An Interview with David Agler by Sylvia L’Écuyer

David Agler first appeared at the Wexford festival in 1996 and took over as Artistic Director in 2005. Since my first visit to Wexford in 2008, I have returned every October to see him greet the audience before each performance at the entrance of the splendid National Opera House. Recently, on a beautiful July afternoon, I met with David Agler at his Vancouver home surrounded by his lovely garden. I had warned him: this conversation would be a walk down memory lane. He graciously agreed, and in his study he showed me the scores of the 110 operas he has conducted so far in his career. After he had pulled from the shelves a slim leather-bound score of Amahl and The Night Visitors dedicated to him by Gian Carlo Menotti, we began our conversation. 


DA: This was printed in ’76. I had spent January in Scotland re-doing the score for Menotti. I was working at Spoleto by then in Italy. I was part of the team that chose Charleston for the festival in the US and I went first to Spoleto as part of the Westminster Choir, which was the resident choir for the festival in those days. I went as the pianist and before I knew it, I was conducting and then I became the administrative director and for a while, I was the acting director of the festival. I was only 27 or something. I wasn’t really ready to do a job like that.

SL: The Westminster Choir, that was your first serious training as a musician?

DA: Yes, I'm a graduate of that school, training in church music, organ, choral music and, as a young person, singing works like Missa Solemnis and Mahler 8th under Bernstein, and Mahler 2nd under William Steinberg. I often played the piano for them when they came to Princeton to rehearse the choir. So that’s how I really came into the business. 

SL: How did opera come to be a major part of your work?

DA: It was all a mistake. I meant to be, like most people who come out of Westminster, either a music teacher in a public school or a professional church musician, but I went back to play for the choir.  The next year they were doing Berg’s Lulu, directed by Polanski. That same year, Jerry Robbins, ballet master of NY City Ballet, came to Westminster, as he was putting together a star gathering of young dancers from all over the world. I had to go play a ballet class. I had no idea what a ballet class was. They would say: “In 5, 4, ...” you know, and I’d have to improvise. So I learned from just being thrown into things. These were my formative years. 

Then the next year in Spoleto we were doing Manon Lescaut and the director was none other than Luchino Visconti. The conductor of the Westminster Choir did not have a working knowledge of foreign languages. I already knew Italian because I was interested in opera, so I taught our choir Manon Lescaut in Italian.  Then in 1973, Gian Carlo Menotti brought Tamu-Tamu, his anti-Vietnam-war opera, to Spoleto. John Mauceri was to conduct but he and John got into a terrible fight. Mauceri walked out and Gian Carlo said to me: “David, you must conduct my opera.’’ Three days later I did. I had never conducted an opera in my life. I sat at the piano with the woman who had played for the rehearsals and she taught me exactly how to conduct Tamu-Tamu. I think I was really lucky!

Now when I said that was my first opera, I had conducted Gilbert and Sullivan during my university years, and because of my choral background, I had already, as a young man, conducted the Christmas Oratorio and Messiah, the Great Mass in C minor of Mozart and the Requiem.  When conducting came my way, I always expected I would gravitate towards this kind of repertoire, which is all the stuff I love. But life had something else in store for me, it wasn’t church music, and I ended up spending my life in the theatre. 

SL: How did you learn your skills as a conductor? 

DA: When I was young, I was tall and lanky, very skinny, my arms were very long and I would say that I never knew what to do with my arms. So I took conducting lessons and from that experience I’ve come to the belief that it cannot be taught! You can get tips, you can observe, you can watch a man, a woman, conduct and say: no I won’t do it that way. I think in the end if you’re very clear in your mind and in your emotions and in your maturity, your hands will tell you what to do. 

Now there are certain things you have to show an orchestra and all of those things I learned from orchestra members. The best lessons I ever learned are from orchestra people. I remember the first clarinet of the San Francisco Orchestra playing a solo and when I tried to follow him he said “Don’t listen to me, David, conduct. I need you to lay down the beat.’’ Those are the kinds of lessons I learned. The concertmaster said: “David you can’t control the music, you can only guide it.’’ That was à propos of something like the Rite of Spring when it starts to roll and you try to keep your hands on it. No, once you lay it down, a good orchestra goes and you just stay the hell out of the way!

I have sometimes taught conducting but I teach it not as a mechanical skill; I rather try to get people to show me what they are thinking and feeling without using words. One of the things that orchestras really don’t like is too much talking. Orchestras want you to show them what you want, they like conductors that speak the least. You know that story about Toscanini who was asked what the Eroica Symphony meant to him. ‘’Allegro in 3,’’ that’s what he said. 

SL: Let’s talk about the singers. Wexford has two wonderful traditions: we come to discover forgotten works from the past, but we also come to hear the voices of the future. So many singers now active on the world’s greatest opera stages made a significant debut in Wexford, and many of them cast by you. How did you know a specific voice would be perfect for a role?

DA: You know one of the challenges of the artistic director, especially with operas that you don’t really know and you are resurrecting, is that you have to spend a lot of time analyzing what is the correct weight, the type of voice for these roles. I was looking for people that were up to the demands of these roles and my biggest challenge was always to avoid miscasting somebody for a role. They might be a wonderful singer, but this opera might not show them off well.

It’s important to know that you and I, when we hear a voice, we don’t actually hear the same sound. Are you aware of that? This is why some people like some voices and don’t like others. I learned so much from how other people chose singers, and how people coached singers because I used to play all the time for voice lessons. I learned about why a certain kind of voice is right for a certain kind of role, and then on top of that, I just grew in knowledge as I listened. 

Then there’s my personal taste, which derived from my education as a young singer. At Westminster, it was all about beauty of sound. That came before any other consideration: before pitch, before intonation, one had to make a beautiful sound. And for the longest time, as long as the sound was beautiful, I wasn’t too worried about the diction of the singers. So it is true that when I hear a singer, I listen for absolute evenness of tone up and down, an even vibrato, a sound that seems to be comfortable in the body it inhabits, a kind of easy emission of sound. I absolutely require singers to sing in tune, which is not often the case. As I've gotten older and become responsible for hiring and putting people in roles, I give much higher importance on what they have to say with their voice. Because I believe that more than the words in opera, more than the scenery, more than anything, singers act with the sheer sound of their voice. And it’s the sound of the voice that moves people. I don’t think opera audiences are always aware of what it is about opera that turns them on or attracts them. Yes, La bohème, how can you resist it? You cry at the end. But I think we are moved by the actual sound of the singers expressing what it is to be Mimì rather than the actual words if you know what I mean. Having said that, I like purity. Everything needs to be as clean as a whistle. But I appreciate that there are kinds of music in which you need singers that are obviously risking everything: new music, or verismo operas like those we did last year [Giordano’s Mala vita] [Leoni’s L’oracolo] when people just lay it out and sometimes it’s sharp and sometimes it’s flat but lord is it exciting!

I think singers get a bum rap: they’re told they’re not really great musicians, not good actors. I tell you now, they drive me to distraction and I think some of them are beyond silly but I understand why they are. When you think that before you are going to sing on the stage, you have to walk out there in a rehearsal where people are going to tell you: Too slow!  Too fast!  You’re sharp! You’re flat!’’  The director says: “Here! There! The other way! You’re supposed to feel this!’’ And while all this goes on, you’re supposed to be in control of your vocal technique, you have to sing from memory, often in foreign languages. I think the sheer concentration of bringing that to the stage is one of the phenomenal performances of human ability.

I always said that a great opera performance is like a fantastically sung and performed high mass. Ritual, music, costumes… I also believe that the best operas are those in which the director and the conductor actually collaborate together. And I know so many singers who complain bitterly about situations where there is a lack of collaboration. Talk to our colleague Judy Forst: you rehearse for two weeks with the pianist and the assistant conductor. The music, the rhythm, the ensemble develops between these people and then the conductor comes in. But he has not been involved with the intellectual discussions about how the staging will work.  I just think this is not art, nor is it collaborative. 

SL: Can you mention any voices that you heard for the first time and immediately invited the singer here?

DA: Oh yes, there are some people that I’ve just decided: “Yes, I’m going to give that role to them.’’ I just knew that Nora Sourouzian would be the one to sing the French double-bill Thérèse and La Navarraise

I remember hearing Angela Meade who had no career at all and her manager said ‘please’. She came to Wexford and sang Virginia for her operatic debut. I knew she could sing it.  I didn’t care about her size, you can see at Wexford I don’t care about that.

Helena Dix, if you remember, sang Cristina, regina di Svezia; if it had not been for her we would not have had an opera. I think about all these singers. Do you remember Igor Golovatenko, he was the baritone who came out of the airplane in Cristina, regina di Svezia? Magnificent baritone, then he came back for [Mariotte’s] Salomé and now he sings at the Met and Covent Garden. 

How about Bryan Hymel? He was known as a singer of bel canto, of Rossini, and he was just out of the Academy of Vocal Arts in Philadelphia, and I engaged him first for Rusalka of all things. And I tell you to this day, I can still remember the top C of his Prince aria. People severely criticized me for that but when he sang, I was very proud of Bryan and said ‘well done, Agler’. Then he came back and sang in the opening production of the new opera house, The Snow Maiden of Rimsky Korsakov. 

More recently, I hired Lise Davidsen: I heard her at the Belvedere Competition. I just made my way right to her and asked: Do you have a manager yet? 

And do you remember Gerard Schneider who sang in Risurrezione? People said: “His Italian isn’t good and he’s lazy, I don’t know whether he can act it or sing it,” but I just said that lad has something and he gave a beautiful performance. Rosetta [Cucchi] was directing. I said: “Rosetta, you are the director, you get him ready. That’s your job.’’ I believe a director's basic job is to direct these people that actually have to walk out on the stage and expose themselves in a way that you and I would never have the courage to do. 

I walked out on the stage once, of the San Francisco Opera, 25, 30, 40 years ago now, and it’s very deep when it’s empty, when there’s nothing on the stage. The theatre was closed, there was just the work light. I walked out and you know I used to conduct a lot in that opera pit. But standing there and looking out at those 3400 seats I thought: How does anybody have the courage to come out here and sing, not knowing if their voice is going to work? I tell all of my colleagues at Wexford that, you all need to understand, if it was not for the singers who come out here and perform for us, we wouldn’t be in business and don’t let anybody else tell you it’s about theatre and this, that and the other. It’s about singing. It’s a very old fashioned idea, I know, and it’s not very current. My successor [Rosetta Cucchi] just thinks I’m beyond old-fashioned. 

I will tell you an example of an opera where I made a miscalculation. We had a young woman—this is a very typical kind of story at Wexford—who was Irish, her name was Jennifer Davis. She started out in our chorus and then she sang in the short works. She was Norina in Don Pasquale, and then she stood out in Don Bucefalo a few years ago. The whole cast was wonderful, but the most musical moment of that opera was this young Jennifer Davis. When she went on to the young artists program at the Royal Opera House in London, I asked her if she would come back and sing here after she graduated in a real big debut role in Wexford. It was to be in Mercadante’s Il bravo in 2018. Meanwhile, she had been asked to cover Elsa in Tannhäuser at the Royal Opera House—just cover, in case something went wrong. The woman engaged for the role cancelled and Jennifer sang Elsa at Covent Garden. If you go back and look at the reviews, it was like a star was born. It was one of the really great events of London that year, operatically speaking. She was set to come and sing the Mercadante with us after that, but in the middle of the summer, she called me and said “David, I can’t sing this anymore. That experience of singing Wagner and how I had to sing, showed me what my voice really was.  But yes, I’ll come and I’ll do my very best.” She desperately wanted to come because of her history with Ireland—she’s Irish—and her history with the festival. And I said: “Jennifer I don’t want you to do anything but to sound fantastic. Because you know you’re on your way and you don’t want anybody to say, that was not right for her.”

SL: People mourn a golden era of singers. Is it true that we do not have great voices anymore? 

DA: The answer to that question is yes, and also it’s not true. The world’s full of marvellous singers. Every era goes through periods of producing marvellous singers but it changes. For instance, there was a period where you couldn’t find dramatic tenors, or there was a period when you couldn’t really do Rossini as we do today because the tenor has to sing all that music. And yet, they are being developed. Think about what people like Callas and Sutherland did for the bel canto repertoire that was considered dead and gone. It is true we don’t have a lot of really great dramatic voices right now. Why? Because we are training people to be very clean, correct, in tune, all the things I say I love. But even in Italy, where so many of those voices came from, they are not creating them either. 

SL: I heard something about relating it to… climate change?

DA: Well I’ll give you this little tidbit. You know the great English cathedral choirs and collegiate choirs, the choirs that sing so beautifully? For some reason, whether it’s climate change, or diet, or human evolution, boys' voices are breaking earlier. So they lose their voices earlier than they used to. And this has meant a lot for what goes on in these choirs because they are taking younger and younger boys. These boys don’t have the experience of even being boys, let alone young adults. So it’s a challenge for these choirs. What is it, too many cornflakes, or diets?

There was a time when the great singers of the so-called 'golden era' would sing a season at La Scala, then they’d get on a boat and come to NY. In the old days they’d go to San Francisco because the seasons were shorter, too. So they’d go to SF, take the train and sing the NY season, then they’d take a boat and go to Buenos Aires, and then they had their European engagements. After the war, of course, it was much more lucrative to sing in the US, thanks to the almighty American dollar, than it was to sing in Europe. There came a period, just as I was leaving the US to go to Australia, that it was getting more and more difficult for the big American theatres to get the very finest European singers because the dollar wasn’t so strong anymore—and importantly in the days of recordings, they didn’t have to come here to hustle their recordings. That was one of the reasons they came to America: so that people would buy their records. Their voices would get known and therefore people would buy their records because back in those days singers actually made money from records.

I do think the singing business is very different than it was when I started out. There are so many gifted young singers and there’s just not enough places for them to perform and I think that’s a great sadness. Singers today are probably better prepared musically and with better acting skills than the singers of the past. Before they get out of school, they know how to dance, play with their swords, how to deal with their dresses. They’re very very well educated but I think that comes with the cost of a certain individuality, a certain personality, a certain—if I could use the word—'Diva' approach. Somebody who is keenly aware that ‘I have something special’, or even if they don’t say that out loud, something in their soul tells them ‘I have something to say, I can’t do anything else other than this’. Singers today, it’s a bit of a business, you know, and they come perky and all ready to go. 

I’ve come from a tradition and I’m glad I’ve been able to keep it.  I learned this from my old boss in San Francisco, Kurt Herbert Adler, who really built that theatre up and I’ll tell you how I feel about this with a story. We were doing Gioconda. I was brand new there and it was Pavarotti’s first Gioconda with Scotto and she hated him. So she called my boss and said, I’m going to come one day late. In other words, she wanted to be one day later than the great man. And Mr Adler simply said to the agent, you tell Renata to be here at 10 on Monday morning or don’t bother to come. Now this was one of the great artists at the time but I learned from him there were no late arrivals, and if you were going to sing, you sang all the performances. Not the first 4 or 5. And I have kept that at Wexford. If you are going to come to Wexford, you are going to be at Wexford, because it’s not just that it’s also, as you know, the building of the community there. We are a kind of international Brigadoon for 8 weeks. All that travel weighs on people’s bodies and it has to, on some level, affect their performance. Maybe not on the night, and maybe the public won’t hear it, but their body will know it, and I wonder if it will affect the longevity of their careers. On the other hand, it hasn’t affected Domingo’s.

SL: Opera is a collaborative art and you started your education as an organist pianist, so you needed to work with other people. Could you imagine having a career as a soloist?

DA: No, I learned pretty early on that I could not lock myself in a practice room 8 hours a day. And I don’t have the ability to go into a town for 5 days, shake the hand of the conductor, sit down and play the concerto, shake the hand of the concertmaster, go back to the hotel room, and on to the next town. That wasn't my personality and it’s true of all aspects of my life. I would rather be in a community of people, whether in a monastery or in an opera house. That's what gives me the most pleasure: putting people together, seeing what happens, assisting them to be as good as they possibly can. I consider that actually my vocation, more than being a conductor, more than anything else. 

SL: I know many people who started as organists and became great administrators...what is there in being an organist that makes you become an organizer?

DA: The organ is a fascinating instrument. The technical ability you have to have. You’re dealing with this large thing which could be, depending on the size of it, almost two storeys above you … I recorded in Trinity Church Wall Street—which had two organs at the time—Scottish composer Iain Hamilton's Epitaph for this World, but you know when you do that stuff you really get into it. I remember thinking it was just the greatest thing ever. 

You just got something out of me that I don’t think I’ve ever realized but I think in the end was my calling. I think I have a certain ability to create a musical and artistic community. When I went to Australia I immediately set about bringing the orchestra into the opera house operation. I started the first young artist program at the Australian opera. I was organizing, using all the things I knew about music and my love of it, my love of singing and people. Music was the core but I brought some organizational ability. When I came here to Vancouver the chorus and the orchestra needed reshaping, and I beat them into the best shape possible at the time and then I went off to Wexford and did the same thing. 

I learned this from my old Austrian boss Adler: I plan everything to the extent possible in advance. I plan so that there is minimal chance of something going wrong, I try to anticipate every inevitability. But I have enough Italian in me that when it does go wrong, we can be spontaneous and flexible. 

SL: Where does that Italian come from?

DA: I actually think it was from hanging around so many years in Spoleto because I watched and I enjoyed how intractable and impossible they could be. The Italian nation has changed a lot since I first went to Italy. You know they would sit there and they would argue and I would sit there and I’d look at the clock and then something was decided and then like that (clap) it was done. It’s called the miracolo italiano. I was doing the Italian stage premiere of Candide, by Bernstein, the opera version in Italy at Reggio Emilia and we had lots of rehearsal time and we were getting to dress rehearsals and I just didn’t know what was going on and I was saying to the director: “Aren’t you concerned, it’s a mess,’’ and he said “David, you are so Anglo-Saxon, I’m a Latin, I need to see my complete mess.” He said “you watch, you watch,’’ and as the days went by and on the night it all worked out, but I tell you my stomach was churning because I said this is never going to be ready.

Rosetta’s like that. Now, she has been a good influence on me because she leaves everything to the last minute. She looks disorganized but, in an Italian way, she’s phenomenally organized. When things are just perking along nicely in week 2 and 3 at Wexford, she says: “I’m so bored, I wish something would happen, or somebody would break their leg or somebody cancel.”

SL: Is Wexford the ideal stage to make a successful role debut?

DA: Well maybe it’s my own situation as a musician and I, like many conductors, have had to do opera on the fly where you have a week or 10 days to throw it together. And if you’re a singer new to a role, can you imagine the pressure that puts you under? So to come to a house like Wexford where we have tried very hard to make a place which is conducive to them doing their very best and to give young singers, or people doing these roles for the very first time in their lives, the best musical coaching they can have, is ideal. I try to give them sympathetic conductors. You will notice that often the conductors are older because I assume they have some experience. I engage conductors that don’t go anywhere. They come there on the first day and they stay until the last day, working closely with the singers and the director so hopefully, it’s all cohesive. Whether you like it or don't like it, at least it’s been well thought out.

SL: This must create a fantastic bond with the singers…

DA: It does and it gives us pleasure. You think of people like David Pountney, the great director whose official bio still begins: “David Pountney began his professional life as a flyman at Wexford festival opera.” This was 50 years ago and you have people like Lee Blakeley who died in his 40s, really gifted, but when he came to us, he was a beginner. But there was something about him and in all of his obituaries, it said 'I owe my career to Wexford'. That could sound like bragging but I think there is something that I and my artistic predecessors have had this as. It’s almost something like when we walked into town, we had a visitation from above who put this gene in us that it was our job to guard and protect and to make opportunities for people. Conductor Vladimir Jurowski always said it was Wexford that gave him his first chance.

SL: Do you know singers who said the same thing?

DA: Sergei Leiferkus is a great example of somebody who began his career here. I don’t think he sang anywhere else before he came to Wexford. You have people like Mirella Freni, who came to Wexford as a 25-year-old to sing her very first I Puritani, and Juan Diego Flórez, he was a student of mine at the Curtis Institute. And such a brat he was. They like to say that Juan Diego Flórez arrived in Wexford with 25 cents in his pocket. And he sang in those short works, opera scenes, the great Flórez! Just like Ermonela Jaho who sang 3 years in a row here as a young woman. She still talks about the enormous pleasure and the influence it had on her life. One of my pleasures at this point in my life is to have telephone calls from singers saying, 'I’ve been offered this or that, what do you think?' And so, immodestly I might say to myself: maybe I do have an instinct, and in my retired state, I think that’s something I’ll do with great pleasure. 

SL: You also said two things are important for an opera house: to have an orchestra and a choir.

DA: Well I must sound very inconsistent in many ways. It is true, I believe the backbone of a great opera house is its chorus and its orchestra. All the rest of it comes and goes, but you know, this is the undergirding and I tell you there’s a difference between a great symphony orchestra and a great opera orchestra. The flexibility needed to play opera is quite astounding and those orchestras that would still play a lot of opera know it. Because you know the Berlin Philharmonic plays opera, the Vienna Philharmonic plays mostly in the opera house most nights. It gives those orchestras flexibility that orchestras like the Vancouver Symphony who only play symphonies lack because you know anything can happen in an opera house. 

In Wexford, we didn’t have our own orchestra at all until 2007. And while we brag about how international we are, I also brag that this was the first Irish-made orchestra in a very very long time. The orchestras in Ireland are basically radio orchestras, so we’ve tried to keep ours as Irish as possible because it’s been a source of great pride for freelance Irish musicians and I think they really do rise to the occasion. Our concertmaster Fionnuala Hunt is one of the original Irish musicians.

SL: Another big accomplishment is the chorus, but there must be a dozen nationalities represented.

DA: Oh yes they come from everywhere, from Thailand to Australia to Canada to Japan. They are wonderful. 

But you know the building itself is fantastic and it would make any orchestra sound good, It would make you and me sound good singing from the stage (laughs).

SL: So what is next?

DA: As Richard Bonynge and I say, we are at the age where we are going to get invited to be on the jury of singing competitions. We are the senior citizens now. But you know, I don’t buy this. I think it’s time for people like myself to contribute what we still have to contribute, but it’s the next generation's time, they are so talented and so terrific. 

I don’t want to teach or join a university faculty because, in my limited observation, politics in a university are even worse than in an opera house. You can print that. If anybody is interested in having me conduct, I would be delighted to entertain it.  For me, at this point, having conducted literally 110 different operatic titles, I would want to know what piece it was and most importantly with whom I would be doing it, who my collaborators would be. That’s very important.

SL: That is why your 111th opera will be Mieczysław Weinberg’s The Passenger that you will conduct for the University of British Columbia's (UBC) ambitious opera program next February. 

DA: Yes it is, I’ve been looking at it, it’s very difficult and I will look very much forward to it because it’s one of the things I admire about the UBC’s opera program: to have the moxy, the courage to put these on. The Passenger, Silent Night, pieces that I think are marvellous. The Florentine Straw Hat, a delightful project of ours in Wexford, it was done in Vancouver by the UBC Opera Ensemble a couple of years ago at my recommendation.

SL: Nothing much has changed since your debut in the early 1970s: you have always been keen to advocate new works and to mentor young artists inspired by the passion and the desire to surpass themselves.  Can you recall special moments?

DA: I’ll go back to something that happened very early in my career. I was in the Westminster Choir when Martin Luther King was assassinated and we went to Central Park, the entire Westminster Choir, and we sang the Brahms Requiem with Leopold Stokowsky. I’ve never forgotten that in the space of all these years. Also, I took real pleasure in the American premiere of Michael Tippett’s Midsummer Marriage. I can think of evenings in my life in which you feel like there is a divine presence, and you find yourself in another realm, and it’s something that happens very rarely. 

It may surprise you to know I’m not a very ambitious person. I never aspired or wanted or needed to have a career like some of the great conductors. It was a way of life I didn’t want because I watched the pressures on their personal lives, and it was a way of life I don't want. So I’ve managed to do something creative and make a contribution I hope. I have to tell you the thing that I take the greatest pleasure in at this point in my life is looking back on what I think I've accomplished as a musician and from the good of my heart. And I would say most recently Wexford has become something special and I hope it stays that way. I think of my years here which were very very creative, when you look at the people that came and sang and the works that we did. 

I loved my Australian years as chief conductor of the opera there because I was able to work out what I really believed in and what I thought was important as an artist, and how I wanted to model myself to the people I worked with, because conductors are supposed to be models, and in a way they are supposed to be fathers and teachers. And then I loved my SF years because the old man Kurt Adler saw something in me and actually forced me to realize it. He gave me impossible tasks but he was going to make something out of me. 

I am proud that in Vancouver, I was able to rejuvenate the repertoire. We had the Canadian premiere of Susannah and played more Janáček than any opera house in North America. Judith Forst sang her first Jenůfa and Ben Heppner his first staged Peter Grimes.

And then I loved my Italian years at Spoleto because it was just so joyful and I was so young and who else gets to sit in a rehearsal room with Visconti and Polanski and it was the first time I ever understood about all that ‘Italianness’. I’m from the Midwest, I’d never had all this food, I was seeing things absolutely for the first time in my life. So those are the kind of special moments I recall. But at the end of the day, as it comes to an end, I lack for nothing and I’m nothing but grateful.