Giovanni Xu’s first encounter with singing was the chorus program at the Saddle Rock Elementary School. In fifth grade, he joined the all-county choir. But it was Great Neck South High School’s renowned opera workshop, and the school’s music teacher, Dr. Pamela Levy, that truly inspired him. He went to watch The Magic Flute by Mozart at the Metropolitan Opera. It changed his life.
“I just fell in love,” Xu said. “That’s where my passion for opera, specifically, blossomed. I saw it as something I really wanted to pursue in life.”
He started taking vocal lessons, and was selected to spend a summer at Boston University’s Tanglewood Institute. There, he met many outstanding young musicians who were serious about making music their careers.
Now, as a fourth year undergraduate in vocal performance at the Manhattan School of Music (MSM), Xu is learning how to perfect his technique and deliver emotion through every note.
“MSM isn’t just a great music conservatory, it also offers so many opportunities to be on stage,” he said.
Xu recalled singing as part of the MSM choir at the Lincoln Center, accompanied by New York Philharmonic just three months out of high school. He made his Carnegie Hall debut last April as part of the MSM’s 100th Year Gala. The evening was hosted by Alec Baldwin, and featured Metropolitan Opera Mezzo Soprano Susan Graham and George London Winner Raehann Bryce-Davis. Xu sang Vaughn William’s “Serenade to Music” as one of 16 soloists at the event.
“It was an extraordinary piece to work on as it addresses the importance of the arts and specifically music in one’s life,” Xu said. “We were coached by the New York Philharmonic organist and MSM faculty member Kent Tritle. We also worked with Laura Sametz, a MSM’s Musical Theatre faculty, studying each of the Shakespearean words. It was from that work that we found inspiration for the music.”
Xu was also one of the two soloists selected to kick off the centennial celebrations in the grand reopening of MSM’s Neidorff Karpati Hall—the school’s main concert hall.
Xu talked about the best part of being a performing artist.
“It’s definitely performing itself,” Xu said. “Before getting on the stage, you do all the work to really get to know the music itself and perfect your technique. Then you get on the stage, wherever it is, to give life to the music. You draw all the fantasies with your voice, sharing it with your audience. That moment of creation is electrifying.”
Xu’s dream is to become an opera singer. He wants to go into a graduate program at a conservatory in New York or on the west coast upon graduation from MSM. After that, he wants to complete a young artist’s program.
“In 10 years, I hope to be out in the profession performing small roles, big roles,” Xu said. “I hope I will be doing what I love and performing on a stage in recital halls, opera houses and concert halls. I hope to be out there sharing my gift, sharing my love for music and sharing my story.”
Xu admitted that being a musician isn’t an easy journey.
“Fear and doubt are always there, as obstacles in a path to success,” he said. “Fear that issues from the questions we ask ourselves every day: Am I good enough? Will I make it? And doubt sprouts from our failures and flaws.”
He acknowledged that fear and doubt would never disappear completely, but he had learned to deal with those feelings during every step of his growth as a person with big hopes and dreams.
“What music teaches me is patience, dedication, and love for the craft,” he explained. “And it’s through all of those things that you can transcend the heartache, and the frustration. The frustration is there. And I think it’ll be a lie to say that making music is perfect all the time, because it’s not. I think it’s the reality you face as an artist, and sometimes disappointment, that really highlights that special momentum and make you want to keep doing it. So much goes into it, so much blood, sweat and tears, but at the end of the day, if it’s what you love, then you know it’s worth it.”
Xu is organizing a benefit concert, NY Arts in Action for Wuhan, China, as director of NY Arts in Action. Wuhan, a city of 11 million residents, has been quarantined due to the coronavirus outbreak. The concert will be on March 13, at 7 p.m. at NYC’s Steinway Hall. Admission is free, but donations are highly encouraged. Funds raised from the concert will aid the new Vulcan Mountain Hospital in Wuhan.
Joy Wei is a seventh grader at Great Neck North Middle School who likes drawing and writing.