Monday, July 12, 2010

The Agony of Victory

It’s all over now. Weeks of knowing exactly how to spend your evening: watchin’ the game, drinkin’ a beer .... Personally, even though the Bundesliga (German National League) season starts on August 20th, I probably won’t watch another soccer game until 2014. After last night’s World Cup Finals, I think I’ve seen about all the competition I can handle for a while.
My days of participating in singing competitions have long since passed, but I wish I would have been a soccer fan back in those days. I could have learned a little something about winning, and maybe this cutthroat, competitive opera business would be a little easier to handle.

Glory Days
Looking back at my University days, I can say I won this and that competition (or at least advanced to the next level), got this role and that role (or not), sang this solo here and that solo there (or not). No biggie.
So, when I was announced the winner of the regional Met competition, I stood up, took a bow and sat back down. Victory seemed such a given at that point (or not), that I had no idea what it meant, or how to really enjoy it. Second-place Girl leaned over and whispered in my ear, “Take another bow! This is what they’ve all been waiting for!”
Oh yeah, right. Cool. So I stood up and took another bow. And another, and another. 
I liked to win, but I had no idea how to be a winner. I mean, Second-place Girl had to tell me to take a bow, for crying out loud! Third-place Guy, she and I were invited to the local radio station to sing an aria and give an interview after the competition. The two of them were so witty on the air, and I sounded like I had just woken up from a nap, not like I had just competed against hundreds of singers from five United States and four Canadian provinces, and had a pocket full of cash and was headed to the Big Apple (sitting here writing this, I have to kick myself a few more times). Plus, I liked them both so much, I felt kind of guilty for being the one who had to win.
Es geht um die Wurst
After that level of the competition was over, it was now upon me to go to the finals in New York City. I shared an elevator once with Maestro James Levine, sat at the same breakfast table with Isabel Bayrakdarian and Alexandra Deshorties (winners who went on to do pretty cool things), met Deborah Voigt, saw two or three Metropolitan Opera  productions ... but I didn’t win. 
And this is perhaps where everything changed.
As much as I apparently did not appreciate winning, this losing stuff ... well, I didn’t like that one bit. For the first time, I think I was aware of what success was, how much responsibility it carried with it, and how much it sucked when you didn’t have it. This wasn’t just some rinky-dink singing contest, this was the Metropolitan Opera. Jetzt geht es um die Wurst (literally: now we’re going for the sausage, i.e. this was a big deal)!
Since then, “winning” and “losing” isn’t only about the sausage, it’s about bringing home the bacon. And even though we’re not talking about the Met anymore, rather mid-sized German opera houses, it sometimes feels like I’m up against the whole world of lyric coloraturas and those who love them.
No time for losers
I commiserated every time the television camera zoomed in on the losing team members during the World Cup. There’s nothing you can say to someone who was *this* close to winning, especially to the Dutch team, who lost the final game to Spain. Being the second best in the world is almost worse than being in third place, a much nobler half-defeat, half-victory that the German team ultimately enjoyed.
Now let’s take a look at the winners -- smiling larger than their own faces, hugging their teammates, running around the field waving to their fans after 90+ minutes of grueling sport. Do you think that they were, for one moment, thinking, “Aw, but I really feel sad for the other guys?” Not a chance. Not even the Uruguayans who beat Ghana by breaking the rules and using their hands showed a bit of remorse for winning. 
I’m sure there’s some deep-seated psychological reason for my unhealthy dose of humility and unwillingness to win. Hopefully, I’ve learned by watching the World Cup soccer matches what it takes to be a true winner: to own your success. Enjoy it. You earned it. You don’t need to pity your opponent because, if you haven’t already been in his shoes, you will be someday. Sooner or later. You win some, you lose some. Celebrate, grovel. Whatever it takes.


  1. donno what to say, you know how much I love opera and music in general, despite of being the most useless singer/instrument player in the world. I will tell you a secret, I would love, LOVE, to be able to sing, however; I consider myself very fortunate for being able to listen. To my eyes you are a winner, doing what you love and you do so beautifully. I am not an expert in life either, sometimes just "staying alive" is already complicated, but I do think life is made of contrasts and in order to fully appreciate winning you must sometimes lose, however that does not make you a loser, just someone who keeps trying to be recognised as number one. Rejoice for being so fortunate and treasure all those amazing experiences as winning ones, they are.
    Hey, it took Spain 80 years to win the world cup, that is why every winned match was so thoroughly celebrated and then, just keep hoping, as almost an act of faith. Who knows, it could be it is a one off, but as we say in Spanish: "¡Que nos quiten lo bailado!
    For not knowing what to say, I think I said quite a lot :)
    Have a great day!

  2. You are very much a winner! I just got this great idea of a movie character who keeps reassuring himself that he is special. Maybe I will call him Stuart.

    I am envious of your blog as I've spent this morning trying to set one up for my company. Where's the damn tutorial!?