A few years back I was singing Cherubino in a production of Nozze di Figaro at New York City Opera. The cast was wonderful, and I was particularly impressed with the Brazilian baritone singing the Count because he was a beautiful singer, a great actor, and just an incredibly nice guy. He was one of those kind, gentle people that you just want to be around because they have such a lovely energy. I remember thinking - WOW - this guy is so GOOD! Why isn't he more famous??
We became friends, and he also subsequently worked with my best friend Georgia several times in a row, and they also became good friends. Then one day when they were working together in New York, he told Georgia that he was doing an unusual audition; for a Broadway show! The audition was for Emile in a new production of South Pacific, and he figured it was a pretty big long shot, since he had never in his life been in a musical of any kind (unlike a lot of Americans who got their start singing by performing in school or community musicals). But Georgia and I both thought he would be perfect for the role, and low and behold, the casting people agreed with us. If you follow musical theater here in the U.S., then you know where this story is going; he was cast in his first broadway show, he did spectacularly well, and he went on to win, among other awards, the Tony award for outstanding lead actor in a musical.
Georgia and I went to his opening performance as his guests, and we were blown away by his abilities to transfer his operatic talents so seamlessly to a broadway stage. We also noticed Peter Gelb sitting in the same row as we were, and I leaned over to Georgia and whispered, "Paulo is TOTALLY getting a Met contract after this. Just watch!!!" And I was so right.
His name is Paulo Szot, and the reason that I'm telling you this story is that Georgia and I and some other friends had dinner with him last night, after having not seen him for quite a while. He's now starring in the production of The Nose at the Met - which has been his very successful Met debut - and since I had the opportunity to attend the dress rehearsal, I can agree with the reviews that said he was absolutely wonderful in the role. But the thing that's the most refreshing about him is that he is still the same exact calm, kind, warm person that he was when we performed Figaro together all those years ago, despite the fact that on his piano sits a Tony award and a photograph of him hugging Liza Minelli. He remarked to me, in his sweet Brazilian accent, "Who would have thought I would get to the Met from Broadway? But that's what happened!" and it honestly couldn't have happened to a better person. It's so gratifying to see people who deserve to have success because of talent both achieve that success, and wear it so well. And I can tell you that when Paulo was a struggling Brazilian opera singer, he never in a million years imagined that his introduction to the Metropolitan Opera would be through his singing "Some Enchanted Evening" and "This Nearly Was Mine."
So you really never know what path your life will take, how you might achieve your dreams, or even how big you can dare to dream. I'm sure he never imagined Liza Minella would be presenting him with an award along side Patty Lupone, but that's what happened. It's just nice to see good things happening to good people.