Last Friday I had the pleasure of chatting with Arnold Rawls in person about his debut.
For those who know the opera, the music that begins Act II, scene 3 is some of the most difficult for the role of Manrico during the whole evening. He opens with "Ah si, ben mio coll'essere" and quickly moves to "Di quella pira l'orrendo foco," a feat that would test the mettle of the most seasoned tenor who has also had the advantage of Act 1 to warm-up. Mr. Rawls basically went on cold and blew the audience away in what became his Metropolitan Opera debut. Roars of "bravo" thundered the opera house after his arias and the crowd leapt to its feet for his curtain call.
Arnold had been mowing his lawn at home the previous Monday when the call came from the Met. The cover for Marcelo Alvarez in Il Trovatore had become ill, so the Met asked if he could cover the four performances of the run. He was soon on a plane--several, actually, since flying to New York from Oklahoma City can be complicated--and arrived in New York late that evening. Tuesday was a day of rehearsal and coaching so that he would be prepared should he have to perform for the opening on Wednesday.
|As Manrico at the |
"Preparation meets opportunity," as Arnold says. "I always knew when I made my debut at the Met it would be in an emergency situation. They would need someone who does the repertoire that I do, and they would need him fast. So the best thing I could do is sing in Seattle, sing in Bregenz, sing in Frankfurt, sing in Dallas, sing everywhere else, and when the time came, I would be ready."
He has sung Manrico in many places in the U.S. and abroad, and it's the role in his current rep that he has performed the most. He has also covered at the Met before, for Marcello Giordani as Des Grieux in Manon Lescaut. That experience was more formally planned, with plentiful rehearsals and coachings, and Arnold was prepared to take the stage should the need arise. It didn't, but the experience was an education for which he is grateful, and it prepared him for the whirlwind experience with Il Trovatore at the Met.
Arnold is full of praise for the other cast members and for the team at the Metropolitan Opera--the team of handlers, coaches, production staff, and everyone else who had made him feel welcome and valued from the moment he arrived. All of the cast members welcomed him with open arms. On Saturday night conductor Marco Armiliato, although ready to return to the podium when the announcement was made that Mr. Alvarez would not go on, took the time to go to Arnold's dressing room and shake his hand. Afterward all the cast members gave him high praise, but the compliment from Dmitri Hvorostovsy was the most moving. Mr. Hvorostovsky complimented his singing from a vocal and technical viewpoint, but added that Arnold sang with heart, with great passion.
He is especially thankful for one cast member. "One of my goals for that past ten years has been to sing with Dolora Zajick. In my repertoire, she is the top. I want to sing Manrico with Dolora Zajick. I want to sing Radames with Dolora Zajick. It doesn't get any better than that. And I've done it! And the best part is how accepting and supportive she was."
Arnold states without hesitation that singers should always have another set of ears and someone to help them stay in top form vocally. He credits voice teacher Gianna Rolandi, a well-known coloratura soprano in the 80s and 90s, and Chicago Lyric Opera coach Eric Weimer, for his vocal technique and role preparation. "It's about efficiency of sound. Do what you do best. Look at some people who have ventured into the wrong repertoire. I've been offered Parsifal three times, and I've always said no. It's a terrible role for me. It sits too low for me. My voice doesn't sit low. You don't sing Apollo (R. Strauss's Daphne) and Bacchus if your voice sits low. Manrico sits high. Radames sits high. That's why Pavarotti had a lot of success with Manrico and with Radames--they sit high. "
Arnold gratefully acknowledges the many people who have contributed to his success. Speight Jenkins, General Manager of Seattle Opera, has been a great advocate for Arnold with other opera companies. Early in the rehearsal process for Arnold's first production at Seattle, Mr. Jenkins reported he'd had a phone call from Carol Vaness, who had heard Arnold sing Bacchus in Ariadne auf Naxos in Indianapolis just a few months before. Based on that recommendation, and what he heard in rehearsals, Mr. Jenkins immediately offered Arnold additional contracts for performances in Seattle. "A colleague at that level would help a young singer like that! She didn't have to do that! It made me cry. If I have a choice between singing anywhere in the world and Seattle, I'll sing in Seattle, because Seattle has helped bump me to the next level, and I will be as loyal to Speight Jenkins as he has been to me.... You hear someone who's a great artist, you make a phone call. So many people won't. I will tell that story until the day I die. And I want to be in the place to do that for somebody! "