country in that he manages to express (in cityscapes) a viable and controlled chaos that is natural in the habitat of our concrete jungle. For this reason, I would beg to argue the collection’s metamodernistic influence simply by the adventure Mr. Balmer’s pieces take you on.

Between Night and Day, by Paul Balmer

Then there are the Landscapes, a perfect juxtaposition to it’s Manhattan counterpart by way of serenity and the ability to transport you to any welcome and familiar place in the annals of your memory. I was both seventeen again in the Tuscan countryside and a child on a farm in central New Mexico. Paul Balmer possesses the gift of expressing to you, you’re own emotions through his art.

Quiet Country by Paul Balmer

A special thank you to Miss Allison Harrell for the invitation.

Urban Palate: Allison Harrell

Last week, I met up with photographer Allison Harrell at the cafe Little Brown on 85th and Madison Avenue in New York City. I’m a fairly recent fan of Miss Harrell’s work, and wanted to learn more about her and her inspiration behind the camera.

Allison Harrell in front her work at “The Art of Fashion Show.” Photography credit: Daniel Watson. The rest of the work featured in this article is the property of Allison Harrell Photography.

Allison seems to have experienced what one might call an artistic awakening during her time as a Pre-Med student in Tennessee; making the kind of swift life-changing decision that eventually landed her in the heart of New York City.

Allison Harrell Photography

We sat for a while discussing the manic weather pattern of the day when I asked her about her semester abroad in Perugia, Italy. You can always tell the joy someone has taken from an experience when the mere mention sparks a light from within. The self-proclaimed coffee-fiend and cannoli lover quickly divulged  one of her favorite memories.

Allison Harrell Photography

“…it was on an excursion to Venice.” she said smiling. “My friend and I went to this wonderful vintage costume shop where one of the owners invited us to celebrate the Festa del Rendentore on his boat!” Allison informed me that the festival is an annual event held in July to celebrate the end of of the plague of 1576 that claimed the lives of 50,000 Venetians. “We were able to watch the firework display between St. Mark’s Square and Il Rendentore on the water… watching the sun come up on Lido in the morning- that was one of those truly amazing life moments!”

Allison Harrell Photography

Allison possesses the kind of positive energy that can change the mood of a room instantly. The bright-spirited photographer draws inspiration from life’s surprises, or as she put it- flavors that you wouldn’t have thought to taste on your own. “Some of the best things in life find me!” She exclaimed while taking a sip of her iced-coffee a la Nancy Botwin. “… hopefully its because I’m receptive to them.”

Allison Harrell Photography

She continued on as we played a game of musical chairs with other Little Brown patrons trying to avoid the rain. “I feel that there’s an incredibly human quality that happens through the camera. A lot of people see the lens as a filter. For me, its more like a bridge.”

Allison Harrell Photography

Allison also admits to being inspired by art history and favors the Fauvist movement for it’s colorful display of emotion. “I just love this era for art! I feel like every shape and stroke comes from an emotional place. It’s truly for everyone. Regardless of your educational level in art, the emotional quality behind Fauvism is so obvious anyone can be moved it.”

Allison Harrell Photography RAWR!

Perhaps it is her daily outlook on life that lends itself to her art. “Every day I wake up and hope to be inspired. That’s my MO! If I’m really lucky, I have the opportunity to influence a brightened, positive perception in the people with whom I work and those who see it.” And this is entirely true, because when we finished, the rain suddenly stopped and I stepped out onto the pavement of a suddenly sunny Madison Avenue.

Visit www.amhphoto.com to view more of Allison’s work.

Lost In Rome

What I loved most about exploring Italy when I was 17, was the ability  and freedom I had to walk around aimlessly and explore the historic sites. What I didn’t count on, was how easy it is to lose your sense of time in a place like Rome.

Now, unlike New York, which runs on a ruthlessly tight schedule, Rome lives up to it’s Eternal City glory, and gives you the impression that you can just keep going forever. Someday I’d like to move to a place like this, where time seems to stand still and each breath you take is filled with powerful stillness. That is, you are constantly reminded of past promises, successes, and are filled with the certainty that everything will be alright.

“Alright!” Our tour guide Elvira Ferrari stood tall in her black leather boots and painted on jeans as we listened. “Meet me at the obelisk at Piazza San Pietro in THREE HOURS. We’re having dinner near the Palazzaccio and leaving promptly after to go back to the hotel, so don’t be late!

The “Palazzaccio”, or Palazzo di Giustizia (Supreme Court House) is called “the ugly palace” in it’s Italian colloquial due to the gaudy facade.

Now an important thing to remember about the timing of my Roman holiday, was that we arrived the week after Pope John Paul II passed away, so The Vatican was buzzing with foreigners waiting for conclave to start, the Sistine Chapel was closed, and Anderson Cooper seemed to be everywhere within the vicinity of St. Peter’s Square. I decided the timing was more than enough to attend mass, so I headed to church… without a watch.

The whole experience was quite astounding. In ushered all the cardinals who were being considered for Pope, and the choir seemed to resonate straight to the heavens. When it was time to say “peace be with you,” a little Italian lady who was sitting next to me turned and asked “Americano?”

“Si,” I replied.

“Ah!” The woman kissed me on either cheek and clapped her hands.

When I finally got out of mass, I headed to the obelisk and waited, and waited… until I finally asked someone for the time.

“I’m an hour late?” I asked out loud. “Shit!”

Elvira hadn’t told us the exact location of our lunch except that it was near the ugly palace. Even then, I didn’t speak the language and didn’t quite know how to get where everyone else was. Luckily, I found an American family who helped me flag down a taxi.


I did my best, “Umm… Palazzaccio?”  My driver then took of at the speed of light and led me through Rome like I was his stowaway passenger in the Indy 500. When he got me to the ugly palace, I found myself no better off than I was at The Vatican. No one.

After an hour of looking at maps in different cafes and alternating between buying a shot of espresso and gelato to maintain my calm and collected appearance, I saw our bus pull up.

“LUIGI!” I yelled and ran after the giant tour bus like a thirsty traveler who has seen an oasis in the middle of a desert. He stopped abruptly and let me on. The poor man didn’t speak a word of English, and in true Jacob fashion, I proceeded to tell him all about my adventure. He simply nodded with a polite, yet confused smile.

After about thirty minutes alone with Luigi in silence, I saw my group members appear from a side street. “Where WERE YOU!?” yelled Aubre.

“Mass was… LONG!” I said.

“Well, you missed out, we had the best pasta, and oh my God, the espresso here is sooo good!”

“So I learned.”


Charlotte and “The Great Gatsby”

“Hey You! Great Gatsby!” yelled Charlotte as Chef  Ryan Sharp and I chased the busty waitress down 58th Street.

My friend Ryan and I were catching up outside one of our favorite bars when we came across this blonde Irish woman named Charlotte who, after telling us she had “quit her sorry job today”, whisked us away with her charismatic speech and lofty promises of an amazing evening just down the street at a bar called “Sin Bin”. In reality it was just an Irish Pub with the same old rugby fans cheering on their team, the only difference was that this bar was heavily clad in Halloween decor.

“What?” asked Ryan who was trying to make the connection between the F. Scott Fitzgerald novel and this short Irish woman now drunkenly running across the street.

“I have no idea…” I replied confused.

“Aye!” said Charlotte “I mean that , hmm…” She scratched her head for a second after realizing we weren’t privy to her thought process.  “Well I always see this man around the city, and for some reason or another I thought of him just now. We had a conversation once when he was feeling sorry for himself, and I relayed to him why I find the first chapter of ‘The Great Gatsby’ to be the best-written words in all literature.” The pint-sized woman stopped her haste and conversation while she  lit a cigarette. Ryan and I listened.

“This poor man was just so negative I had to tell him my favorite line lads.” She crinkled her nose with her hand on her hip while staring  upward to recall the quote verbatim. “Whenever you feel like criticizing any one… just remember that all the people in this world haven’t had the advantages you’ve had.” She started her jogging pace again while she told us, “Those words have always gotten me by because… its true! No matter how hard things are, there is always going to be someone else out there, without a roof over their head, a meal to eat or a drink to have… so boys, let’s go have us a pint!”

Another NYC lesson learned.

Gracenote Update: Matthew Anchel

After his recent move to Leipzig, Germany, Operatic Bass Matthew Anchel shares what he loves about the beautiful European city.

photo by Ken Dolin

City View: Leipzig is a really pretty, safe, and VERY affordable city to live in. There are lots of cute restaurants, a farmer’s market every Monday and Thursday in the center of town that has amazing stuff, lots of music, museums and an amazing public transportation system.

Cuisine: The best thing I’ve eaten while I’ve been here is probably this amazing pasta with seasonal mushrooms and pork at this great place called Penguin. It was so good!

Office Space: The actual opera house in Leipzig is VERY cool and art deco. It was rebuilt after World War II because the original house was bombed and burnt down. The acoustics are amazing because the walls in the theater are all gorgeous wood. It’s a really special house. The company itself is very cool too with a lot of talented American singers in the ensemble- I’m so excited for our upcoming performances of Die Zauberflote, Cunning Little Vixen and Weill’s Rise and Fall of The City of Mahagonny

Follow Me: Keep up with Mr. Anchel by checking his upcoming performances at www.matthewanchel.com.

Matthew Anchel as Count Ceprano in LA Opera's 2010 production of Rigoletto

Memory: Seventeen in Florence

I woke up at 4 in the morning and stepped out on the ancient streets of Florence, Italy to beat the Uffizi Gallery‘s famously long line. After drinking an espresso for only the second time in my life, and innocently overwhelmed by it’s influence, I was surprised to find two girls from my tour group, Erin and Kelly, already waiting for the musem to open. I quickly joined them and waited eagerly to view the masterpieces I had, until then, only seen in pictures.

We were quickly joined by the girls’ AP Latin instructor and some other students from the tour. What I appreciated about tagging along with this class, was their teacher’s impressive historical and linguistic knowledge. When the doors opened, I listened to every word he said as he began deciphering the texts painted on an array of paintings depicting the Annunciation, which included Leonardo da Vinci‘s famous masterpiece.

Leonardo da Vinci's depiction of The Annunciation

When the group decided they wanted to hurry along to see as much as possible in other areas of the city, I opted to stay in the museum and take in as much I could. I must have sat in front of Botticelli‘s Birth of Venus for nearly an hour before I continued on. This wasn’t necessarily because I was so in awe of the beautiful painting. Although arresting and captivating in person, I sat and listened to about seven different tour guides give varied stories about the painting. One pointed out that while Venus is in a classic contrapposto stance, the weight she held on her left foot would cause her to tip over along with the shell she travelled on. I found this observation, while true, to be humorous. Here are all these people speaking so seriously about how this anatomically incorrect woman is about to fall over, yet, she was just born out of sea foam created by the castrated testicle of the mythical deity Zephyr after it splashed into the ocean. I mean, maybe superior balance was just one of Venus’s many supernatural talents.

Another guide pointed out that in classical antiquity, the sea shell represented a vulva, while the next guide pointed out that it was very likely that Sandro Boticelli’s students aided in the creation of the Birth of Venus, suggesting we check out the poorly painted waves. For an hour, my eyes were drawn to every imperfection these docents, teachers and tour guides pointed out. From the “poorly positioned flowers” to yet another comment on Venus’s elongated neck and torso, I still couldn’t deny the majesty and beauty of this work of art. Not that any single person suggested that I or the other museum guests do so, but you would think that after someone pointed out dozens of flaws on something or someone you were previously interested in, you would change your mind. I finally pulled myself away from the disproportionate goddess and the vulval vestibule from which she came and continued through the Uffizi Gallery.

After four hours of perusing and studying some of the world’s greatest treasures, I realized that sometimes true beauty lies in the imperfections- in the blatant and obvious flaws that we are stricken with. I felt enlightened and energized as I walked down toward the Piazza della Repubblica where I found my friends Danielle and Aubre riding the carousel, both with gelato in hand.

“Where have you been?” yelled Aubre with a chuckle, “we’ve been looking for you!”

Grace Note: Eric Bowden

Tenor Eric Bowden

In just a few weeks, Tenor Eric Bowden will be joining Syracuse Opera to cover Alfredo in La Traviata before heading to Sarasota Opera‘s Young Artist Program.  I stepped out of my Upper West Side apartment last week to find the vagabond singer waiting for me in his Mustang Convertible. “Hey!” shouted Eric moving aside several fishing rods “… let me make some room for you.”

We drove down the West Side Highway with the top down, and I couldn’t help but notice the immediate feeling of elation that comes  along with riding in a convertible. “Can you imagine what its like driving in this thing from from Des Moines!?” It wasn’t difficult to picture at all. Mr. Bowden is the kind of guy who, while possessing a passion for performance, enjoys all sorts of recreational activities. Whether its fishing, beer pong ,or driving by himself across the country, nothing strikes him as boring. “Its wonderful,” says Eric when asked about the long, lonely drive from Des Moines Metro Opera.

Eric excitedly states that we are going to his favorite place to eat in all of New York, Joe’s Shanghai in Chinatown. After sipping some bubble tea from a neighboring establishment, we made our in as our number was called. “This was actually the first place I brought Lindsay,” says Eric referring to his girlfriend, the beautiful and gifted lyric coloratura, Lindsay Russell. “She hated it at first!” laughed Eric. I wasn’t sure why until I realized the famous Chinese eatery came complete with dumplings and community style seating. “… but we were seated with these two couples; one from France, the other from Germany, and after a few minutes, she loved the place too!” Interested to see just what Eric loved about the place, I let him order for me “you HAVE to try the soup dumplings!”

When talking about the difficulties of being away from loved ones, especially Lindsay, he admits the distance is rough, but has nothing but wonderful, and ultimately supportive things to say about Miss Russell’s blooming career. I look across our community table and realize we weren’t as lucky with our table partners.

When the food comes, Eric enthusiastically shows me how to properly consume my soup dumplings; a task that took me an embarrassing two tries to master. “There you go!” said Eric. And when we got to discussing favorite roles, “Laurie, in Little Women!” said Eric without hesitation, all the while delicately handling his chopsticks. After singing and covering Ferrando and Count Almaviva, I was interested to hear his reasoning.  “It’s my favorite for two reasons; One,  I love the opera… it’s such a great role to sing. Two, I was originally the cover for the opera’s run with Pensacola Opera, but I got to go on at the last minute and they ended up keeping me in the role. That was just such a great and meaningful experience.”

as Laurie in Mark Adamo's brilliant musical adaptation of "Little Women"

When we finished, we walked around the neighborhood for a while “this is my favorite area in the city. It’s just so…” he trails off for a second when we spot a mini FIAT in front of a Häagen-Dazs “great.”

High Flying Tenor... onstage and off!

Mr. Bowden will be singing excerpts from La Traviata (Alfredo) as well as selections from other well known favorites in Syracuse Opera’s tour “9 Operas in 90 Minutes” September 21st through October 1st at various locations upstate. For more information, or to buy tickets, please CLICK HERE!

jacoboheme and Conspire To Inspire

The original definition of philanthropy was simple; “The love of humanity”. Plato himself believed that without philanthropia, or this love of humanity, one could not reach the fullest development of mind, body and spirit.With that said, I’d like to shift your attention to modern day NYC.

A few weeks ago, I was asked to co-host Conspire To Inspire’s next networking event taking place this coming Saturday, July 16, 2011  from 6-9pm at the White Rabbit. So what exactly does philanthropy have to do with a party on Houston Street? Well… everything!

Conspire To Inspire is a monthly networking event and umbrella organization dedicated to bringing together the best of the entertainment, fashion, music, art, technology and non-profit sectors. Each month, the organization chooses a different charity to benefit ,all while bringing together some of the most creative people in New York City.

This month’s event will be benefiting Engadi Ministries, an organization dedicated to end the cycle of death and violence in Guatemala City where, by the age of 13, the average male has already joined a gang. This organization has already changed numerous lives and can continue doing so with the help of people like you coming to events like this.

Did I mention the event is also a wonderful networking opportunity? That’s right, not only will you be benefitting this wonderful cause, but you’ll also meet other talented and creative people who may just be your future collaborators.

In addition to fantastic drink specials and FREE ENTRY, Conspire To Inspire will also be raffling away some great prizes you’ll definitely love! With just four days to go, I hope you now have new weekend plans where you too can conspire to inspire.

If you would like to learn more about the organization, please visit conspiretoinspire.org. Also, don’t forget to RSVP on Conspire To Inspire’s Facebook event page by clicking here. 

Fight Like The Gladiator

Diana Warner's "Fight Like the Gladiator" t-shirt

About three weeks ago I purchased my “Fight Like the Gladiator” t-shirt from Diana Warner‘s website and immediately started wearing my new favorite piece of clothing out and about. Not only is the t-shirt stylish and comfortable, it boasts a conversation starting print, and for good reason.

Miss Warner created the t-shirt in honor of her brother Rob’s battle with cancer. The proceeds from every shirt purchased go to The Gladiator’s LIGHT THE NIGHT Team which raises money for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. What a great idea! $20 for an amazing piece of clothing that also encourages others who are fighting this awful disease. So I encourage you to CLICK HERE and order your own “Fight Like the Gladiator” T-shirt . I also encourage you to learn more about ways that you can volunteer or join a Light The Night Team near you by visiting their website at www.lightthenight.org.

Of Memory and Time: A Must See Exhibit

Richard Bosman "Pollack's Door"; photo courtesy of Hendershot Gallery

“Oh, I said Delancey and Chrystie” I told the cabbie as we pulled to a stop.

“Well this is Delancey” he huffed.

“Yeah, and we’re almost at the bridge.” I wasn’t in the mood for this. I had just spent over thirty minutes coming from the Upper West Side of Manhattan sitting in the back of a cab that smelt like the taco cart outside the Time & Life Building while it rained ferociously. “Fine!” I couldn’t stand the thought of another minute in the cab, so I paid my fair and walked in the mist to the Hendershot Gallery.

“There you are” said Vanessa. My dear friend had been at the gallery for over an hour before I finally made it. “You’re going to love this!” Vanessa grabbed my arm and quickly led me inside to the nearest glass of pinot grigio.

The exhibit, “Of Memory and Time” was nothing like I expected. Knowing James Hendershot’s passion for creating a total experience rather than just a collection of still lifes and random inanimate objects recycled as art, I knew I was in for a treat, what I experienced, was transformative. James Hendershot teamed up with composer Christopher Lancaster to create such total experiences for the works shown by David Pappaceno, Marie Vic, Carlo Van de Roer and Richard Bosman. 

Vanessa first led me to Richard Bosman’s three paintings; Magritte‘s Door, Duchamp‘s Door and Pollack’s Door. To the right of the paintings were headphones playing Mr. Lancaster’s music. As I stared at the three doors respectively, the added element of music began to paint an added layer to the story. I felt melancholic for a time that existed long before I was even born. I felt as if I had abandoned a part of myself along the road of life and was not permitted to return. While I love art and consider myself to be at least somewhat educated on the topic, I had never felt this way before. I was almost disturbed by the emotion.

Next we viewed Julie Tremblay’s mobile of hanging wax sculptures. These figures, all cast from the same mold, inexplicably breathed a different life. I couldn’t help but notice one such figure in the middle of the hanging mobile who seemed to swim like a mermaid being birthed out of coral.

Another favorite of mine from the exhibit was David Pappaceno’s “Skandinavisk Psysisk Terrang”. With a plain, bright yellow background and an effective use of mixed media, this piece, also paired with Mr. Lancaster’s music inspired energetic moods that both excite and confuse, but welcomely so.

Next, we went downstairs and viewed a distorted video on three walls by Nick Hooker. The video was a reworking of Grace JonesCorporate Cannibal“. For some reason, Vanessa and I just couldn’t leave this piece. We sat for a good thirty minutes staring in wonder and allowing ourselves to experience this weird and wonderful piece of art.

Also represented at the exhibit were Erik Olofsen with an amazing video installation, Carlo Van de Roer, Marie Vic, Arman, Christopher Astley, Matthew Brandt and Christopher Brooks.

The exhibit “Of Memory and Time” can be viewed at the Hendershot Gallery at 195 Chrystie Street until August 18.

Grace Note: Suzanne Vinnik

Julie DeMarre Photography

Soprano Suzanne Vinnik has an affinity for high notes and high fashion. I met up with the opera singer to discuss life, love and opera after leaving Las Vegas.

Jacob Paul: It seems to me that you really identify with Violetta, both onstage and off.

Suzanne Vinnik: I think she’s one of the best characters in opera because she’s so different in every part of the story. At first she seems to be heartless, but its only because she doesn’t think she deserves love. Alfredo convinces her and she gives up everything, breaking your heart with hers. I think anyone with a soul can identify with her. 

JP: You get the chance to cover the role this season at Pittsburgh Opera. Are you excited?

SV: Oh yeah, I’m really excited about it. I never thought I would be 24 years old singing Violetta! I never really thought I had the talent to sing her. I mean…Violetta has always been one of my dream roles and it’s an honor that I get to try it out something that seems to be getting me a lot of attention.

JP: And audiences seem to agree that you really portray the character well, at least in the bits we’ve been able to see through competitions…

SV: Yeah, I mean I didn’t really bring Violetta into the mix until this past winter when I entered the Liederkranz Competition. I called my coach Ben Malensek an hour before I was supposed to be there for an emergency coaching.  I never coached it or even brought it to a lesson before I sang it that day! I just would sing through it with my friend for fun! I was lucky to get that last minute coaching and sort everything out. I won a prize the first time I ever sang the “E strano….Sempre Libera” in public… with Catherine Malfitano sitting across from me judging!!!!  My risk paid off…

JP: Literally!

SV: Haha Literally!

JP: Well that’s something you don’t hear every day. You brought the piece to the Palm Beach Opera Competition and you obviously won over the audience with your performance, but I’d like to add that you did so wearing a wonderful gown by Betsey Johnson, and I just wanted to applaud you on that choice.

Suzanne wears Betsey Johnson at Palm Beach

photo courtesy of Palm Beach Opera

SV: Thank you. We’ll thank Betsey.

JP: It’s obvious that while you love opera, you also have a passion for fashion.

SV: Yes! 

JP: Besides Betsey Johnson, what do you look for when it comes to unique style options?

SV: Well, I wish my little wallet and Betsey Johnson could always agree, but that isn’t the case! I just like anything that’s bright, kind of loud and announces “Hello, I’m here!” It has to be flattering in the right spots! A little cleavage, but not too much… You know, I’m risk taker. (Suzanne is currently sitting next to me on a park bench wearing bright pink shorts, a black t-shirt and pink animal print sunglasses).

JP: You’re heading to Castleton this summer to sing Musetta under the baton of Lorin Maazel. How did it come to be that Musetta became such a standard part of your repertoire?

SV: Well, I started working on the role when I was in Rome with Renata Scotto in the Opera Studio at Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia. The day before the concert she told me I’d be performing most of the second act! I thought to myself: “I’m just some moron from Las Vegas with some of the best young singers in the world… WHAT AM I DOING HERE!?”

JP: What was that experience like for you- working with Renata Scotto?

SV: It was… great! It was definitely the best thing that had ever happened to me. I mean, she heard me sing and pretty much told me that I was terrible “tu sei orribile”  after I sang the aria from Lucia. I worked very hard while I was there. Her husband Lorenzo really took a strong liking to me. We worked seven days a week for twenty minutes just on technique. Renata really challenged me and made me try so many new things!

JP: Where did she hear you sing?

SV: Well, I heard about her program through a coach who I don’t actually work with. She suggested that I work with her so, although this person didn’t provide a formal introduction or anything, I thought about what she said and realized hey, Renata Scotto was the first opera singer that I started listening to when I was younger. I mean when I was eight years old I would watch this silly old VHS of La Boheme all the time and fast forward to and rewind all the parts with her in it because, as an eight year old girl, all I wanted was to be that crazy girl in the red dress! I wanted to be Renata! So, after the seed was planted in my mind to work with her, I asked everyone I knew about how to get in touch with her. I had this strange… grand notion that I was just going to call her up and say “Hello, I want to work with you” and that would be it. In New York, generally all you have to do is send an e-mail or make a phone call and people will work with you.

JP: Is that how this came to be?

SV: Oh, I sent her one of the craziest e-mails depicting my fan history of her since I was a child. I even referenced a scene of her singing “Sola perduta abbandonata.” She finally responded to me about a month later and I eventually got to sing for her!

JP: That’s amazing! I guess all roads, and phone calls lead to Rome?

SV: Literally!

JP: You did Renata’s program in Rome twice.

SV: Yes I did.

JP: It must be expensive as a young singer just to afford the training you need to get yourself to the next point in your career.

SV: Yes, nothing in life is free. Whoever said, “The best things in life are free” lied!

JP: You’ll be representing the USA at the end of the summer at the Queen Sonja International Music Competition in Oslo, Norway. Are you looking forward to the competition?

SV: I’m really looking forward to the experience because I’ve always had this fascination with Norway and the songs of Edvard Grieg. I wrote this crazy paper on him in my undergrad for which I did a lecture/ recital on, so I’m really excited to sing in Norway.

JP: Do you have any idea of what you’ll be offering once you get to Oslo?

SV: Well, I have to offer eight arias and four art songs so, it’s definitely a lot of preparation. I am adding to my list the Bolero from I Vespri Siciliani and like “Sempre Libera”, I figured… why not?

JP: So you’d say that you’re a risk taker in your repertoire selections in addition to your fashion choices?

SV: I’m from Vegas!

JP: So life is a risk for you?

SV: I look at it this way. You have to go big or go home.

JP: Good point, well you are definitely going big.

SV: I hope so.

JP: You were an Encouragement Winner this year at the 40th Annual George London Foundation Awards, walking away with the Leonie Rysanek Award. What those in attendance did not know, was that your dress actually ripped in the back while you were singing Manon’s aria “Adieu notre petite table”. How did you handle that situation so well?

SV: I was just hoping that it wasn’t going to fall off because I didn’t want to be known as the singer who exposed her tatas to an audience that included Patrick Summers, Marcello Giordani and pretty much every important person that could be in the same room. It would have been humiliating!

JP: Do you have any tips for anyone else out there who might have something similar happen during a performance?

SV: Well, you can’t just stop and say “Hang on, I gotta zip my dress up!” With me I just had to focus and manage. I realized that I couldn’t take big breathes, so I had focus on taking dramatic breathes that would get me through, even if it meant that I couldn’t sing with the dynamics I wanted. I didn’t want to expose myself in that way. So, I just did what I always try to do and sing my best, focus on the character and not let me dress fall off!

JP: So every performance is unique…

SV: They all have their variables!

JP: You’ll be leaving New York City in late September to join Pittsburgh Opera’s Resident Artist Program. Are you sad about leaving The City?

SV: I have mixed feelings about it. I mean, I love New York and I love the life I’ve established here. I have my close group of friends, and I’ll definitely miss seeing my coach because I feel, in a way, that he’s the little mastermind of everything that I’ve done thus far. But I am looking forward to paying such a small amount for rent, and actually working!

JP: What are your favorite things about New York?

SV: I just love that I can really do anything here! I mean I can go to the opera, random performances, shop, and go on silly websites to have food delivered to me at all hours of the night. The thing about New York is, while it’s a rough life, it really is rewarding. I love that I can just walk down the street, sit in Riverside Park and study my opera scores, and for what I want to do, New York really is the center of the universe.

JP: We’ve already talked quite a bit about Violetta and Musetta; can you tell me what other roles you’re looking forward to or perhaps would like to sing in the future?

SV: Well I would really like to sing Mimi. I feel like I can identify with her character more, even though the outside world looks at me and is like “Musetta!” I would actually like to die for once in that opera. I’d also like to sing both Massenet and Puccini’s Manon! Like Violetta, she’s another girl who loses it all for love. I guess I’m just a sappy romantic. I’d definitely like to try to sing some of the Donizetti heroines; Lucia, Anna Bolena, Elisabetta from Roberto Devereux, Maria Stuarda; all the three queens really. Someday.

JP: You call yourself a sappy romantic. Is that just within your musical life? 

SV: No. Its everything.  With singing, we always have to be in control of our emotions, making different colors to make the audience feel something, so I feel like my opera side definitely comes out in my real life. Everything has to be great! It can’t be boring. With me, my boyfriend is in Germany… there’s always something difficult about it.

JP: How does a sappy romantic like you who portrays larger than life people on stage who fall in and out of love, who die and live for love, deal with love in the real world along with the distance and the realities that come along with a career that is now in your case taking shape?

SV: It’s definitely hard no matter where you live. With singing, I’m always living out of my suitcase, getting ready for this, doing that. When it comes down to it: sometimes you have to be selfish! It’s up to you to find people who make you feel grounded, who make you feel good and that you want to keep surrounding yourself with because it is such a difficult life.

JP: It seems sometimes that there is always someone ready to pounce when a vulnerable moment is spotted.

SV: Definitely. Everybody always wants something from an artist! You can’t just sing! After a while you have to tune it all out and concentrate on what makes you happy. Hopefully it’s the music and the people you surround yourself with. 

JP: The 2010/2011 season has provided a lot of new opportunities for you. It definitely seems to be a year of growth for you. Can you tell me what inspired all this?

SV: You picture your life one way, and something happens where it doesn’t quite go as you planned. With me, I got back to New York and thought, “Ok, what am I going to do with my life?” Everything that I had known literally blew up in my face, so I really focused on learning how to sing. I had a great voice teacher, a great coach, I worked with Renata Scotto and her husband who both just helped me so much. When I came back, I started entering competitions, and really decided to do this. I began to really apply myself and believe that it was “MY YEAR” and something great was going to happen. I knew that it was going to erase any and all of the bad that occurred before. Luckily, the first competition I entered (Opera Index Inc.), I won a prize and after that everything started falling into place!

JP: I have to point out that you’re definitely a studious person. You don’t just sit around doing nothing. If you have free time, you’re studying.

SV: Oh always!

JP: You attribute that desire, that need to learn to what?

SV:Well, I figure that there is just all this opera out there being performed that isn’t great, with people who sadly don’t have a lot to say! I feel that I have a unique opportunity because I’m at an age that hopefully I can bring something different to this art form. I just want to bring it back to the old school. There aren’t divas anymore!!! Just pretty people with music videos and there is just so much more than that. Opera is the greatest art form in the world and when you have people like Renata Scotto, Magda Olivero, Virginia Zeani who have come before you, it’s like “That’s what I want to be like!” I want people, long after I’m gone to say “Look what she did”, like Maria Callas. I mean, you pick up a fuzzy recording that you can barely hear the singing in of her, and, its wonderful! I want to touch people with my art, and the only way to do that is to study: to study the languages, the style, to listen to as many different recordings as possible to just try and understand the different styles from different eras. With La Traviata, I started working on the role and then read the book (referencing Alexadre Dumas fils’ La dame aux camelias) and when I finished, for over two hours I couldn’t stop crying. I thought it was even better than the opera! Then I watched the movie and even the silent film. There are so many adaptations of this story I mean, its incredible.

JP: I mention your studious nature not even to shed light on how you deal with the work you’re given, but it seems that you take upon yourself the opportunity to learn roles just because. It may not be a role or an aria that you have to learn for a company or a competition, it’s just because you want to learn. 

SV: I feel like there are roles that I picked up that I definitely couldn’t sing, they were either too high or something just didn’t fit. I will say that by singing and practicing Bellini, I learned how to sing legato, by singing Donizetti, I learned what Verdi learned from him to put in his music. It goes all the way to Puccini. You realize that everything is a stepping stone to the next. With La Traviata, hopefully that’s something I’ll be singing for the rest of my life…so it might as well be perfect.

Julie DeMarre Photography

This season Ms. Vinnik won 1st prize in the Verismo Opera Competition, 2nd Prize from Gerda Lisser Foundation, 3rd Prize at the Opera Index Competition, Audience Favorite and 4th Prize in the Palm Beach Opera Competition, an Encouragement Award from the George London Foundation and grants from The Liederkranz Foundation, The Licia Albanese-Puccini Foundation and The Giulio Gari Foundation. She was a Semi-Finalist in the 2011 Zachary Awards, Dallas Opera Guild Awards and the upcoming San Antonio Opera Competition. She has been selected to represent the USA in the 2011 Queen Sonja Competition in Oslo, Norway. Ms. Vinnik is also a 2011 Deimar Award Winner through The New York Foundation for the Arts. During the summer of 2009 she was a finalist in the Giulio Gari Foundation Competition and semi-finalist representing the USA at the Competizione dell’Opera International Singing Competition in Germany. She is a recipient of a Walsh Performing Arts Grant, the Nevada Arts Council Professional Development Grant, The Tove Allen Opera Legacy Scholarship through the NV Community Foudation/NV Opera Theatre and was awarded a Mannes Merit Scholarship.

Read my Urban Palate interview with photographer Julie DeMarre to discover how the above photograph of Suzanne Vinnik literally launched her own career!

The F Word, The Mormon Pedophile and Me… A Pre-Coming Out Story



When I was 17, I went on a weeklong trip to Santa Fe with a community service group I belonged to to work as a paid page for the New Mexico Legislature. There were about thirty of us who attended the trip with one chaperone. We’ll call that chaperone Mr. M.

Mr. M was one of the most popular teachers at my high school, his classes were very difficult to get in to, and though he was in charge of some of the more academically monotonous extra-curricular organizations, everyone seemed to join them just to be near him. Besides the clubs and organizations, I had taken two courses with Mr. M, including an intensive summer preparatory course between my Freshman and Sophomore years. Over the development of my high school career, I began to see Mr. M as a father figure to me at the school. He was someone I could talk to about troubles at home (now they truly seem silly), school, and my hopes for the future. Everyone loved Mr. M.

Our first night on the trip, after we checked into our condos at Fort Marcy in Santa Fe, Mr. M announced that he needed someone to go with him to the grocery store to pick up some food. Our three condos were equipped with state of the art kitchens and spacious dining rooms where we could all share evening and morning meals.

“I’ll go” I volunteered. “It’s my night my night to cook.”

“Very well” said Mr. M “Anyone else?”

None of the other students spoke up or raised their hands to go. This didn’t upset me as my classmates were all clearly engaged in board and card games. As I went up the stairs to grab my jacket I heard a voice say “I can’t believe you have to share a bed with that faggot Marcos; your’e gonna get ass-raped!”

Even though I wasn’t out yet, I had been made fun of for my sexuality for most of my public school career. Visibly flamboyant from a young age, I was likened to a girl starting around kindergarden, and would eventually be excluded from playing playground sports like basketball or soccer, based on the fact that I clearly wasn’t one of the guys. Another problem was, when I would try and play games like jump rope or tag with my female friends, I was met with “no boys allowed!”

Anyways, back to high school; there wasn’t a day I went to school that I wasn’t called “faggot, cock sucker” or “homo” I was even met with taunting jokes when I walked down the hallway like  “silly faggot, dicks are for chicks.” The worst occurred IN the classroom. My Algebra II teacher’s son, Garrett Hall was a year ahead of me, and since I was enrolled in AP science courses, I often had course time with upper classmates. When our AP Anatomy teacher would leave the room, he would often announce if he would be a while, giving us a timeline to finish our work by. Garrett would then go up to the board and write “Jacob likes little boys” or “Jacob is a HOMOsapien” at which the entire class would usually laugh hysterically. I was often left with the task of walking in front of everyone to erase the words. Many of the students on the trip were from those classes and had at one point or another all laughed at me.

“Ready? asked Mr. M.

“yeah let’s go” I replied as we left for the supermarket.

“Are you ok? asked Mr. M.

“Yeah, I’m fine, why do you ask?”

“No reason, just that I know you could hear what the others were saying about you, and it can’t be easy.”

“It’s fine, really. I mean, it’s not fine, but I’m used to it.”

We turned into the DeVargas Shopping Center in northern Santa Fe and proceeded to go inside the Albertsons. As we walked through the store picking out produce for the week, we passed a tall glass case of condoms.

“Do you need any of these?” asked Mr. M?

“What!? Um… no I’m not sexually active Mr. M, no”

“Well I just thought that you and Marcos…”

“Oh, no, I’m not, I mean, Marcos isn’t, umm… you know.”

“Oh, sure” replied Mr. M “I’m sorry for suggesting, I just thought that you were, you know… gay”

Uncomfortable with the situation, I changed the subject immediately to dinner. As we walked for the door, Mr. M put his hand on my shoulder “you know you can talk to me about this Jacob.” I didn’t reply to him.

“I’ve dealt with homosexuality in my family before, I won’t judge you.”

“I know you won’t” I replied, “I just haven’t told anyone. My family, we’re very Catholic and, I just don’t know if this is what I want for my life you know; I had always envisioned a family, a wife and kids…”

“Who says you can’t still have all that?”

“Well, I can’t…”

“Let me talk to you about something” said Mr. M. We we were now in the school SUV in the DeVargas parking lot. “I went through the same thing you’re going through right now.”

“What!?” I was shocked, Mr. M was a complete family man; he had a wife, three kids and held a priesthood in the Mormon Church. I had never viewed him as anything but a teacher, family man and, well… Mormon.

“Believe me, when I was in college, I was a flaming homosexual… boy did I love cock.”


“Really” continued Mr. M “I loved taking a huge cock; cut, uncut, it didn’t matter.”

“So what you’re telling me is… you’re gay?” I was so confused, uncomfortable and by now all I wanted to do was get back to the condos, eat and go to bed.

“Well I’m not gay anymore. You know I have a wife and children.”

“Well, yeah, but” my mind was filled with confusion and anxiety. Was Mr. M gay? What was he trying to tell me? Or suggest for that matter!?

“I was really, really lost Jacob” continued Mr. M. “ and then I found God, I found religion, and that’s how I overcame this.”

“So now you’re straight?”

“I’m a man of God, and I’m telling you that there is nothing more sacred than making love to a woman. To have the ability to be one with God in that moment, to, like God create life.”

“Was that difficult? To change…?”

“At first, but I’m telling you Jacob, this path you’re on, it’s a dangerous one, and if you want to change, you need make some changes.”

“What do you mean?”

“I bet you think of men when you touch yourself. Its ok, I still do sometimes, but if you want that first time with a woman to be truly holy, to be a Godly experience, you need to stop touching yourself. Its like a demon inside you, this sexuality, and you need to starve it.”

By now I was really uncomfortable, Mr. M had started revealing to me that it was difficult to concentrate on his wife during sex, that he sometimes pictured young, high school aged boys when penetrating her. The worst of all? He cheated on her.

“I would never cheat on my wife with another woman” he said “that’s sacred.”

“And you don’t feel bad about it?” I asked

“No. I know that I’m experiencing something holy when I’m with my wife that can’t be reproduced with a man.”

Furthermore, Mr. M revealed many of his sex partners to be students, and that he had engaged in such activity since he was only a substitute teacher. He kept revealing his secrets to me in that dark parking lot.

“Are you hard?” asked Mr. M.

“Umm… no”

“I just thought all this talk might make you, you know… because I am.”

“I think we should get back to the condos” I suggested “its getting late, and I’m sure everyone’s hungry.”

When we finally got back, the students all verbally complained that they had been waiting and were practically starving. Mr. M suggested that it was my fault since it was my turn to cook that evening and my ingredients were varied.

After dinner, I was checking my e-mail on the downstairs computer when I felt Mr. M’s hand on my back. He began making small circles at the nape of my neck and continued downward. Though there were a dozen students in the room, it wasn’t wholly uncommon for Mr. M to give a massage to a student, in fact we all regularly expected it.

Later on that evening, Mr. M was playing a card game at the dining room table with my classmates JD and Jerry (the student who made the faggot comment) while I tried watching a television show in the adjacent room.

“…but wouldn’t you want to be like God when you die?” I heard Mr. M ask Jerry and JD, “to create new worlds, new universes, and to be the god of your own creation?”

JD and Jerry just mumbled stupidly and suggested a game of dominoes.

The next day, after an afternoon of conducting tours of the New Mexico Legislature to children, I found myself both physically and mentally exhausted. I didn’t know how to look at Mr. M without being utterly confused and upset.

“I put something in your suitcase” whispered Mr. M.

“What is it?

“Go and see…”

When I got to my room, I closed the door and opened my suitcase to find a Walgreens bag. Upon opening the bag, it’s contents fell to the floor. A box of Trojan latex condoms. I put the box back in the bag and walked across the hall to Mr. M’s room.

“We need to talk” I said.

“Yeah?” Mr. M’s eyes sparkled with excitement.

“I don’t need these; I won’t be needing these for a while. Please throw them out or give them to somebody else.”

“Are you sure?” insisted Mr. M.

“Positive” I replied.

“Why don’t you take a seat?”

I sat down on the edge of Mr. M’s bed with my head looking to the floor.

“I know things are probably scary for you right now, just know that I can always be here if you need.”

“Yeah, I got that.”

During that week in Santa Fe, Mr. M had revealed to me that not only had he been cheating on his wife with men, but with male high school students, that I was his type, and that no one had to know. He also walked in on my roommate Marcos and asked him about the size of his penis just before giving the box of condoms to Jerry. He suggested to Jerry that since he was such a “ladies man” that he would be needing them. Jerry used them alright… while masturbating to his father’s vast pornography collection.

When I had discussed events of the trip to my friend Elizabeth, she immediately made me talk to our guidance councilor. The guidance councilor then made me tell the principal who immediately made me tell my parents about the incident. Now, I never really told anyone the whole of the story, and the rest of it is still locked away in my memory. When I went back to visit my high school a couple of years later, I tried to tell my former principal Mrs. Pargas the complete, unabridged version of what happened on that trip. She stopped me mid-sentence and said “we’ve moved on Jacob, and it looks you have too. I would like to think  that Mr. M is beyond this and I really don’t think he would try such a thing again.”

As I drove away, I passed a ticker in the middle of town naming Mr. M as the district’s teacher of the year. Why wouldn’t he be? He’s so caring after all.


Mona Lisa Frown

Last spring I took an art history course at my school. The class was taught by a curator from the Metropolitan Museum of Art and claimed the class to be exciting and fun.  I was initially thrilled to take the course which focused on the development of art between the Renaissance and Romantic periods, since I had the privilege to see some of the paintings like Botticelli’s Birth of Venus in person a few years ago. The curator, while thoroughly educated on the subject matter was in her early eighties and presented the entire course by use of an overhead projector and slides, i.e. Julia Roberts in Mona Lisa Smile, all the while speaking with a severely affected diction attributed quite possibly to her wide range of ailments past and present. I slowly began to dread the three hour long class and would occasionally not return from our halftime restroom/ coffee break. This weekly experience led me to think about the many times I actually did enjoy art classes, tours, or even just staring at (or listening to) a work of art for long periods of time without ever having that dreaded anxiety of boredom creep its way in.

In the fall of 2008, when I attended orientation at the Manhattan School of Music, we were taken on a tour of The Cloisters. Run by the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the collection is an exquisite representation of medieval art of both secular and religious origin. The excursion, which had about fifty people in it, was split into two groups. The group I was in, was matched with a young graduate student from Columbia University to lead our tour, while the other group was handed over to an elderly volunteer. Throughout the afternoon, I was fascinated to find out just how naughty some of the artwork in the medieval times was. Our guide frequently lifted seats that were brought in from European monasteries to show us little gargoyles that were designed to look like they were biting the asses of their occupants. The enthusiastic Ivy Leaguer also showed us books of medieval pornography and other hilarious finds. When the tour finally ended, members from both groups convened to discuss our findings.

“That was so boring!” said one student “I can’t believe we spent our afternoon looking at a bunch of bibles” said another. My entire group was shocked to find that the other tour guide had merely led the others through the museum reading off vague information cards, while ours offered an exciting and at times disturbingly erotic experience.  I found it odd that half of our initial tour group was withheld information either because of the strict discretion of their guide or plain ignorance.

When we arrived at Leonardo da Vinci’s brilliant Madonna of the Rocks, in my art history course, I was really curious to discuss the differences between the Louvre and National Gallery versions. I was simply met with “that’s a little controversial for this course.” She obviously didn’t see Mona Lisa Smile.

Sunday in the park…

In earlier sketches of Georges Seurat‘s “A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte” , the man leaning against the tree just to the right of the central vanishing point was seen approaching the woman with the red parasol; as if to inquire about keeping her company. In the final painting, we see the woman accompanied by a young girl in white, and the man is alone.
Who’s to say that the child might actually be her sister, or that perhaps the once inquisitive bachelor was actually supposed to meet the young woman with the red parasol and change both their destinies forever?
What is it about a work of art that leaves us pondering our own existence?
Is it that we somehow feel insignificant when basking in the greatness of others?
Or is it rather that some paint the truth more blatantly than reality?
That nothing is truly what is seems.
Or possibly that some things are worth being admired from afar, and the second we involve ourselves beyond meek appreciation, we endanger our own emotions, and we are let down.
What seems like a perfect portrait, is nothing more than a million neurotic specks; brilliantly composed to give the admirer the illusion of fine detail, different than perceived. It will forever be the hope of the admirer to seek the beauty of individuality, of deceived perfection, and will always give him the desire to look closer than he needs.

You can view this masterpiece in person just like Ferris Bueller did at The Art Institute of Chicago located at 111 South Michigan Avenue, Chicago Illinois. Visit, enjoy, and be inspired!


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