Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Taminophile: A year in review, 2014

A brief review of Taminophile's 2014.

January 2014:
Not a very active month for Taminophile, although it did include a review of feisty Bronx Opera's production of Kirke Mechem's The Rivals.  It also included a profile of Dame Felicity Lott.

February 2014:
Slightly more active--reviews of the Metropolitan Opera's Werther and Madison Opera's charming Daughter of the Regiment.  There was also a profile of the lovely Jennifer Rowley and a post about Dame Kiri Te Kanawa.

March 2014:
March included three reviews:  Dear Jennifer Rowley's Metropolitan Opera debut as Musetta, Columbia University Bach Society's Dido and Aeneas, and Little Opera Theatre of NY's Opportunity Makes the Thief (L'occasione fa il ladro).  

April 2014:
April brought only one review, but Madison Opera's Dead Man Walking was opera enough for many months! I still can't talk about it without getting misty.

May 2014:
Another slow month, with a feature about the Martha Cardona Theater's Don Carlo selections concert and an opinion piece about yet another controversy about singers and weight.

June 2014:
June's only post was a review of a small, semi-profesional opera company's Norma.

July 2014:
A very busy month indeed, with reviews of Glimmerglass Opera's entire season and interviews conducted while there for a week. Plus Lucrezia Borgia at Caramoor!

August 2014:
My first review for, an international web site, is published.  The first is a reworking of my Glimmerglass Ariadne review, but more came in the following months. I was honored that the kind folks at Bachtrack had approached me, asking me to join their stable of NYC-based writers. August also brought reviews of Dell'Arte Opera Ensemble's season.

September 2014:
September brought La Boheme at the Met and Il Barbiere di Siviglia at Opera Philadelphia, both for

October 2014:
In October I saw Julie Taymor's Magic Flute at the Met for Bachtrack and Die Fledermaus at Syracuse Opera for my own nefarious ends.

November 2014:
Only one review--Tosca in concert presented by Martha Cardona Theater--but several profile pieces.

December 2014:
December opened a review of the CD An AIDS Quilt Songbook: Sing For Hope, and continued with a review of the lively group enCanta Ensemble's Christmas opera performance.  I saw The Tender Land at Brooklyn College for Tonight, New Years Eve, I'll see the opening of the Met's The Merry Widow for, and you'll see my thoughts about it soon!

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

My Bachtrack review of The Tender Land at Brooklyn College

Brooklyn College Conservatory of Music has a reputation as a hidden gem among New York music schools, sharing some of the big-name voice instructors the big three (Juilliard, Manhattan School of Music, Mannes) boast. The school attracts a very talented crop of singers. I must report with regret, however, that seeing Saturday's performance of Aaron Copland's The Tender Land (libretto by Horace Everett) in Brooklyn's beautiful Whitman Theater was disappointing.

Read the entire review.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Holly, Jolly, Gallantry!

I've often stated I'm a big fan of opera presented by New York's smaller groups, featuring young professionals. I was happy to see Sundays presentation by enCANTA Collective: Holly, Jolly, Gallantry: The Christmas Rose, at All Saints Church on Manhattan's Upper East Side. The program featured a collection of Christmas-related art songs, Douglas Moore's perennial favorite one-act opera Gallantry, and Frank Bridge's Christmas one-act The Christmas Rose.

Erika Hennings
The opening section, entitled Chansons de Noël, was performed by soprano Devony Smith, mezzo Briana Hunter, baritone Jeffrey Goble, pianist Nobuko Amemiya (Music Director for the entire program and Artistic Director of enCANTA Collective), and on three songs violist Ervin Dede. Based on the translation sheet provided with the program, one or two didn't seem to be Christmas related, but that is a tiny nit to pick when all the songs were sung so well. Mezzo Briana Hunter opened and closed the section with two Brahms songs with viola obbligato, Gestillte Sehnsucht and Geistlisches Wiegenlied. Her voice is beautiful and even throughout her large range. I would love to hear her in some of the roles listed in her bio--Carmen, Cendrillon, Orlofsky. Devony Smith used her beautiful soprano to perform the Hugo Wolf song Ach, des Knaben Augen, and the Joaquin Nin song Villancico Castellano. Baritone Jeffrey Goble gave us Max Reger's Maria am Rosenstrauch and Roger Quilter's The Cradle in Bethlehem. As with all the singers on the evening's program, I look forward to hearing more from these three.

Douglas Moore's (1893-1969) 1958 one-act opera Gallantry (libretto by Arnold Sundgaard) is a send-up of the sponsored television soap operas of the 1950s, complete with commercial announcements by a glamorous hostess. Mezzo Erika Hennings was a very glamorous hostess indeed, in silver lamé gown and heels that accentuate her already very tall stature. Having heard Miss Hennings before*, one must observe that this was among the best singing this reviewer has heard from her--very free and even throughout--and one was also pleased with her saucy presentation of the sponsored items, fictional Lockinvar soap and Billy Boy spray floor wax. Soprano Sonja Krenek was appropriately virtuous as the ingenue Nurse Lola Markham, showing marked alarm and even violent reproach to the advances of oily surgeon Dr. Gregg, quite capably sung by baritone Greg Hoyt. Tenor Marques Hollie, whom we saw but were prevented by poor acoustics from actually hearing in Dell'Arte Opera Ensemble's Macbeth, was quite amusing as Donald Hopewell, patient and boyfriend of Nurse Lola. Stage director Laura Hirschberg handled this opera well, but one wished for even more over-the-top nail biting and scenery chewing, accentuating the comedy of this delightful little opera. Miss Hennings and Miss Krenek were the two vocal standouts.

Adam Margulies
Frank Bridge (1879-1941) is known more for his chamber music than for his vocal works, as well as for tutoring Benjamin Britten in composition. His pre-World War I music is more popular than his music following the war, which adopted some of the post-Romantic and expressionistic mannerisms of the time. The Christmas Rose (libretto by Margaret Kemp-Welch and Constance Cotterell), premiered in 1932, during that post-war period. Having never heard this opera before Sunday, I can not say I'm eager to hear it again. I found the solo vocal writing too harsh and rambling, and the libretto lacking in charm or ingenuity. In a nutshell, two children of one of the shepherds on Christmas Night follow their father and the other shepherds, but despair over having no gift to present to the Christ child, only to have flowers miraculously grow and bloom in front of them--instant gift!

Although I didn't like the opera, I liked the singing. Musically, the most interesting and beautiful part to this reviewer was the women's chorus of angels. Bass-baritone Adam Margulies was the most exciting solo voice in this opera, in a role that didn't fit his voice at all. I am eager to hear more from this young man. (I learned later this role could be called a tenor role. I couldn't imagine why anyone aside from the Marquis de Sade would write something so torturous for a bass, but it could be handled by a tenor with a low voice.) Soprano Marie Marquis was another standout, with a beautiful voice and accomplished technique, but the unnecessarily stratospheric range of parts of the role left one more sympathetic than excited. Again, Laura Hirschberg staged this opera very well, using the chancel at All Saints quite effectively. Having much of the action take place under the suspended Advent wreath was an unintended charm, I'm sure, but effective.

Nobuko Amemiya
Once again, in both operas, Music Director Nobuko Amemiya gave wonderful support while playing the difficult piano scores. One hears through the grapevine that Ms. Amemiya is also a pleasure to work with.

I am charmed to be introduced to the work of enCANTA Collective. Quoting from their web site:
The name enCANTA Collective is a play on words: encanta in Spanish means “it delights,” canta is from the Spanish or Italian verb “to sing.”
Delight this program certainly did. Not one singer displeased this reviewer, and more than one thrilled. I hope to hear them all as they grow in their careers.

I applaud enCANTA's accomplishments, and I hope to hear more good music making from them in the future.

*Full disclosure: Miss Hennings is a personal friend of this reviewer, which gives said reviewer a rich memory of other performances for comparison.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Sad winds where your voice was; Tears, tears where my heart was*

Photo credit:  ALAMY
I've been given quite a few CDs to evaluate and publicize in the past, and I've loved many of them, but none has moved me the way AN AIDS QUILT SONGBOOK: SING FOR HOPE has. I only regret that this post goes in after midnight on Dec. 1, so World AIDS Day has come and gone.

At 52 (as of next Monday), I'm a very fortunate gay man of my generation--first, that I'm alive, and second, in that most of the dead men in my address book were taken in another, less agonizing way. But I remember when the AIDS Quilt was new. Heck--I remember when AIDS was new. I remember when AIDS was by default a terminal illness, not a manageable one. I remember the phenomenon of the "double whammy"--first telling one's family you're gay, then telling them you have AIDS. I remember the feeing of fear and despair, even though I wasn't touched nearly as closely as many I knew.

This Langston Hughes poem, which is included as one of the songs (composed by John Musto, sung by Sasha Cooke) tells the story of far too many from the 80s and 90s, and even our current day:
Litany by Langston Hughes 
Gather up
In the arms of your pity
The sick, the depraved,
the desperate, the tired,
All the scum of our weary city
Gather up
In the arms of your pity.
Gather up
In the arms of your love –
Those who expect
No love from above.

Nowadays there is a popular perception that AIDS is no longer a deadly disease. Well, that is wrong. And people with AIDS/HIV still need services they can't afford to provide for themselves. I'm happy projects like this take a step toward educating people, and take many steps toward supporting AIDS/HIV services and research organizations through sales proceeds.

As usual, I can't describe all the tracks on this wonderful CD.  I can only speak of a few.  The disc features many of my favorite singers--people at the heights of their careers, like Joyce Didonato and Matthew Polenzani, and great singers on the rise, like Jamie Barton and Daniel Okulitch and Melody Moore. Every song is sung beautifully, with great artistry and attention to the lyrics. I can not fault any singer for anything. I love it when I can say that.

My very favorite track is called "ATRIPLA!" (music & lyrics by Eric Reda), sung by Jamie Barton with Kenneth Merrill at piano. The text is taken from a drug insert, listing uses, side effects, contra-indications with great joy and humor. The song cleverly shows the ludicrous nature of much this language, and Miss Barton shows great humor in her performance.

The next  track, "Her Final Show" (music Drew Hemenger, lyrics Rafael Campo), sung by tenor Anthony Dean Griffey with pianist Thomas Bagwell, shows both the vulnerability of a dying drag queen accustomed to grandiosity, and the compassion of a medical professional. Remember that HIV/AIDS has always hit sexual minorities much harder than it hit the "mainstream" gay white male community. 

"Retro" (Daniel Okulitch, baritone, Glen Roven, piano) is my favorite of any Glen Roven song I've heard--which says a lot. The poem by Gavin Geoffrey Dillard talks about the anachronism of enduring HIV treatment during the 90s and 2000s.
...a cocktail, a cocktail
it sounds so Bohème
until the bar closes
and so does the dream 

There are many more songs, both lyrical and rhythmic.  Twenty-three tracks in total, including four readings of poems.  And in the final track, we have some assurance that we will all be met with love when our time is over (remember the old saying to ask poets, saints and fools about these things):
From At Last by Wendell Bery (music by Scott Gendel, sung by Camille Zamora)
...We come
to the space between ourselves,
the narrow doorway, and pass through
into the land of the wholly loved.

My wish for all of your holiday seasons, whether you're Christmas people or not:  Don't get your family members more stuff, your mothers more knick-knacks to dust, your nieces and nephews more toys to exchange. If you're reading this blog, you're probably not destitute, and your family isn't either. Support your family when necessary, of course, but support them spiritually and mentally by supporting charities in their names:  The Heifer Project, AMFAR, local AIDS/HIV service organizations like GMHC or God's Love We Deliver, or something close to your heart, like Education Through Music is for me.  Even if, as I do every year, you endure looks on your family's faces that say "Where's our stuff?", remember all of you will be better off if you share what you have with others who are less fortunate.

*From "Autumn" by Walter de la Mare (1873-1956);
  song setting by Robert Chesley, no. 2 on the CD.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Great Singer of the Week: Gianni Poggi

I discovered a mid-20th century tenor I hadn't known before--Gianni Poggi. A very nice voice indeed. He sang with Callas and Tebaldi (not at the same time, of course!), and he sang at the Met. Here is his rather brief Wikipedia bio-blurb, and following are some YouTube clips. Alas, most are audio only.

To the left is a blatantly ganked photo of Sr. Poggi in Ballo.

Following is the Siciliana from Cavalleria Rusticana, rather more brisk than I'm accustomed to, but I like the tempo. Orchestra del Teatro San Carlo di Napoli, Ugo Rapalo, conductor

Mamma, quel vino è generoso from the same performance, apparently.

Des Grieux's aria from act 3 of Puccini's Manon Lescaut. Live Piacenza 1967 (no conductor credit given).

La Bohème, Orchestra del Teatro di San Carlo di Napoli

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Legendary mezzo-soprano Grace Bumbry leads the way in Celebrating a King

On January 17 and January 19, 2015 at 7:00 p.m. Courtney’s Stars of Tomorrow: Celebrating a King presents legendary mezzo-soprano and 2009 Kennedy Center honoree Grace Bumbry. “We are thrilled to be able to present these concerts commemorating the life and singular achievement of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.,” said CST Founder/Artistic Director Courtney Carey. “We are equally excited about the opportunity to present a living legend, icon, humanitarian, and extraordinary artist--Grace Bumbry.” 

Grace Bumbry will sing Johannes Brahms’ Alto Rhapsody (Op. 53) with alumni members of the Morehouse College Glee Club, members of the Ephesus Seventh Day Adventist Church Chancel Choir, and the Brooklyn Ecumenical Choir of Bedford Stuyvesant. The program will also include spiritual classics sung by Ms. Bumbry and a roster of ingénue operatic talents including Marquita Raley, Kali Wilder, and Martin Woods, led by conductors Ted Taylor and Ramon Bryant. 

About Courtney’s Stars of Tomorrow 
Courtney's Stars of Tomorrow is an arts conduit organization committed to promoting and presenting classical musicians of the highest caliber, featuring them in concert, recital, and opera. Courtney's Stars of Tomorrow's targets a multi-generational, ethnically diverse audience of both classical music lovers and those who have never been exposed to the medium. Through education initiatives and partnerships, Courtney’s Stars of Tomorrow will also extend opportunities to school-age children to study, create, present, and attend classical music performances.  

Our mission is to: Educate, Cultivate, Present, and Inspire! 

In which Taminophile again proves himself a bel canto bear

I've shared how I loved this, with Joyce Didonato and Elza van den Heever from the Met's production:

A video made the rounds shortly after JDD sang Maria Stuarda at the Met integrating her Maria Stuarda with her Elisabetta for a very interesting confrontation scene indeed, but of course, I can't find it today. If you can, please send me the link!

I stumbled upon this clip this week, with dear Beverly Sills and Eileen Farrell (audio only, alas):

Monterrat Caballe, Bianca Berini, Armando Gatto conductor. Teatro del Liceo de Barcelona. January 6, 1979

As a great admirer of both Leyla Gencer and Shirley Verrett I couldn't leave this out:

Dear Coloraturafan's "Choose your favorite Vil Bastarda"

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Shabby Little Shocker at Merkin Concert Hall

On Tuesday evening, The Martha Cardona Theater presented Mr. Puccini's Tosca in concert at Merkin Concert Hall, a very ambitious undertaking. Daniel Cardona deserves kudos for producing this concert. Aside from a few technical glitches and a ragged orchestra, it was mostly a successful evening.

Tosca is based on Victorien Sardou’s play, La Tosca, with libretto by Luigi Illica and Giuseppa Giacosa. It is a story of political intrigue, murder, lust, and a jealous soprano. A Parisian critic wrote in 1900 that Tosca “is coarsely puerile, pretentious and vapid.” (The phrase “shabby little shocker” comes from musicologist Joseph Kerman’s 1956 book Opera as Drama, not from Puccini’s time.) Puerile or not, Tosca can always be counted on to sell tickets, and audiences leave humming its melodies. When done well, Tosca can be devastating.

And devastating it was. Soprano Stella Zambalis was 100% committed to Tosca from beginning to end. Her Tosca was both regal and childish, loving and self absorbed. Ms. Zambalis has had a long and distinguished career, and Tuesday's performance left little doubt of the reasons behind her success. Jason Stearns was an equally passionate Scarpia. Large of voice and commanding of presence, Mr. Stearns was every bit the equal of Ms. Zambalis in stage presence and commitment. Ta'u Pupu'a was a virile and ardent Cavaradossi.

All three principals had sung their roles at least once before, which was quite evident in watching and hearing them. Show pieces from the opera--Vissi d'arte, the Te Deum, Cavaradossi's two arias--as well as moments such as "Vittoria! Vittoria" and "O dolci mani"--were all sung and acted beautifully. All three singers had many truly stunning moments vocally, but all three also had one or two moments when fatigue or wear had a subtle effect on the most difficult vocal passages.

Smaller roles were filled with younger singers. The Angelotti of Matthew Curran and the Sacristan of Kian Freitas were particular favorites.

Brian Holman conducted a pick-up orchestra of very young-looking players. Their playing was a bit ragged--synchronization issues, missed entrances, intonation issues, balance issues with the cast--but Mr. Holman dealt with the apparent inexperience of the group and kept everything together.

The opera was semi-staged on Merkin's Concert Hall's stage. No program credit was given for a director, but I suspect it was Mr. Cardona himself. The size of the stage and the number of people on it at times made this a bit problematic. I feared the close proximity of cast to orchestra might interfere with the orchestra's playing. All three acts ended with someone on the floor, including Scarpia on one knee at the end of the Act I Te Deum, and it seemed awkward when they got up and walked off stage either with or after the conductor.

Quibbles aside, overall I call this concert a success. The rest of the audience certainly agreed with that opinion, generous with applause and shouts of "Bravo!"

Jason Stearns  Stella Zambalis Ta'u Pupu'a

Monday, November 3, 2014

Profile: Martha Cardona Theatre

Daniel Cardona never saw an opera before 2006. He fell so in love with the art form, just three years later he formed his own opera company. The Martha Cardona Theatre was formed in part to keep the memory of Daniel's mother, her love of music, and her generous nature alive, and in part to spread his love opera. (Mrs. Cardona died in 2005.) The company started small in 2009, with staged scenes and one-act operas, but by the next year was presenting concert performances of full operas like La Boheme and L'Elisir d'Amore. "We want to show everyone that opera is accessible and a thing of beauty and happiness," says Mr. Cardona. "All you need to enjoy it is your heart."

The Martha Cardona Theater will present a concert performance of Tosca November 18 at Merkin Concert Hall. Featured cast member include Metropolitan Opera veterans Jason Stearns and Stella Zambalis, and NFL star-turned-opera star Ta'u Pupu'a.

Jason Stearns  Stella Zambalis Ta'u Pupu'a

Other upcoming events:

January, TBA:   
Massenet's Werther
Featuring Ola Rafalo (Opera Carolina, Syracuse Opera) as Charlotte

January 28 at the National Opera Center
Quintessential Quintiliani, an Evening with Barbara Quintiliani
Ms. Quintiliani has been compared to such iconic singers as Leyla Gencer, Montserrat Caballe, and Rosa Ponselle, and has appeared with Washington National Opera (Elettra in Idomeneo, opposite Placido Domingo).
Musical Director/Pianist - Sean Kelly (Metropolitan Opera, Seattle Opera, Fort Worth Opera)

February, TBA, at the National Opera Center
An Evening with Sandra Lopez de Haro
Ms. Lopez de Haro has performed internationally on tour with Andrea Bocelli, and with such companies as The Metropolitan Opera, Fort Worth Opera and Florida Grand Opera.
Musical Director/Pianist - Howard Watkins (Metropolitan Opera, Tanglewood Music Center, Washington National Opera)


Sunday, November 2, 2014

Taminophile revisits the wonder that is Dame Janet Baker

I know this interview by dear Joyce DiDonato with Dame Janet Baker has been posted across the blogosphere many times since August, 2013, but I just now watched it again, and I am both remarkably inspired and in tears. Two very wise women get to talk in front of a camera.

Of course, this leads us to amazing recordings:

I've shared this amazing clip before--Dido at Glyndebourne, 1966, cond. Charles Mackerras:

Brahms Alto Rhapsody, 1979, Danish Radio Symphony Orchestra under János Ferencsik

This one is a surprise, but then again, maybe not (cond. Raymond Leppard, English Chamber Orchestra, 1972):

By contrast, not a surprise at all to hear this in Dame Janet's repertoire, or to hear it sung so beautifully (cond. Sir Neville Mariner, Academy of St. Martin in the Fields):

Friday, October 31, 2014

CD Review: Gertrude McFuzz and The Polar Express

One of the delights of being considered a member of the music press is receiving advance copies of new recordings in the hope that I'll write about them. Such is the case with a new recording of Rob Kapilow's settings of Dr. Seuss's Gertrude McFuzz and Chris von Allsburg's story The Polar Express. Both pieces are favorites in the "family music" repertoire for young people's concerts, and it's a delight to hear them both and write about the performances on this CD.

The Boston Globe calls these pieces “The most popular ‘family music’ since Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf and Britten’s Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra".' The Star Ledger (Newark, NJ) raves about Kapilow's music:
Every time you turn around, Kapilow is pulling another rabbit out of another hat.... There’s so much going on that our intrepid little concert-goers have no time to get bored.... The music never loses its atmosphere of slam-bam zaniness. Musically, the score stands up marvelously well — it’s clever and bright, there’s never a dull moment....
Mezzo-soprano Isabel Leonard sings the story of Gertrude McFuzz, a clever young bird who wants more feathers to become more beautiful. She learns beauty comes at a price, and eventually regains her former form in order to be able to fly. This piece is full of fun, and easily accessible to young listeners.

Baritone Nathan Gunn sings The Polar Express, the story of a young boy who learns there actually is a Santa Claus by taking a trip on the Polar Express, a train to the North Pole. This is the longer of the two pieces, full of descriptive language about the journey and what the boy finds at the end of it. On hearing the story, one's mind is full of beautiful images of snow and magic and joy.

Both singers are very accomplished in the opera world. They both sing these pieces with great love and care to phrasing and text, and there didn't seem to be a single word I couldn't understand. That is great praise for any singer, in my book!

I think this CD would be a great holiday gift for any child who loves a good story, who loves singing, or who loves fun. I recommend it highly.

Monday, October 27, 2014

We bloggers have a motto: Chacun à son goût

On Sunday, October 26, I had the pleasure of seeing Syracuse Opera's production of Die Fledermaus, the opening production of their 40th season. Die Fledermaus has long been one of my favorite shows, and I think Syracuse did a lovely job with it. The story centers around an elaborate practical joke by Dr. Falke at the expense of his friend Eisenstein, in retribution for Eisenstein's earlier joke on Falke. There are many concealed identities, a lot of champagne, and an annoying tenor. If I tried to explain more, it would just be confusing.

Michael Mayes
The excellent cast was the strongest component of this production, and I haven't a single complaint about any of the singing. Baritone Michael Mayes, whom I saw and loved in Madison Opera's Dead Man Walking last spring, was outstanding as Eisenstein, a role that couldn't be more different from Joseph De Rocher. His singing was strong and polished, and he seemed to relish every opportunity to be funny. His high voice made me wish I'd seen his Rigoletto last season, and any other Verdi baritone roles he has on offer. Cindy Sadler was an impressive Orlofsky, deftly handling the vocal challenges and also enjoying the comedy. Usually Orlofsky is sung by a lyric mezzo, but Ms. Sadler lists quite a few dramatic mezzo roles in her bio, so she deserves kudos for negotiating the high tessitura of the role. I hope to see and hear more of her. Katrina Thurman was a feisty Adele, and Jennifer Goode Cooper was a lovely Rosalinde. Neal Ferriera was a delightfully self-absorbed and clueless Alfred, the aforementioned annoying tenor.

Cindy Sadler
Photo:  Richard Blinkoff
Under the capable baton of Artistic Director Douglas Kinney Frost, the Central New York orchestra Symphoria played the score and the interpolated Strauss concert pieces delightfully. The Syracuse Opera Chorus clearly enjoyed this show, and sang well, although I can't help but wonder how much better it would have been had the chorus been twice as large.

The new English version by Jerald Schwiebert was quite a welcome change to some of the deadly dull or painful dialogue and lyrics we sometimes hear, and it tightened up the story and the action considerably. (The title of this blog post is a reference to a phrase from the older translation.)

Quibbles? Very few. Although the set (from Virginia Opera) seemed a bit amateurish in some ways, I did like the unifying element of the faux-great art works hanging on the walls in every scene. And  although I enjoyed the interpolated Strauss concert polkas, it made Acts II and III, which were combined with out an intermission, even longer than necessary.

My complaints are very few, and I must report that the performance as a whole was delightful.  Bravo Syracuse Opera!

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Another beloved singer departed from us: Anita Cerquetti

Beloved Anita Cerquetti left us today, at the age of 83.  Here is my tribute to her from 2009:

I give you Anita Cerquetti. There don't appear to be any performance videos available, but here is 1996 video of her hearing a 1956 pirated recording of her Norma in Jan Schmidt-Garre's film Opera Fanatic..

Anita Cerquetti (April 13, 1931) is an Italian dramatic soprano who enjoyed a short but brilliant career in the 1950s.

Cerquetti was born in Montecosaro, near Macerata, Italy. She was first a student of the violin, she trained eight years with Luigi Mori. After a mere one year of vocal study at the Conservatory of Perugia she made her operatic debut in Spoleto in 1951 as Aida. She sang all over Italy, notably in Florence as Noraime in Les Abencérages, under Carlo Maria Giulini in 1956, and as Elvira in Ernani, under Dimitri Mitropoulos in 1957. Her Teatro alla Scala debut was in 1958 as Abigail in Nabucco. She also sang on RAI in a wide variety of roles such as Elcia in Mosè in Egitto, Mathilde in Guglielmo Tell, Elena in I vespri siciliani, etc.

Cerquetti made headlines in January 1958, when she replaced "in extremis" the ailing Maria Callas in Norma, at the Rome Opera House. She was already singing the role at the San Carlo in Naples. She commuted between the two cities to honor both engagements for several weeks. This "tour de force" won her great acclaim but had serious effects on her health. Shortly after she started withdrawing little by little from the stage until her complete retirement in 1961, aged only 30. [n.b. I am inclined to think her decline was because of singing all this dramatic repertoire at such a young age!]

Cerquetti sang relatively little in America. Her debut there was at the Lyric Opera of Chicago in 1955, as Amelia in Un ballo in maschera, opposite Jussi Björling, with Tullio Serafin conducting.

Cerquetti made only two commercial recordings, both for Decca in 1957, a recital of Italian opera arias and a complete La Gioconda with Mario del Monaco, Ettore Bastianini, Giulietta Simionato, Cesare Siepi. Among her "pirated" recordings is a 1958 Aida, from Mexico City, with Flaviano Labò, Nell Rankin, Cornell MacNeil, Fernando Corena and Norman Treigle. The Rome Norma of 1958 with Franco Corelli is also available.

(Bio from Wikipedia.)

Here is a link to another Cerquetti jewel on YouTube, "O re del ciel" from Agnes von Hohenstaufen. I know you don't know it, but go listen. It's terrif!

Taminophile sadly notes the passing of a great artist

Dear Rita Shane left us on Thursday. It is to my shame that I never presented her in this space. Toward that end:
Rita Shane as Zdenka
Photo: La Scala

Martern aller Arten, unattributed live recording:

Sempre Libera, also unattributed:

Private video of Ophelia's mad scene, unattributed:

Thursday, October 9, 2014

My Bachtrack review of Julie Taymor's Magic Flute at the Met

Pretty Yende and Toby Spence
© Marty Sohl, The Metropolitan Opera
On Monday, I saw the Metropolitan Opera's first performance of the season ofDie Zauberflöte. It was an evening of beautiful singing, amusing comedy, affecting pathos, and flamboyant visual effects.

Read more

Monday, October 6, 2014

My Bachtrack review of Barbiere in Philadelphia

On Friday, September 26, I was in attendance as Opera Philadelphia opened its 40th season with a very new production of Il barbiere di Siviglia--very new because director Michael Shell has updated the setting to a modern-day festival week in Seville. We see clowns on stilts, flamenco dancers, and people in all sorts of traditional costume among the chorus and supers. Mr Shell finds inspiration for this production in the films of Pedro Almodóvar, “giving [the] characters a new depth, which ultimately reveals much more heart and humor”...

Click here for more

Taylor Stayton (Almaviva), Jennifer Holloway (Rosina)
and Jonathan Beyer (Figaro)
Photo:  Opera Philadelphia, Kelly & Massa

Saturday, September 27, 2014

My Bachtrack review of La Boheme at the Met, second night of the season

I adore La Bohème.  I am a big, weepy mess nearly every time I see it.  From "Si, mi chiamano Mimì" to Rodolfo's anguished cries of "Mimì!", I go through tissue after tissue.  Since I was the age of these Bohemians, they have been my friends. The more I see and hear La Bohème, the more amazed I am at the music of Puccini.....   (see the rest)

Act II bow, from a previous season
Photo: The Metropolitan Opera

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

A new Joyce DiDonato recording!

Last week, through the generosity of the folks at Erato (and their PR machine), I received an advance copy of dear Joyce DiDonato's new CD, which was released to the public today. On this recording, Stella di Napoli, we are treated to ten arias from early 19th‑century Naples opera composers, including one from the eponymous opera by Pacini. Most of these are quite seldom heard--some never recorded before--but we are also treated to arias from Maria Stuarda (Donizetti) and from I Capuleti ed i Montecchi (Bellini). Ms. DiDonato is accompanied by the Orchestre et Choeur de l'Opéra de Lyon, under the capable leadership of conductor Riccardo Minasi.

Photo (c) Pari Dukovic
Giovanni Pacini (1796-1867), like all the composers on this CD, was a contemporary of the bel canto triumvirate--Rossini, Donizetti, Bellini. Considered a lightweight by his contemporaries and many critics of following ages, he withdrew from composing opera in 1834 or 1835 and undertook a study of the trends in Italian opera of the age. He returned to composing in 1840, and his later period operas show a more mature style.

Saffo was Pacini's first new opera during this period. In the finale, Saffo, overwrought by unrequited love, chooses to throw herself off a cliff to end her suffering. This being bel canto opera, there are numerous last-minute revelations, but having made a deal with Apollo, she must ignore even these happy surprises and leap to her death. With this scene Pacini shows he was "no longer [a composer] of light cabalettas, but rather of complex works and considered productions," to quote conductor Riccardo Minasi's liner notes. This is the sort of scene in which Ms. DiDonato excels, acting the role with her voice in a hundred subtle ways--passion, tenderness, despair, et cetera.

"Ove t'aggiri, o barbaro" from Pacini's Stella di Napoli from the same period, is by contrast a florid polonaise, its style suggesting Stella's vengeful lyrics ("Where are you, cruel man I love so dearly?") might not be completely indicative of her fate. This aria's placement in Act I suggests that more will be revealed, and the outcome will not be what we are led to expect. (Searching for information about the opera yields hundreds of hits for this CD, but very little information about the opera itself.)

Michele Carafa (1787-1872) was the only composer on the disc I did not know, and by chance the composer on this recording whose life outspanned all others. He composed at least twelve operas, including settings of the stories we know from Donizetti's Maria Stuarda and Bellini's La Sonnambula. On this recording we hear an aria from his opera Le Nozze di Lammermoor, in which Lucia anxiously awaits her lover, and calls on Hope to bring her comfort. The vocal writing includes long, legato phrases with subtle touches of fioritura. It is no surprise Ms. DiDonato is more than equal to these vocal challenges, and imbues these long phrases with great tenderness.

Another favorite is from Donizetti's (1797-1848) seldom performed Elisabetta al castello di Kenilworth. This was Donizetti's first venture into Tudor territory. (Elizabeth I seems to have fascinated the imaginations of 19th‑century Italians.) Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, is a favorite of the Queen, but has married his love, Amelia. When the Queen visits Leicester's castle, he tries to hide Amelia, leading to Amelia's aria both sad and angry. In addition to the vocal interest of this aria, we can't deny the charm of a glass armonica obbligato.

Time and space prevent me from describing all of the arias. Superlatives about Ms. DiDonato's singing, her amazing vocal skills, her understanding and interpretation of each character and scene, her interpretive talents, must surely grow tiresome. Indeed, one headline I saw about this CD used the word "dizzying" in reference to the repertoire and her amazing vocal prowess. Flawless? Almost. Although Ms. DiDonato's voice lies very high, there are a few moments in which the high tessitura seems slightly stressful. All in all, however, I must concur with the WQXR NY quote that is highlighted in the CD's publicity materials: "How blessed we are to be living in the age of DiDonato."

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Fair is foul, and foul is fair

Having been enchanted by Dell'Arte Opera Ensemble's production The Fairy Queen/ A Midsummer Night's Dream, the first installment of its Summer of Shakespeare, I knew I must see their production of Macbeth, Mr. Verdi's setting of The Scottish Play. I was privileged to see the opening night performance on August 20. I've always been a great supporter of opera on this professional level, where young professionals gain experience and audiences can see what really creative minds are able do with a modest budget. Dell'Arte can do a lot!

Jackie Hayes, Elizabeth Bouk,
Monica Niemi as Witches
Photo: Brian Long
This was a semi-staged performance, which can mean anything more than a concert version but less than a full production with sets and costumes. Dell'Arte's production was very close to a fully staged production. True, costumes were mostly simple modern dress with add-on pieces suggesting the roles, and sets were almost non-existent, and a few of the props were mimed, but in all other ways this was a fully staged performance, and a very good one. All roles were very well prepared (no opening-night-as-final-dress-rehearsal insecurity), and all scenes were staged and acted with commitment and conviction. Music Director Christopher Fecteau and Stage Director Myra Cordell deserve congratulations for the vocal and dramatic commitment and highly musical performances of this capable young cast.

Mary Ann Stewart
as Lady Macbeth
Photo: Brian Long
The star of the show was Mary Ann Stewart as Lady Macbeth. Ms. Stewart has a long list of mezzo roles to her credit, and a growing list of soprano roles, including Madame Lidoine, Ariadne, and Donna Elvira. Her sound is full and rich, with secure high notes and booming low notes. She has a commanding stage presence, and acted the demanding role of Lady Macbeth with conviction and unwavering commitment. I expect to hear more of her in the future.

Another favorite was the Banco of Hans Tashjian. His rich and deep sound, although young, shows great promise. And I liked the three energetic Witches of Monica Niemi, Elizabeth Bouk, and Jackie Hayes.

I wonder about casting Jason Plourde as Macbeth. The role requires a powerful, stentorian voice, a true Verdi baritone. I believe Mr. Plourde's voice is lighter than that. His acting, however, leaves nothing to be desired. We saw Macbeth's conflicting emotions, his terror, his pride--all were there.

Jason Plourde
as Macbeth
Photo: Brian Long
Again I must praise Christopher Fecteau for leading the reduced orchestra in the tiny but resonant East Thirteenth Street Theater. Throughout, the pickup orchestra played like a true ensemble, following Mr. Fecteau's admirable musical instincts beautifully. Again I must praise Director Myra Cordell for her inventive staging in this unusual space, and for bringing committed performances from every one of the singers. The lighting design of Scott Schneider and costumes of Nina Bova also deserve praise, as does the fight choreography of David Laws.

Macbeth runs through August 24, so you'd better hurry if you want to see it!

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Fairies really are timeless, aren't they?

I had the opportunity to see Dell'Arte Opera Ensemble's presentation of Mr. Purcell's The Fairy Queen on Saturday, August 8. It was a delight. Dell'Arte is another one of New York's opera companies built around young talent--a professional level I think underrepresented and under-heralded in the mass media and the blogosphere. Under the leadership of Christopher Fecteau, Dell'Arte's Artistic Director, the company has presented quite a large range of standard repertoire in both workshop and staged performances since its founding in 2000.

Jason Duverneau as Oberon
Imani Jade Powers as Titania
Photo: Brian E. Long
Dell'Arte Opera Ensemble
The Fairy Queen is really a masque, not an opera, meaning it was presented as musical interlude between acts of another entertainment. This was written specifically for A Midsummer Night's Dream. (Click the link for a plot summary.) It was presented as an accompaniment, commentary, and potentially integral part of the play. Dell'Arte and the excellent small instrumental ensemble The Sebastians presented an abridged version of Mr. Shakespeare's work, featuring Mr. Purcell's masque. Titania's fairies were the vocal ensemble. Director/Choreographer Christopher Caines was also dramaturg, updating where necessary. Puck told the audience in iambic pentameter where the bar and fire exits were, and asked them to turn off cell phones. I was enchanted by the insertion of bits from The Importance of Being Ernest into the players' rehearsal scene, when they are charmed by Puck into being real actors. (I won't tell you who winds up as Lady Bracknell.)

Drew Paramore as Puck
Photo: Brian E. Long
Dell'Arte Opera Ensemble
The action of the four lovers, the players, and Theseus/ Hyppolita was updated to the current day, but fairies really are timeless, aren't they? In this case their playground was Central Park. Most of the action was around the fairies, so that the updated parts and location, which didn't work for me, also didn't bother me much.

The vocal ensemble was composed of eleven accomplished and very flexible young singers. Both as an ensemble and as individuals, these young people showed vocal finesse and great humor and commitment. Their choreography was at times quite frenetic, at times graceful, but never did anyone seem breathless or even awkward. Music Director Jeff Grossman brought out the pathos in the vocal ensemble numbers that required it, while also showing great spirit in the dance-like numbers. I can't describe each singer, for they were all good, but I'll mention a few standouts: baritone John Callison, bass Andy Berry, countertenor Brennan Hall, and soprano Tamra Paselk.

Dancers Aynsley Inglis & Luke Tucker
Photo: Brian E. Long
Dell'Arte Opera Ensemble
The non-singing principals were all spot-on for their roles. In particular I must praise the Bottom of Andrew Gelles and the Puck of Drew Paramore. Bottom was both oafish and endearing, and Puck was spritely, mischievous and energetic. Great praise must also be given to the non-singing fairy dancers, Aynsley Inglis and Luke Tucker, and to their choreographer, once again Christopher Gaines. And the very, very young Gabriel Griselj was quite the focused young man as Ariel, the boy over whom Oberon and Titania are fighting.

The production team also deserves kudos. I've mentioned Director/Choreographer Christopher Caines, and Music Director Jeffrey Grossman already. Kate Powers, faculty Shakespeare teacher, and Caroline Copeland, faculty Baroque dance teacher, deserve much of the credit for this fine performance. I must praise Lighting Designer Scott Schneider for some lovely effects. At one point, while Titania and Bottom are watching the entertainments, Bottom's donkey head piece (which also deserves praise for Costume Designer Nina Bova) seemed to glow, to pick up different colors from the set.

All in all a perfectly charming performance. It did run a little long, but quite a lovely experience. The Fairy Queen runs through August 23 as part of Dell'Arte Opera Ensemble's Summer of Shakespeare.

The ensemble
Photo: Brian E. Long
Dell'Arte Opera Ensemble

Thursday, July 31, 2014

My last Glimmerglass post of the season. Maybe.

On Friday, July 25, before leaving Glimmerglass for the summer (Boo! Hiss!), I was privileged to be in the audience while opera director Jonathan Miller held a masterclass--really an open rehearsal--with several fortunate members of the Glimmerglass Young Artists Program. Mr. Miller has quite an impressive list of accomplishments, including quite a long list of of opera productions, as well as stage and television.

Jonathan Miller works with members of
The Glimmerglass Festival Young Artists Program
Photo: Karli Cadel/The Glimmerglass Festival.
The Young Artists were presenting the last act of La Traviata, in which, as we all know, poor Violetta dies. Quite dramatically. Mr. Miller is a former medical doctor, and has witnessed many real deaths, and one of his primary goals was to make Violetta's death very realistic. Not a bit histrionic. Over and over again, he coached the young singers in real reactions, not stage reactions.

Jacqueline Echols, who so charmed us in the Ruth Bader Ginsburg program, and also as the ingenue Giuletta in last season's King for a Day, sang Violetta. Mr. Miller frequently coached her to give less, less, ever less movement. A dying person has no energy, even for a wracking cough. And in truth, the more still Miss Echols was, the more effective she was. And when she was directed to actually stir about, that was more effective by contrast. As usual, Miss Echols sang with beautiful tone and musical expression.

Marco D. Cammarota, who had also impressed in the Ginsburg program, sang Alfredo. Mr. Miller also took great pains to coach Mr. Cammarota. Nobody knows what to do or say at a loved one's death bed, especially if it's the first time one has experienced such a loss. Under Mr. Miller's guidance, Mr. Cammarota gave us an Alfredo who was clueless but not weak.

Photo: Karli Cadel/ The Glimmerglass Festival
It was an education to watch this and to gain an insight into this opera. Mr. Miller concluded with some thoughts about what one audience member termed the artificiality of opera as compared to the naturalistic way he was directing the Young Artists to act. I'd love to have a transcript of his reply to that question, and indeed, the entire afternoon, because it was brilliant. In a nutshell, he stated that man is the only animal that has this level of pretending, this state where we know it's not real but we are caught up in the emotion nonetheless. Most every culture has some form of storytelling or literature or theater where we as audience willingly suspend disbelief in order to become part of the story.

To add my own opinions to Mr. Miller's statement, our culture seems to forget that theater is about the willing suspension of disbelief. Today's audiences seem to demand blatant realism in some ways while at the same time tolerating, even celebrating, "concept" productions that bear no semblance to reality at all. (To be clear, there are updated or modified productions of operas that I have liked very much.) This seems to me to be a contradiction. I won't go on and on about post-apocalyptic Parsifals under freeway overpasses and Roberto Devereuxs in boardrooms, because I've made my opinions on such matters clear before. One hopes that in all these productions, the truth, the true feeling and meaning the composer and librettist intended, are evident, as one hopes the director who created such a concept is as skillful as Jonathan Miller was with these Young Artists.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Singer Profile: Ryan McKinny, Bass-Baritone

Longtime readers might recall I wrote a profile of bass-baritone Ryan McKinny last year, after seeing his amazing Dutchman in Der Fliegende Hollander. Of his Dutchman I wrote:
Ryan McKinny as the Dutchman
 Photo: Karli Cadel/
The Glimmerglass Festival
Of course one must begin by discussing the Dutchman himself, sung by Barihunk Ryan McKinny. Not only were his singing and characterization beautiful and nuanced, but his stage presence was electric. His duet with Senta was spellbinding, and one could feel the pain when he believes Senta has betrayed him. And what a bit of bad-boy eye candy he is in costume!
Last year's profile was based on questions I submitted by email, because schedules prevented a real meeting. Last week, however, I was able to get a half hour of Ryan's time for an interview in person. I had quite recently seen his excellent Billy Bigelow in Carousel.

How have you been since last year? 
Really good! It was a big season for me. My first Rigoletto, which was cool—very exciting. A Streetcar Named Desire in LA, working with Renee Fleming. It's been really nice.

The reviews for Streetcar were great.
We got some nice press. Audience response was really good. The play is so good. The opera is good too—I think it's underrated. The story and the characters carry the whole thing. And Renee is wonderful in everything she does.

A Streetcar Named Desire
Los Angeles Opera
Photo: Robert Millard
Stanley Kowalski is not Rigoletto. He's a lot like Billy Bigelow (in Carousel), in a sort of talky way. It's mostly about bringing the character out. I worked really hard on characterization in the opera. Blanche gets these beautiful arias and Stanley gets this kind of aggressive music, so the trick is to make him still be real. Brad Dalton (director) and I worked hard on making that happen, and I think we did a good job.

When you get really aggressive or really angry music, does it affect how you approach it vocally? Do you have to be careful in how you approach it vocally?
I'm really aware if I'm getting close to something thats vocally unsafe. I try to use text a lot if I get something that's angry. I find that's more successful than a barky, angry sound. The barky sound usually reduces any interest in the text and you just hear somebody who is yelling.

With somebody like Stanley, there are things happening to him that make him aggressive, but each moment is specific. You can't just be mad for the whole scene. There are different moments of frustration, annoyance, you know. And there are ways to express that that aren't just yelling. So that when those moments do come, like when you scream “Stella!” Yes, it's very intense, and there are a lot of ways you can play it. We made it a cry of desperation more than anger. So there are a lot of choices you can make, not just for vocal reasons, but for storytelling purposes, so you can create a character with nuance that you want to follow, and you're not like, “Oh, I get it—that's the bad guy.” Which can happen with something like Streetcar. It can happen with Billy, too. If you're not careful, you can create someone who is not really sympathetic, and the audience doesn't want to follow along if they hate the guy.

Photo: Simon Pauly Photography
The scream, “Stella!”-- that's really yelling?
That's real screaming. I still do it in a way that is very calculated, so that I'm not in vocal danger. It still comes out of how I'm feeling as the character and what I'm doing. I didn't want the “Stella!” scream to have any kind of operatic posturing. It needed to feel sort of raw.

I had done some stage screaming before. I had done a new opera in Basel, Switzerland, a couple of years ago, that had that sort of thing in it. I took the time to figure out how to do that. How to work around it to make it effective and also something I could repeat without losing my voice.

You compared Stanley to Billy and said that they're both sort of speaky. Billy is very different from Dutchman!
Oh yeah! Miles away! Billy might sound higher because of the color that I'm using for that character. Billy's voice is bright to me. He's from Brooklyn, come up from Coney Island. He's really kind of brassy, and the music is written for him to be brassy. In terms of actual tessitura there are some high moments, but there are also some things in Dutchman that sit very high. To me the color of the Dutchman's voice needs to have that kind of richer, darker quality. I feel lucky that I can do the color changes that are necessary for those two roles. They're not that far apart in terms of actual notes, but the sound that is expected is quite different.

Anything else about those characters you'd want to mention?
I think Billy is really interesting. We have a hard time in our modern society forgiving anyone for anything. We don't like that in our stories. We don't like to have to forgive someone for something bad. We do that in our real lives all the time. People do terrible things to each other and still love each other. I like about this piece that it takes a really heavy subject—the domestic abuse thing.  This man hits his wife, and that really does happen, and she really does forgive him. He really learns about himself--what is wrong and how he could have done it differently. But it asks a lot of the audience to be able to go along with that. I think people are afraid of that. I think it's cool that the piece deals with it. Poverty is another thing. Billy might kill this rich guy and take his money, and we understand why. We follow along and know why he makes these poor decisions, and that gives the piece some interest.

Both of your kids are on stage this summer, and they're pretty good little actors, too!
I had no idea what to expect with that. Neither of my children are stage kids. Emma had been in a children's chorus piece a few months ago, but Louis hadn't been in anything. When Francesca asked me if Louis would want to play Trouble in Butterfly, I wasn't sure. He's four. He might just get all the way to the performance and decide he didn't want to do it after all. But he's having a good time and has an incredible amount of focus, which I don't always see in the rest of his life.

They are both really wonderful kids. They interact with grownups a lot, so they enjoy talking to grownups. They're having a good time this summer. That was a big factor in my coming back this year—we had such a good time here last summer.

You travel with your wife and kids all the time. That must be wonderful.
Very challenging but very rewarding. We home school them. We're always setting them up with activities and groups and sports teams and things everywhere we go. They get lots of time with other kids. Even here--Emma is at Girl Scout camp here this week. They've both been going to a day camp in the afternoons. They're always doing something. They're not starved for social interaction.

Do you envision doing that as they get older?
We did some handwringing over this, thinking about what the plan should be. Now the plan is to keep doing it as long as it works, and to be flexible. There's no way of knowing what kind of kids they're going to be when they're teenagers. I know another home-schooling family of opera singers who just put their kids back in school because the oldest one was feeling like he was missing something, not being in school. It is really important to me that we spend a lot of time together. I know a lot of singers who aren't near their families very much, who are unhappy a lot of the time. That's really tough. People don't always have the luxury that I do—I'm very lucky that my wife is willing to do this crazy thing and my kids have really taken to it. For now it works really well.

What do you have coming up?
I'll be singing the Speaker in The Magic Flute at the Met. It's a short role, but it's really cool. I'm doing my first Count in Nozze. I do both Figaro and the Count. I'm covering Figaro at the Met, and I've done Figaro a lot. It's one of those right in-between roles.I hover between baritone and bass-baritone. Billy isn't really a bass-baritone role. I think both the Count and Figaro are interesting to me and I can do them both. I also do both Don Giovanni and Leporello. They're not that different in where they sit in the voice. The only difference is the F-sharp at the end of the Count's aria.

You did your first Rigoletto in Houston. Was that a big challenge—Rigoletto's postural issues?
I had to come up with my own take on it, and not mimic anyone else's Rigoletto. We had a big discussion—he has not just the hump, but he has an assortment of physical problems.  On one side of his body the nerves aren't working right, and his walk would be affected, and he would be in constant pain. So it's no surprise he lashes out from a place of pain. Instead of playing what I thought it would look like, I tried to play what a person would feel under those circumstances, and I think that was ultimately more successful than if I'd tried to go for the “expected look” for a hunchback. Verdi, like all really good composers, is writing about the emotional story anyway. It's not about realism.

That's yet another fach—the Verdi dramatic baritone roles.
I think dramatic baritone is the most accurate description, but writing dramatic baritone on a bio doesn't make sense, and baritone doesn't tell the whole story, so we still say bass-baritone. I honestly don't think about that too much—whether a role fits the name that I have for my voice. I never say yes to a project without singing through it. I try to learn a role before saying yes. For example, Rigoletto was way out of line with what I'd been doing. Patrick Summers (of Houston Grand Opera) asked me about it, and I said, "Give me a week." I knew the opera pretty well, so learning it took no time. I sang through the whole show several times that week. I was able to get a feel for it.

What is your process for learning a new role?
I'm lucky that I'm a pretty quick study. I had good training in college. The first thing I do is look at the score. I'll see how long the role is, where it sits. I'll read the libretto and think about the character. I'll listen to the recordings. I'll sit down at the piano and start singing it. I tend to find the most nuanced moments by actually singing it, as opposed thinking about it.

I do a lot of character discussion. My wife is a former actress and is a really good acting coach. She's been my acting coach for ten years. We are always talking about shows and character and choices. She's always there to bounce ideas off of, or to tell me if an idea isn't reading clearly.

When I consider a new role, I don't only ask if this is something I can do, but also is it something I'd have something to say about as an artist, and would it be worth people's time to hear it? That's more the decision-making process—not so much how does this work for my career, or does this fit in my little box. Obviously my little box is not clear anyway, and that did cause confusion early on, but nowadays people just shrug their shoulders and say, "Oh, Ryan's doing that thing again where he does whatever he wants!"

Although I could have chatted with Ryan all day, we both had places to be, so we shook hands and parted.