The Fulbright-Hays gifted me to a larger world filled with diverse opportunities. As one of the youngest finalist in the National Metropolitan Opera Competition my goal was to make my way through the ranks of the opera house, no matter how long or difficult the task. My successes there were centered around Austrian conductors, vocal coaches and teachers. They talked about the Vienna Academy of Music, Reinhardt Seminar and opera houses in Austria and throughout Europe. Many of America's finest in music, aided by special grants and stipends, had studied and launched solid careers in Europe. I too needed to find a method to accomplish my goals in Europe. I had received my Masters degree in Music at Southern Illinois University, before moving to New York and could therefore no longer apply for a Fulbright through University channels. My chances of being an at-large recipient were slim but somehow I managed.
Traveling alone to Europe was an unforgettable experience. During that time, international travel was comfortable and quite enjoyable. The flight crew even conducted game and quiz sessions. It was cool and sunny when I arrived in Vienna. Of course my trunk was missing and the requested affordable dormitory was not available. Frau Schmid registered me in the Hotel Weisser Hahn, next to Theater in der Josefstadt. The elevator's floor listings were different from those I had known. Maybe I was just dazed from Jet-lag but that alarm was very loud!
Getting to know other recipients during our first and very early morning excursion to Burgenland was exciting but I had my first introduction to Limburger cheese when another Fulbrighter decided to have a snack near me on the bus. All of our points-of-interest: the Esels-Mühle near Eisenstadt, Kalvarienberg and the small town of Rust, kept me spellbound. My effort to mail scenic postcards of Rust to my parents became an adventure. I passed that small yellow box, on the front of a house, several times before I recognized its true purpose!
There were city excursions with Dr. Porhansl. My favorite destinations were the Nationalbibliothek, Stephansdom, Volksgarten and Schloss Schönbrunn with its gardens. There were social gatherings with Fulbright officials, the American Consulate and Embassy representatives. Meanwhile, another Fulbrighter shared her list of housing addresses with me and I moved to the second district. Finally my long-lost trunk arrived.
After entrance exams and registration, there were scheduled classes in the Musik Akademie and Reinhardt Seminar, private voice lessons, Jeunesse concerts and Stehplatz in the opera. My circle of friends was rather diverse with a few fellow music scholars from other countries, Fulbrighters who loved to cook for each other, Austrian classmates with their friends and families, American exchange students at the university and a Fulbright professor and his wife, who introduced me to my best friend. We married a few years later. The family I lived with, the divorcée, her young son Peter and her mother who helped me with German dialogue, became my family. Without realizing it I had begun mastering a Lower Austrian dialect and I was quite surprised to learn that I had been suffering allergies, when Peter's hamster died!
I learned to dream with other singers of the Academy and we were always elated when asked to autograph guest books of café houses on the Ring. Opera excerpts were staged and rehearsed in the Metternichgasse or in the Akademie Theater. Later there were daily rehearsals in Schloss Schönbrunn's baroque theater, to finalize the year there with "Figaro's Hochzeit." Proudly I made my European debut as the Gräfin. Performing in original Elizabeth Schwarzkopf costumes, designed for the same role, was a dream come true. Afterwards I felt special when the Fulbright Commission offered me a second year stipend. With languages and diction, along with a well-prepared repertoire in opera and German Lieder, my professors suggested that I audition for agents. Soon I received contracts for Opernhaus Graz and Lübeck, Germany. My international career had begun.
Sharing my experiences with young singers in Austria and America, within master-classes and private voice and coaching sessions, was rewarding while there was yet another dream to nurture. With my husband's urging I registered for further study at Universität Wien and entered an interdisciplinary program in musicology, theater science, ethnology and art history, which I completed with both Magister and PhD degrees. Later I became a cultural anthropologist at the University of Vienna, lecturing topics on rarely discussed issues of southern and southeastern territories in North America. I emphasized issues surrounding Native Peoples of those regions. Typically, interests generally follow tribes of western, Plains and northern regions. I was asked by intertribal Natives in Texas to research and document their tribe's oral history. That project is now in process of publication. A similar research project is underway, with oral history of a Gulf Coast tribe which has been historically documented as extinct. As for interdisciplinary interests, I regularly lecture and publish with universities throughout Europe. Most recent essays and publications describe Cross-Cultural Encounters between Austria and America, and Political issues surrounding the Assimilation Act, its impact on peoples of America, or its historical outcome of the Act relating to the Nation's emigrants.
Clearly the impact of my Fulbright-Hays experience has kept me in a treasured and never-ending adventure.
Dr. Raeschelle Potter-Deimel is a graduate of Southern Illinois University and studied voice at the University of Music and Performing Arts Vienna as a US Fulbright Student in 1972–74.