|Photo: Paul Sirouchman|
I grew up in Hughson, California. If you've ever seen the movie Varsity Blues, that's Hughson, California. I began studying English and drama at a local junior college in my area, which quickly led to an interest in musical theater and, later on, into opera. When it came time to transfer schools I earned a scholarship in voice from California State University, Long Beach where I completed both a bachelors and masters in opera performance. I was also able to study with a fantastic voice teacher there named Shigemi Matsumoto, who had had a long, prominent career as an opera singer. She taught me no only how to sing, but also how to carry myself professionally in this business, which is absolutely imperative.
After working for smaller local opera companies, including two summers studying with Marilyn Horne at the Music Academy of the West, I decided to do a post-graduate degree at the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music. I earned an artist diploma, made strong working networks professionally, and found an amazing voice teacher, Kenneth Shaw, who helped shape the final touches in my vocal technique. He continues to be my vocal mechanic when I feel I need a good tune-up. He's wonderful.
You were recently awarded a cover contract at the Met. Can you talk about how that came about and what it entails?
The Metropolitan Opera audition was a result of being heard by the same individual who judged two vocal competitions I placed high in last year--The Opera Columbus Vocal Competition (2nd place) and The Fort Worth Opera McCammon Vocal Competition (3rd place). Gayletha Nichols, who heads the National Metropolitan Opera Auditions every year, was at both competitions and contacted me shortly after the one in Fort Worth. She wanted to know what my performance schedule was like, and encouraged me to audition for the Met. Through Gayletha, my managers (Barrett Vantage Artist Management) arranged an audition for the Met. It was dreadful weather that day in NYC and I practically had to swim to the audition.
I was told that this would be a preliminary audition, just to introduce myself, and that if they liked my audition they would ask me to come back for an audition on the Met stage. I had a really strong audition, but still I walked away thinking that it might be months before I hear anything from them about a second audition. Early the next morning my manager called to tell me the Metropolitan Opera had offered me a contract for next season in Billy Budd, covering the role of Mr. Flint. I asked "What about the second audition?!" and my manager told me, "They liked what they heard the first time!"
My cover responsibilities are basically preparing the role as though I would be performing it onstage. I attend all the blocking, stagings and coachings. I won't have a scheduled performance, unless, of course, the singer I'm covering becomes ill or falls in the orchestra pit. I will have music run-throughs at the Met with the other covers in the cast. Billy Budd will be sung by Nathan Gunn and James Morris will be taking the role of Claggart.
What else do you have coming up?
Upcoming schedule performances include:
Elijah with Concordia University Symphony Orchestra [ed. this one has come and gone]
Elijah with the Modesto Symphony Orchestra,
Monterone in Rigoletto with Cincinnati Opera,
Sprecher in Die Zauberflöte with Cincinnati Opera,
The King of Egypt in Aida with Virginia Opera
Frère Laurent in Romeo et Juliette with Dayton Opera.
Many singers have overcome bad training or other obstacles to have a career. Have you had any kind of roadblocks to success?
I'm incredibly fortunate to have had great voice teachers and coaches throughout my training. Sure, there were those coaches or conductors I didn't work well with on occasion, but I always found a way to compromise.
The biggest obstacle I faced was a serious car accident in March 1997. It broke just about every bone in my body, including 6 major fractures to the pelvis, a crushed eye-socket, a lacerated tongue and a compound fracture of the jaw--it quite literally split in two pieces. I was in a coma for over week, on life support for several days with grim chances of ever making a full recovery. Obviously, everything in my life was suddenly put on hold. It took me about a year of physical therapy to learn to walk normally again. It was one of the toughest challenges I had ever faced, but, because of the love and support of my family and friends, and some awesome doctors, physical therapists, and plastic surgeons, I was able to get back to my music studies and back onstage.
You've sung in a lot of regional theaters in the US. How much time every year do you spend away from home? What are the best and worst parts of singing in so many different places?
I moved to Philadelphia last August, and since then, I've only been home for about three months all together. When friends and family ask me how I like Philly, I have to say that, even after eight months, my home city is still a mystery to me. I'm on the road a good three quarters of the year, especially at this point my career where my managers and I are working our tails off trying to get me out there, impress the powers that be, and network, network, network!
The worst part about being gone so often is that it's tough on relationships and it's unfortunate to be away from those you love. The best part about traveling to different locations is having the opportunity to work and meet with new and wonderfully talented artists. This is a small, social business, and I like that part. I've met and worked with some really great individuals, both onstage and off, many of whom I've built strong friendships with, friendships I treasure with all my heart.
Do you do outreach work with those regional theaters? Do you work with younger singers? What kind of career advice do you give them?
I don't do outreach work anymore, because my schedule doesn't permit me much flexibility to do it. I feel it's an important thing to do, though, especially in a country that has false stereotypes about opera that need to be corrected. It's a not an art form that is geared toward just an elitist group of people in this country. It is, and can be, an art form that is accessible to everybody.
I don't work with young singers vocally. Not in a formal studio setting, at least. I wouldn't discourage the possibility of teaching one day, but not now.
I was fortunate enough to do my masters thesis on Marilyn Horne a few years ago. It was entitled Advice for Young Singers: An Interview with Marilyn Horne. We sat down together at in her home in New York on a cold Saturday morning in March 2007 and she discussed what it takes to have a lasting career as an opera singer. Her advice is now my advice to young singers making their way in the business, and that is BE A PROFESSIONAL! What does being a professional mean? It means knowing your music, knowing your role vocally and dramatically, having your own developed ideas on what you want to do with the character you're portraying, ALWAYS being a friendly, respectful and supportive colleague, and carrying yourself with class, a sense of personal respect and humility.
Have you sung much outside the US?
I have yet to do an opera outside of the United States, but I've performed two full recitals in Germany. I love Germany and have some wonderful friends there. I've also performed a concert of African-American Spirituals on the Great Wall of China with a great ensemble from Long Beach State University.
How do you handle having a relationship with extended periods apart?
It's really tough, but when you're in love with someone you take advantage of your time together. We're both very independent individuals with our own artistic outlets. We keep ourselves busy and focused when we're away from one another, but we always touch base a few times a day through email, text, skype and phone calls.
How old are you? How has your voice changed over the years?
I'm 33. The bass voice ripens with age, and I can certainly tell a difference in the timbre and color of the voice over the last few years, especially as I crossed over into my 30s. I'm actually looking forward to crossing over into my 40's and 50's, so long as I keep in good health, both physically and mentally.
What's your favorite role to sing? (And don't take the cop-out "Whatever I'm singing next!")
That's easy. I love the role of Filippo II from Don Carlo. I debuted the role with a regional opera company in Houston in January of this year. People told me I was crazy for undertaking such a mature and vocally demanding role this early in my career, but I knew I could do it. I could feel it in my gut. And I did do it, with great success! I was very proud of that performance, and I can't wait to sink my teeth into that role again.
Are there roles you'd love to sing that are outside of your fach? Are there roles within your fach you don't want to ever sing [again]?
I love true heldentenors like Jon Vickers or Ben Heppner. I think singing Siegfried in Siegfried and Götterdämmerung would be an experience. I love those big Wagnerian voices!
I performed a rare Georg Telemann opera a few years at Kentucky Opera called Don Quichotte auf der Hochzeit des Comacho, where I sang the title of Don Quichotte. I love Kentucky Opera, they're a great company to work for, but there was a reason no one had heard of this opera before. I receive nice reviews for my performance, and I'm glad I did the show, but it was not a vocal fit for me. I remember feeling slightly dizzy singing through those coloratura passages in the score.
My favorite question from "Inside the Actor's Studio": What's your favorite swear word?
Well, I'll give you a hint--it's a four lettered word with three consonants and a vowel. :-)