As some of you may know by now, I was lucky enough to sing at the wedding of the year. When Alec Baldwin and Hilaria Thomas tied the knot at Old St. Patrick's Basilica on June 30th, I was honored to sing her down the aisle. How did this happen? Well oddly enough, it begins with the search for the best gluten-free pizza in NYC which led to a birthday party which led to what I call "bringing the guitar to the party" which led to a song which led to me singing Ave Maria as Ms. Thomas walked down the aisle. When you add all of that up, and with some help from social media (Twitter), I eventually found myself dancing with the stars at this year's biggest wedding.
So how did it all start? Earlier this year my girlfriend (the talented Sharin Apostolou) and I went looking for some of the best gluten-free pizza in the city and discovered Emporio in Nolita NYC. If you haven't discovered this great Italian restaurant yet, please do yourself a favor and discover it. We highly recommend the speck and mushroom pizza with truffle oil on gluten free crust... seriously amazing. Sharin had her birthday party there with a large group which led to another friend throwing a bash with 8 people back in April. This is where it all started.
Our birthday group was enjoying our meal when Alec and Hilaria entered the restaurant. Hilaria teaches at the Manhattan yoga studio Yoga Vida and Sharin has taken her classes. Sharin says "That's my yoga teacher! She has one of the best ab workouts in the city". All of us at the table are NY'ers, so a celebrity sighting at a great restaurant is not uncommon. After a little smile between us and acknowledgment of their arrival, we all go back to our meals. Now if any of you have had the pleasure of celebrating your birthday with 7 professional singers you know that the birthday song will be beautiful. When you put them in a public place and give them a chance to embarrass their birthday celebrant... I assure you it will be loud and filled with high notes. This is precisely what happened that evening at Emporio.
After we possibly disrupted everyone's meal with a rousing "happy birthday" song I looked to my left and noticed Mr. Baldwin applauding our group and wishing happy birthday to our birthday girl. Over his shoulder was the beautiful Hilaria Thomas waving me over and mouthing "sing to me". I look over to Sharin and say "I think she wants me to sing to her" Sharin, with a big smile, says "Then go sing!".
This brings up my comment of "bringing the guitar to the party". While I know that we performers and artists have a duty to spread art and beauty, I often try to respect our business, our product and its value. I'm reminded of situations where someone says (not asks) "sing something for me" and the artist says "oh, no... I could never... but maybe just this once" and then acquiesce with a full back-up band and choreography. Or that guy who literally brings a guitar to a party out of hope for attention. This was not such a situation. This was just plain ol' fun and perhaps like bringing the ukelele to the party. Plus, the pizza already had ham, what harm could come with a little more?
So I sing. With red wine in hand I serenade Hilaria with a verse of O Sole Mio and finish with a high note. My audience of two and a restaurant of 100 seemed to enjoy the song. I give her a quick peck on the cheek and tell her that my girlfriend put me up to it, turn to Alec and shake his hand and wish them the best of evenings. Mr. Baldwin was kind enough to buy our table a round of Campari in thanks. As we were finishing up our meal the couple stopped by our table to say thanks on their way out. I asked if it would be ok to speak of the evening on twitter and they were more than happy to be mentioned. So I did just that.
Little did I know this happened to be their engagement weekend! The next day I received a google alert that scours the web for mentions of my name (most performers have this by the way, it's a great way to find reviews and mentions that we might not otherwise find) and found that I had been mentioned in the NY Daily News with the news of their engagement.
As the months go by I noticed, via twitter, that Hilaria was making wedding plans so I sent a message offering to sing for their big day. I can't tell you how excited I was when I received a private message from the bride-to-be asking about availability a few weeks later. Lucky for me the date was wide open. I have to admit it was pretty cool when my girlfriend asked what I had been up to that morning, to which my response was "Oh you know, just having some coffee and texting with Alec Baldwin's fiancée...".
So it was decided and agreed that I would sing Ave Maria as she walked down the aisle on their June 30th wedding at Old St Patrick's Basilica in Nolita. I won't say much about the wedding itself because it was a very private affair shared by family and industry friends. I was so happy to be there. As we were all gearing up to leave, one of her friends or perhaps an assistant wanted to make sure that we were invited to the reception at an unknown location. Thrilled, we boarded one of the chartered busses outside and made our way to Kimmel Center at NYU.
Again, I won't share the intimate details of the reception out of respect for their privacy, but it was lovely and filled with great food, music and lots of dancing. Sharin and I even found ourselves dancing with Hilaria's grandparents later that evening. I couldn't have dreamed of a more memorable opportunity to share such a special day with two very kind and wonderful people. I wish them only the very best for many many years of wedded bliss and many more meals at Emporio.
Here are just a few quick picks from before the wedding and the party.
After selling out our first Die Fledermuas here at Memphis Opera, we have only 100+ seats left for our last performance.
To come back "home" to Memphis and find so much incredible love and caring, one can only become a happy artist. Ms. Worra and I have found ourselves in many operas over the years. From Merry Widow, Carmen, to Carnegie and once again back into Die Fledermuas. It's my pleasure to say that she sings the crap out of Rosalinda, and is the friend from the past that has observed my many transformations. Real people make real colleagues.
I will always remember Caroline walking down the center isle of the bus during the SFO Western Opera Theatre Die Fledermaus tour with a make-shift Card-earned Crown. Woe to thee that might find her with a deck or two of cards and the word NERTS on her tongue. You have been warned. She shared an isle with me for nearly 30+ performances of Die Fledermaus. I'm lucky to sing with her again. She will beat you at cards. She might let you win.
Some great reviews:
I know the audience will have a grand experience.
I've been invited back to one of my "hometown" cities. Opera Memphis has invited me back to what was once my home.
I lived in Memphis for quite a few years while globe-trotting as a singer and opening a successful yoga studio, and it's amazing to go through the town while seeing my old haunts and connecting with friends that have been, until this month, geographically unavailable. The experience of being back is reminiscent to rereading a favorite book that has been on the shelf for years.
When Michael Ching was running Opera Memphis, he was commissioned by the University of Missouri (MU) to write Corps of Discovery, a beautiful Opera/Theatre piece based on the journey of Lewis and Clark that traveled to the Kennedy Center, Monticello, Constitution Hall and Carnegie Hall's Weil Recital Hall. Through this, Michael and I created a friendship that continues to this day. Through that relationship, my first professional La Bohème was created in the beautiful Clark Opera Memphis Center here in Memphis, Tennessee . The years after included Memphis performances of Corps of Discovery, The Merry Widow and John Hoomes beautiful Rigoletto which we remounted at Nashville Opera in 2010.
So here I am, back in a town in which I've owned a home, cultivated a circle of friends, built a business from nothing and turned a page on my life. I've only been in town for a few days, but I find myself walking through the local Whole Foods, or driving down the street expecting to see an old friend or past yoga client. This city holds some fine old ghosts in my mind, and I can't wait to see them all again.Our Fledermaus group is top notch. Caroline Worra (Rosalinda) and I have known each other for many years. We were both students at MU years ago and lost touch until reunited by San Francisco Opera's Merola Program and their Western Opera Theatre North American tour. What show did we perform? Die Fledermaus. To make the reunion even more cathartic... our Memphis conductor is the amazing Steven Osgood who was our musical leader through the entire North American San Francisco Opera tour.
While I'm just getting to know the rest of the cast, I assure you that Ned Canty, Opera Memphis' new General Director, has assembled a fantastic cast and chorus that sound fantastic.
I'll keep you posted, but being kinda home is weird, wonderful and comforting. I can't wait to see what we create and I'll keep you posted on the BBQ adventures as I come back home.