Monday, October 28, 2013

Licia Albanese Puccini Foundation Award Winners Concert

I regret that I have never featured Licia Albanese in these pages.  She is just the sort of singer this blog was created to feature. Her career at the Met spanned the years from 1940 to 1966, singing 427 performances of 17 roles.  She began the Licia Albanese-Puccini Foundation in 1974 to pass on the legacy of Italian opera to the next generations of opera singers through master classes, grants and scholarships. Quite a few of the singers in the world's great opera houses have benefited from the support of the Foundation. Ms. Albanese is still very much alive at the age of 100.

Licia Albanese as Cio-Cio San
On Sunday, October 27, I was privileged to hear this year's crop of award winners in concert, and I must say I heard some very fine singing indeed.  There were fourteen grant winners this year, most of whom performed on the concert in the first half. It's impossible to name them all, but to me standouts among the grant winners included tenor Aaron Blake and baritone Ricardo Rivera, who performed the Act IV Rodolfo-Marcello duet from La Boheme; baritone Jamez McCorkle, who sang Ya vas lyublyu from Pique Dame; and soprano Courtney Mills, who sang a passionate and beautiful Ritorna vincitor.

The second half of the concert began with Distinguished Achievement Awards given to winners from previous years who have gained great success. These included Kristin Chavez, Jennifer Check, Jill Grove, Eglise Gutierrez, Carl Tanner, and Ricardo Tamura. With the exception of Mr. Tanner, who was ill, all of these alumni performed arias, to well deserved and enthusiastic applause.  Ms. Chavez gave us a memorably lusty and earthy performance of the Habañera from Carmen. Ms. Check performed a vengeful Vieni t'affretta from Macbeth and Ms. Gutierrez sang a lovely O mio babbino caro. Pianists Arlene Shrut and Jonathan Kelly provided accompaniment for the distinguished alumni.

The remainder of the concert featured prize winners.  My favorites in this group included Second Prize winner Anthony Kalil, who sang an impassioned E lucevan le stelle from Tosca. A big, beautiful sound from a handsome fellow who has already seen the beginnings of a successful career.  I also quite liked First Prize winner Takaoki Onishi, who sang Per me giunto from Don Carlos. And it should surprise no one to read that my favorite singer of all was soprano Jennifer Rowley. She sang a perfectly lovely Come in quest'ora bruna from Simon Boccanegra, her warm soprano gleaming with the dream-like quality of the aria.

Eve Queler, herself a legendary figure in New York's opera world, led an orchestra comprised of members of the Opera Orchestra of New York.  A legend driving the proceedings, a legend at the podium, and surely many legends in the making on the program.  A pretty darn good way to spend a Sunday afternoon.  

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Guest reviewer EB on Les Vêpres Siciliennes

Royal Opera House Covent Garden, London, First Night (October 17th 2013)

This was the Royal Opera's main contribution to this year's Verdi celebrations, although I confess I booked at the last minute owing to a cast change. Notwithstanding, there had been much excitement in the run up to the premiere. Not only was this the first—yes, first!—production of the piece at Covent Garden, but also the London debut of Norwegian-born directorial Wunderkind Stefan Herheim, whose productions have been feted around Europe for some years now, as recently as Die Meistersinger in Salzburg this summer.

Michael Volle (Guy de Montfort) and Bryan Hymel (Henri) in Les Vepres Siciliennes.
Tristram Kenton for the Guardian
Vêpres is a strange Verdi opera. Firstly, it is structured as all commissions of the time for the Paris Opéra, in five acts with a ballet in the third, and a libretto in French (by Eugene Scribe). Huge plaudits to the Royal Opera for performing in that language, for the piece's unique sound world relies on the language to shape the lines quite differently from his Italian works. At times one could be listening to Meyerbeer, or Gounod (especially the large set-pieces); elsewhere, and perhaps especially in Act 4—a series of virtuoso arias, duets and a glorious quartet to cap it all—it is unmistakably Verdi. But it can feel a clumsy, incoherent work, even when the half-hour ballet of the seasons is missed out, as here, rendering the middle act strangely short. I suspect more readers will be familiar with the Italian version (I Vespri Siciliani) but as with Don Carlo/Don Carlos, the French libretto truly unlocks the treasures which may otherwise lie hidden.

I was expecting to be surprised, perhaps shocked or indeed perplexed, by Herheim's production. I was certainly shocked although mainly by his breathtaking stagecraft and surprisingly coherent dramatic rendition of the piece. Taking the reasonable view that a period setting of 12th Century Sicily would not speak loudly to a London audience of today, he and his team—Philippe Fürhofer (sets), Gesine Völlm (costumes), Anders Poll (lighting), André de Jong (choreography) and perhaps most importantly of all Alexander Meier-Dörzenbach (dramaturge)—have devised a different scenario altogether. We find ourselves at the Paris Opéra around the time of the work's premiere. Broadly, the Sicilians are represented by the 'artists', most of all the female corps de ballet often seen rehearsing at the barre, with the occupying French as the audience or aristocracy. The battlefield, then, is art—its ownership or patronage—rather than a war torn Sicily of yesteryear.

Erwin Schrott (Procida), Lianna Haroutounian (Hélène), Bryan Bymel (Henri).
Royal Opera House/Bill Cooper
The piece describes a semi-historical occupation of Sicily in the 12th Century; Montfort is the tyrannical governor, who raped a Sicilian woman and fathered Henri, a Sicilian freedom fighter, himself in love with Hélène, a noblewoman whose brother was executed by the French a year before the opera begins. The last key figure in Procida, Sicilian commander exiled after a wounding by Montfort's forces in the period before the start of the action.

There is no shortage of detail in Herheim's direction, and he establishes his scenario and visual language during the (splendid) overture, where Montfort graphically rapes a 'Sicilian' dancer after the maiming of 'Impesario' Procida in the ballet rehearsal room. Henri is the child of that encounter and his pregnant mother and childhood self appear throughout the rest of the production in various guises.

Fürhofer's virtuoso designs are breathtaking, moving seamlessly between the stage, rehearsal room and auditorium of the opera house, often extending the horseshoe of Covent Garden's own auditorium deep into the stage. A mural depicting a pastoral Sicily with a furious Mount Etna appears at various points, and 'Royal' observers appear in the stage boxes watching the 'action', or taking part in it in the arena below. Herheim's command of the stage space is masterful, the huge ensembles are formed with a rock steady directorial hand, and De Jong's balletic choreography is seamlessly integrated into the action with a skill I have seldom seen before. Herheim describes his approach as stemming from the music first, the words second; his direction here is very responsive to the musical colours in the score.

Inevitably there are details that jar. The constant abuse of Hélène's brother's death mask is one example, and I can't entirely fathom why Procida appeared in drag to begin the slaughter at the end of Act 5, gamely as Erwin Schrott frocked up. Act 4, where Verdi produces his finest music, is the production's weak point, the principals seemingly left to their own devices and often resorting to stock gestures. It's hard to know why this is, as the 'stage' setting may have led Herheim to encourage 'stagey' body language. An alternative explanation may be a lack of rehearsal time and some last minute cast changes (see below). The finale is a bit of a mess, the bright lights shining out into the auditorium amid general disarray onstage a bit of an anticlimax. It may, though, be beyond the wit of man to make credible drama of the material Verdi provides here.

Act 1 Scene I. Royal Opera House/Bill Cooper
Quibbles aside, the staging provides a veritable Smorgasbord (sorry—Herheim is Norwegian) of food for thought, as well as much genuinely stunning stagecraft. Most of all his team confers coherence to a sprawling piece which badly needs it. Worth seeing, possibly seeing again, I think, and a significant house debut.

For such a vast work it is perhaps surprising that there are really only four principal roles. None of the comprimario parts stands out although they were adequately sung in this production. The sung French is ranges from poor to adequate with much variation. Above all, it is an evening for the men, as low voices predominate. The standout performance for me was Michael Volle as Guy de Montfort, both tyrannical baddie and wannabe father to Henri. Volle commands the stage from the outset, and brings generous tone and a striking command of Verdian style. Looking at his roster of roles—Wagner, Strauss, Verdi, Puccini—fills me with admiration for what a versatile singer and actor he is, fully justifying what may have felt like a casting gamble. The other low male voice is the Procida of Erwin Schrott. A big hit with the house, he too has plenty of tone but to my mind sings too frequently out of tune. His preening, grandstanding stage presence may well be Herheim's doing, although I still feel he could have made more vocally of his big aria at the start of Act 2.

Verdi and Scribe don't do many favours to the lovers Henri and Hélène; once Henri discovers he is the son of Montfort, his impossible situation can't really be resolved, leaving him dramatically high and dry from Act 3 onwards. Furthermore, it's an excruciatingly difficult sing, frequently venturing higher than most Verdi tenor roles but requiring a robust dramatic sound. Covent Garden did well to cast Bryan Hymel, who added this bravura performance to his growing list of successes in London and elsewhere. Utterly secure and often thrilling, he was terrific. Pedants will note that he ducked his high D in Act 5 but only the truly misanthropic would hold it against him.

Hélène is another hugely challenging sing, requiring a spinto soprano with flawless technique, nimble coloratura and a true command of Verdian line. Marina Poplavskaya was cast in the role some years ago, to my mind rather optimistically, and as the production drew near there was a repeat of Robert Le Diable last season, namely late-stage withdrawal due to illness. The rumour mill has been in overdrive regarding the nature of her illness and the likelihood of her returning to sing after the first three performances. These were instead given to Lianna Haroutounian, who made a great success of her appearance as Elisabetta de Valois in place of Anja Harteros last season, and who has sung Hélène (and Elena) in the past. She has a very attractive, dusky timbre and is a Verdi specialist - every phrase oozes the requisite style. But she did not repeat her previous success on this occasion. I suspect a combination of nerves and fatigue explains why she was defeated by her arias in Acts 4 and 5. However, she remained a musical, appealing heroine, almost but not quite the equal of her colleagues. And she was unflatteringly costumed throughout. [Stop Press: Haroutounian was unwell on the second night and Poplavskaya took her place, not to rave reviews; on the third, both were indisposed and Rachele Stanisci sang from the side of the stage. Covent Garden plays Find the Lady!]

We already know that Sir Antonio Pappano knows how to conduct Verdi, and his performance here justified the company's revival of the piece. Most exciting of all were the set pieces, the chorus (significantly augmented) on cracking form. I don't share the unmodified rapture of some critics, as some tempi seemed too swift (especially the Act 4 quartet—but he kept the unwieldy juggernaut on the road and kept what dramatic tension Verdi allows to be created at the forefront.

The verdict: viva Verdi, in your anniversary year; your Vêpres are not a masterpiece, but they have made it to London in grand style. And for that, molto grazie.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Lessons learned

I was delighted at the opportunity to hear New York Symphonic Arts Ensemble's October 19 presentation of the Verdi Requiem. NYSAE is an orchestra of skilled amateurs celebrating its 25th season of performing. The ensemble's music director, Timothy Hutto, is a good musician and a friend. The group was joined by the Arcadian Chorale, the Richmond Choral Society, and the New York Festival Singers, with guest conductor Marina Alexander. The performance took place at the Church of St. Paul the Apostle, near Lincoln Center.

Sara Murphy
Photo: Joshua South Photography
As usual, I will begin with the rave-worthy elements of this concert. And boy howdy, mezzo Sara Murphy is worthy of my most enthusiastic raves. Her Lux aeterna was lyrical and full of drama at the same time. Her Liber scriptus has set a new standard by which I shall judge all other performances of Liber scriptus. Her performance was sensitive musically and completely on the mark vocally, her sound always beautiful and free. Why is this lovely woman not singing everywhere? I would compare her to Amnerises and Adalgisas with world-class careers today, and she'd win.

Another praise-worthy element of this Verdi Requiem was tenor Enrique Pina. (I want so badly to put make it Piña, but it is indeed Pina.) I was impressed by his vocally secure and self-assured performance in this concert. (Here is a YouTube link to hear him singing Ingemisco from a concert in his native Dominican Republic in 2012.) Given the fact this is not his first Verdi Requiem, however, one does wonder why Mr. Pina was so closely invested in his score for every movement in which he was involved, including Ingemisco. But for the most part, however, his singing was quite good.

The bass soloist, Gustavo Ahualli, has been mentioned here before, in a post about another Verdi Requiem performance. I said then that although his singing is beautiful--and it truly is--the role simply requires more of a bass than a bass-baritone or baritone. I still stand by that statement.

Having commented on the best parts of the concert, I must now change course. Regular readers will know that I always tailor my evaluations to the professional level of the performing ensemble or individual. Regular readers will also know that this work is among the nearest and dearest to my heart. This is why it pains me deeply to say that this concert should not have taken place. At a high level I list the following reasons:

  • The orchestra and chorus simply were not ready. Under-rehearsed is the kindest way to describe the situation. I won't list examples of unfortunate incidents--Mr. Hutto and Ms. Alexander surely have their own lists.
  • The venue was a very poor choice. Acoustics were bathtubby, to say the least, leading to a very soupy sound and tremendous lack of clarity in different voice and instrumental parts. The layout of the church created a balance problem and a timing lag between chorus and orchestra that was unacceptable.
  • The soprano soloist was not up to the job, simply not at the same level as the other soloists. Remember, the Verdi Requiem is built around the soprano soloist. While she did have many beautiful moments--most notably singing piano in a comfortable range--there were times when the vocal demands seemed beyond her capabilities. Further, although I begrudge no one a music stand in place of holding the score--and I don't know the reasons she had a music stand--her unladen arms flailed about in quite a self-indulgent way, telegraphing not only the degree of difficulty of any upcoming passage, but also the mere fact she was about to make a vocal entrance. For all that histrionic energy, she didn't always seem very involved in the music she was singing, beyond its vocal difficulties.

October, 2013, marks the 200th anniversary of Mr. Verdi's birth. NYSAE's intention was to honor Verdi and his music on its own 25th anniversary. To do honor to Mr. Verdi on his 200th birthday, perhaps it would have been better to revise the plans.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Great Singer of the Irregular Interval: Ileana Cotrubas

Today we discuss an underrated soprano of the 70s and 80s, Ileana Cotrubas. (Here is another bio link.) She was renowned for her expressive singing and acting. Many might know her only from Metropolitan Opera or Covent Garden telecasts/recordings from the late 70s and early 80s, but there is a wealth of other recordings that are even more beautiful. To my ears she was best suited to the dramatic coloratura and light lyric rep.

Mozart, Et incarnatus est from the C-minor Mass (no further performance information given, audio only, with still shots from opera performances):

As Konstanze in Die Enführung aus dem Serail. No further information given:

The 1977 Met broadcast of Rigoletto:

As Adina, with Jose Carreras, Wiener Stadtsoper, 1981:

As Nedda.  No further performance information given:

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Delaware Valley Opera's La Traviata

I have sat behind many an audition table, both as administrator of a small opera company, and as advisor to other organizations. (Note to other organizations: My ears and evaluations can be had on the cheap!) It is quite common for me to think, "Gee, I'd like to hear that voice after another year or two of polishing!" That is a good thing. And that was my overwhelming feeling as I watched Delaware Valley Opera's performance Monday, October 14, of staged La Traviata excerpts. (The same cast will perform a much fuller version of the score, fully staged and complete with orchestra and chorus, in Rhinebeck, NY, on Sunday, October 20.) Monday night's staging alternated between OK and awkward, for aside from Alfredo, Violetta, and Germont, we only had Grenville and Flora/Annina.  Party scenes?  Not so easy.

John Kaneklides, Julie-Anne Hamula, Wayne Line
Young and beautiful Julie-Anne Hamula was Violetta. Both Violetta and Ms. Hamula were the star of the show. Her bio-blurb lists lists Adina, Gilda and Lauretta, which seem to me to be quite appropriate roles for her. She's also sung heavier roles. I think Violetta is a little on the heavy, mature side for her fresh, young voice. That said, there was great beauty and passion in all of the role for Ms. Hamula. Her most beautiful moments vocally were when she sang piano and/or legato. There was vocal and dramatic magic in "Dite alla giovine....", from her scene with the elder Germont. It pains me to say this, but Act I, containing Violetta's best known excerpts, was Ms. Hamula's weakest act. While she seemed comfortable acting against either Germont, especially the elder, left alone on the stage she seemed uncomfortable. And her vocalism was at its best in Acts II and III.

Dashing young John Kaneklides gave us a pretty darn good baby Alfredo. His is a voice that will grow more fully into roles like Alfredo, and I look forward to hearing him in one or five or ten years. His bio lists roles like Tamino, Nemorino, Fenton, and Rinuccio. These I can easily hear in his voice, with its very warm but still light quality. He did a good job with Alfredo in Monday's performance, including the cabaletta to Dei miei bollenti spiriti and its punishing high C.

Wayne Line is the most experienced of the three principals, and one heard it in his Germont. Young Meredith Hudak and Georgios Papadimitriou gave us as much of Flora, Annina, and Dr. Grenvil as was practical in this highlights performance. DVO General Director Carol Castel brought out the characters well, particularly with Ms. Hamula's Violetta. I regret I will not be able to see the fully-staged performance on Sunday in Rhinebeck.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Cuter than a box of puppies

Two weeks ago I had the pleasure of seeing Baltimore Concert Opera's performance of L'Elisir d'Amore.  I wrote about it here.

On Friday, October 11, I had even more pleasure in seeing the same cast perform a fully staged version at Opera Delaware.  And I don't know where to begin. While it is impossible to avoid comparisons between the two performances, I do not want in any way to dilute the high praise I paid the Baltimore Concert Opera. But holy cow, what a sweet show this was!

This Elixir was full of delightful directorial detail that continually had me giggling or murmuring,  "Awwwwww!" (I don't giggle lightly, and although I murmur far too often, rarely is it, "Awwwwww!") I tried to tell my DH that this show was cuter than a box of puppies.  He didn't believe me, but he wasn't there. I hope you'll be there Sunday for the second and final performance.

This is unlike me, but I really must rave about director Dean Anthony. He showed great skill in traffic control and stage business, and very sweet and clever directorial touches. He also had a cast of talented singer/actors and a highly spirited chorus throw themselves completely into a delightful production with a unity that is well beyond what one might see at other regional opera companies.  I don't want to give too many secrets away, but I can't resist sharing how I was completely charmed during the overture, when a 9-year old Nemorino and a 9-year old Adina mimed the sort of romance that 9 year olds have. This really brought home what we sometimes forget--that these two have known each other all their lives, and it's quite likely that everyone in their little worlds has assumed forever that they'd be man and wife one day. No wonder Adina is resistant--an independent, intelligent, relatively privileged teenage girl being told about her future. And it's no surprise that the entire village has watched them all their lives and knows how deeply she loves Nemorino long before she herself realizes it. (Kudos to young actors Gavin Cross and Katarina Swann as young Nemorino and Adina--especially for sticking around to take a curtain call at the very end!)

William Davenport and Sharin Apostolou
Photo: Mark Garvin, Opera Delaware
I wrote two weeks ago that it seemed the cast felt limited by the constraints of a concert performance, as they had been in staging rehearsals for a week already. No such issue now! All of the cast threw themselves into their roles with a wanton abandon that is delightful to see. And all of the cast sang even more beautifully when given the freedom to inhabit their roles fully.

In particular I must say William Davenport really redeemed himself. Two weeks ago I questioned casting him as Nemorino, for he has a fuller, larger voice than I prefer as Nemorino. Although he sang it well, I thought his voice was too big for the role.  Now I must correct myself and say it was likely just too big for the room. At the Engineers' Club in Baltimore, it seemed like he was holding back the vocal sound. No such feeling in the Grand Opera House in Wilmington. He sang with his own voice, comfortably filling the hall with sound, and oddly enough, in doing so he sang at times with a lighter, more supple sound. His Nemorino was all country bumpkin--a true innocent who wears his heart on his sleeve.

Sharin Apostolou's acting talent, about which I have written before, was clearly evident in this production. We know her Adina isn't the cold-hearted teenage girl about which popular movies and TV shows are made (think Shannon Dougherty, back in the day), but rather a quite human mix of innocently self absorbed and truly caring (Jennifer Love Hewitt?). As with Mr. Davenport, throwing herself into the role made her singing even more beautiful than before. I do wish the orchestra, under the capable baton of Jerome Shannon, hadn't overpowered her so often.

All the praise I gave Trevor Scheunemann two weeks ago in Baltimore held true in Delaware. His singing was glorious, and he acted the ridiculously vain Belcore with a great joy and passion that was a pleasure to see. As I wrote before, to Belcore love and war are both games, and not only does he not take his own braggadocio seriously, he doesn't really expect anyone else to believe it, either. The only thing I'd have added was more of an "Oh, @#$%!" moment when Adina consents to marry him that very day, but that is directorial icing on the cake. The cherry on an already delicious sundae.

William Davenport
Photo: Mark Garvin, Opera Delaware
Once again Stephen Eisenhard proved a capable Dulcamara and Kimberly Christie a charming Gianetta. The chorus, under the direction of Jeffrey Miller, sounded wonderful while also acting as country peasants with great spirit. Jerome Shannon and the unnamed orchestra played well, but there were points where they overpowered the singers, as I mentioned above, and a few points where the pit and the stage were not in perfect synch. (Given the very high cost of having an orchestra at all, a small opera company can be forgiven for small points like this. I also wonder whether the balance issues I mention held true in all parts of the house.) Costume, wig/makeup, and lighting were all charming.

Finally, I must now rave about the Grand Opera House in Wilmington, Delaware. This beautiful old performing space was opened in 1871 as a Grand Lodge for the Masons (the edifice features Masonic images).  The Grand has played host to thousands of renowned entertainers and performing artists over the years, including Ethel Barrymore, Buffalo Bill Cody, and John Philip Sousa, but it had evolved into a vaudeville house and movie theater by the mid 20th century.  Lovingly restored in the early 1970s, the Grand is now the venue for Opera Delaware productions and a wide range of other performances. I noticed in the lobby large posters for upcoming shows with Bonnie Raitt and Wanda Sykes.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Featured singer: Michele Angelini, tenor

Photo credit:  Rebecca Fay
Some readers will recall a post about a lovely performance of Mr. Rossini's Petite Messe Solennelle a few years ago. The tenor soloist in that performance was Michele Angelini. His recently revamped web site lists an impressive range of credits, including covering Juan-Diego Florez and Lawrence Brownlee at the Metropolitan Opera, an upcoming debut at Covent Garden, and performances at the Rossini Opera Festival, Deutsche Oper am Rhein (Frankfurt), Carnegie Hall, and the Kennedy Center. Mr. Angelini (Mike to his friends) has forgiven me for that blog post--my primary memory now is of a beautiful and free sound, but apparently at the time I thought he lacked subtlety--and has consented to a profile in these humble pages.

We recently sat down for a lovely outdoor lunch and interview. We talked at length about his career, singing and fitness, and taking care of one's voice like the owner of a priceless instrument would do.

What do you want to tell the world? What one message?

Be true to yourself. Be true to your voice. Be true to the elements of this art form that drew you in. You must maintain that connection with what attracted you. Keep that magic.

Have there been times when you've had to struggle to keep that alive? Challenges that you've had to overcome?

Of course. There are no easy answers. When I first started out in this career, I had no idea what it took. We all get into something like this because it's fun, it gives us joy, we seem to be good at it. If we're getting paid, so much the better. The veneer comes off and we realize there's a lot of work, discipline, maintenance, and business sense required.

I was fortunate at the beginning. I began working as a singer almost right out of college. I had a good group of people who cared about me and believed in me. They introduced me to opportunities, and I was able to effectively begin my career at age 23. I had to learn a lot on the job, where there was no room for error. It was hard to learn how to deal with all the things I was confronted with, without any buffer zone, where every move had to be the right action at the time.

Savonlinna Festival
I'm fortunate that no mistakes I made were irrevocable, but I did have a very tough challenge early on. I was 25 at the time. There's a natural growth spurt that happens for many singers at 25 or 26. I'd just finished my first Ramiro (Cenerentola), and within a week the way I had naturally always sung, particularly my upper register, just stopped working. There were some things going on in my personal life, as well—very painful loss and worry--and it exacerbated the situation. My voice became volatile, inconsistent. There were great days and there were days when nothing was happening correctly. I made the mistake of singing in a competition, and of course I did not sing nearly as well as I could have. Because of that one performance, I was asked to re-audition for several upcoming contracts to prove I was still capable of singing the roles. It was difficult. 

I became a man with a mission. I wanted to sing for upcoming contracts at a professional level. I had six months before my next contract obligation, and I basically took all of that time to work on my voice. I didn't go out, I didn't socialize—I just saw my family, my teacher, and my coach. I worked on my voice and I worked on my body. That was also when fitness started becoming much more important to me. At the end of that period, I was able to walk into my next job without an worry. I was able to re-establish myself with individuals who had lost faith in me after that one disastrous performance.

We all have to learn to sing when we're not at our best. When I was younger I was much more afraid of putting myself out there when I wasn't feeling as well, but as I've become more secure in my technique, I've learned to let my technique and my experience work for me. That's a big lesson—what variables can we control, and what is beyond our control? 

As Elvino in La Sonnambula
Photo credit: Greater Miami Opera
You told me recently that as you grow and mature vocally, you feel even more firmly placed in your fach, whereas other guys your age might be looking at or moving into more mature or bigger vocal categories.

The issue of fach is a tricky discussion. The fach system has its benefits as a tool for categorizing the repertoire and voices, but on the other hand it's important to understand every voice is different, every person is different, every approach is different. Your voice will tell you what it should and should not be singing. It's important for every singer to learn to recognize that. At the end of the day the only person who can make those decisions is you. You must know what your voice is meant to do.

And let's face it—there are voices that transcend fach. Nicolai Gedda could sing practically anything that was on the page, but he was always true to his own voice and never sacrificed what was natural in his own voice. Herbert von Karajan asked him to sing Bacchus (Ariadne auf Naxos) in his mid-20s, and he said no. But he sang Don Jose in his 20s. He knew what he was doing, how to negotiate just about any role using his own voice. We all have a little bit of trial and error, but it's best to not make too many errors.

When I was young I used to sing along with all the recordings I had, a little bit of everything. Coming from an instrumental background (Mr. Angelini is a highly accomplished woodwind player, as well), I didn't know about fach. I had this idea that all music written for tenor could be sung by any tenor. As an instrumentalist there is no excuse to not play any piece of music. If it's written for your instrument you have to figure out how to do it. Not so with the voice. It's as if each type of tenor is a different instrument. 

But I have to say I love my repertoire. There is nothing in my core rep that doesn't make me happy, and that singing doesn't bring me some level of joy. I can enjoy an excellent Siegfried without wanting to sing the role. I don't think, “I have to sing Rossini today but I want to sing something else.” I'm thankful that I get to sing the repertoire that I do sing. It's almost limitless. The bel canto, Baroque, Mozartian and early Romantic French opera that I consider my core repertoire is unending. It wouldn't be possible to sing everything that my voice could sing. I'm like a kid in a candy shop. And I get to cater all those roles to my voice. I can sing Rossini and add and subtract to show off what my voice does best. You can't do that with Puccini or Wagner. 

Now if only someone could write me a mad scene, I would be even happier. 

I talk about this with other singers who are very fit, like you are. It often seems like there is a concern that they want singers to look like Hollywood stars, and there is a fear that singing talent is considered secondary.

It's true that directors are asking more of singers physically these days, so we do have to have a certainly level of fitness to do those things with comfort and ease. For me, the body that houses a voice doesn't matter if the voice is able to do what the role and the character requires. But I'm not a director and I'm not casting, so it's not really my place to say much more about this.

Fitness has more to do with my instrument and my physical well being than something about looking a certain way for the stage. Singing really is a sport. It's an athletic endeavor. My body is my instruments. I treat my body like an athlete would. That means feeding my body properly, working on overall fitness and flexibility, working on breathing, and having a certain measure of athleticism. When I first started becoming more active and athletic, I noticed an improvement in the way my voice was responding and my breath was working. I found myself practicing silently on an elliptical machine, memorizing my roles, breathing as I would were I singing. It made a huge difference in terms of what I could do in the practice room and on stage. 

I think yoga is a huge essential as a singer. There was a time when I used 10-15 minutes of yoga as a warmup before singing anything. All the core muscles, all the parts that have to be in alignment and function properly for singing are already moving and released and ready to work. I didn't have to work so hard vocalizing because the muscles were already prepared to do what they would be asked to do. There is something phenomenal about having that sense of inner flexibility as well as the sense of breathing, relaxation, and getting rid of tension. Then we are able to do much more musically, dramatically, vocally. I think it all kind of goes hand in hand. 

You seem happy with your body. What if a director asked you to sing without clothes?

Not right now. [laughs] I did sing in my underwear in Il sogno di Scipione with Gotham Chamber Opera. I don't think there are any pictures of me in my underwear.

I always conclude with a question stolen from Inside the Actor's Studio--what's your favorite swear word?

All of them? So many! So many different languages. My favorite is in Italian: cazzo. Literally it means male member, but it's the Italian equivalent of the F-word.