Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Singer Profile: Corey Bix, Tenor

I heard the excellent Corey Bix sing Bacchus at the Glimmerglass Festival's opening of Ariadne auf Naxos on Saturday. The kind PR Diva at Glimmerglass arranged for me to spend some time in conversation with Corey, and here is some of what we talked about.

Photo: Arturo Everitt
You took a look at the questions I usually ask when I do this by email. Is there anything you would like to convey to my readers?
A lot of your questions were well directed. As I think about where I am today, I especially like the questions about working with younger singers. I have been fortunate enough to be fostered by singers with great careers. I was a winner of the George London competition, and Nora London really took a big chance on me and sent me to Vienna. I started working with Hilde Zadek, who was a very well known soprano of her generation. I also worked with Thomas Stewart and Evelyn Lear while they were alive, and Johan Botha. All of them gave a lot to me, and all talked about continuing to pass that down to younger singers. I feel like that's a responsibility.

I don't know if I'm at the level yet to be passing everything down like they did, but it was a very big thing for me. Here they have a mentorship program, and I had mentors when I was here [as a Young Artist]. They were obviously established singers. Even if we aren't singers with 50-year careers, the knowledge we have from living in this career is very beneficial to young singers. It's nice to be able to share that.

So while you've been here you've been able to take some of the Young Artists under your wing?
I will be doing that. We've been busy with rehearsals to this point. We had a mentor dinner, and they asked us so many questions! Things I don't know the answers to! There are not a lot of perfect answers to questions, particularly in our field. “What's one thing you wish you would have known going into this career?”

Just one? (laughing)
Francesca said it best at a recent breakfast: This is a hard career, and it's going to get harder. A lot of people think that when they are done with school the career will happen. Often young singers come from college or conservatories with the idea that a career will be handed to them.

Christine Goerke as Ariadne and Corey Bix as Bacchus
Photo: Karli Cadel/The Glimmerglass Festival
I was very fortunate. I was a member of the Des Moines Metro Opera young artist program in undergrad, and then Glimmerglass Young Artists Program, and then Santa Fe. And when I left Santa Fe, I thought a career would be handed to me. That didn't happen. I'm a different voice. I wasn't going to leave a young artist program at 25 and start doing the roles that I sing. For me that was an adventure. I had to learn to be patient and keep going.

What did you sing at 25?
At 25 I was singing Walther's Prize Song and I'd had my first look at Bacchus, but certainly wasn't singing the role. My audition package was Tamino and Lensky and Vanessa or some other obscure English aria—or Rape of Lucretia a lot. Lyric/italiensich rep.

People from early on told me I'd have the dramatic voice I have now, but who knew what to do with that? That was the adventure as well. People would tell me to wait, but what to do while I wait? So it was fortunate I won the London Competition, and I met Evelyn Lear and Thomas Stewart, and they told me, “You're going to have to wait. We've all sung with people who sang what you sing, and they waited.” It's different now. In the 70s everybody sang everything, and you could have a big-voiced Tamino, but not now. Not even Europe. European houses used hire a big-voiced tenor “Fest”, but now it's easier to hire them as guest artists for individual productions than to have them around all season for two roles.

I loved hearing you sing Bacchus. You have this really free sound and so many people in your fach don't!
I've always had a voice that sits high. I've had to work hard to get the depth into my voice. I have a great teacher in Houston, Stephen King. I also have a great coach in New York. I first sang Bacchus in 2009, and it has become easier over the years. It's definitely a role I've had to grow into.

I've had to resist listening to recordings. What young dramatic tenor doesn't want to sound like James King? You have to sing with your own voice, but you can take inspiration from the artistry of people like James King or Jess Thomas or Max Lorenz. I love Johan Botha. Young Ben Heppner. I'm not into the baritonal, heavy heldentenor sound.

Hilde Zadek sang in the Wiener Stadtsoper when it reopened after WWII, so she sang with some of the greats. I used to sit around the table with her and people like Christa Ludwig, and we talked about the differences in voices like mine in Europe and in the US. There is less of the pushed sound in Europe. I think it's the size of the opera houses. Ariadne is perfect for this size opera house (Glimmerglass). Most opera houses in Europe are not large.

When did you start transitioning from the lighter rep into what you do now?
I started in transitioning toward more German repertoire in my first and second year in Florida, so 2005 and 2006, I think. I had a great coach in Florida—Scott Gilmore, who is now in Chicago at Roosevelt. He had worked in a lot of European houses. He thought it was worth looking into at that time. We looked at Meistersinger and Friesch├╝tz, a lot of Mahler and Strauss songs. I did two song recitals that were all German Lieder while I was there. We decided that was the direction to go.

Do you still do any Italian rep?
I haven't done any Italian roles yet in my fach, but I'd like to try it out. I'd like to do more French, too. I've sung Don Jose a couple of times. I'd like to do some of the Verdi, but I don't want to jump into it too crazily. It is a different beast. And Italian doesn't roll of my tongue as easily as it does for some.

But it sounds like German does.
Because I've spent a lot of time in Germany and Switzerland and Austria. I can hear it. I don't speak it fluently—I'm working on that.

How much of your time do you spend in Europe?
Three years ago it was 90% of my time. Now I spend more time in the US. I miss being over there, but when there I miss being home. But the benefit is that I have friends in every part of the world, and if I got stuck anywhere for a holiday, I wouldn't be alone. And I've seen the world. I sang Oedipus in the ancient theater of Delphi. I sang in Savonlinna, Finland. I sang Ariadne in Vienna, which was cool. There are benefits of both sides, and I miss Europe. I need to get the European career going again.

Do you have separate US and European representation?
When I went over in 2008 to Vienna, I auditioned the second day and immediately had a manager there. He died two years later, and while I'm still with the organization, I need get working on making more things happen. I also have representation in the US with ties to Europe, but you need a manager who is there. Like anyone in this business, they trust people they know, so I need people on the ground there, doing the work for me.

How many new roles a year are you doing?
Currently I don't have to do a lot of new roles. My first year in Europe I did four new roles. Rusalka, Arabella, Ariadne, and I think I was learning Meistersinger at the same time.

What's your process for learning a role?
I'll usually start with translating the text, finding out if there is a historical or literary basis I can use to learn about my character—and my own ideas can always change when I start working with the director. Then I work at figuring out the direction of the spoken phrase, so that I can have that in my singing phrase. I take it to my teacher, and I record all my lessons on my iPhone or iPad, so I always have that to refer back to. I played piano from the age of six, so learning a role musically takes about two days. I can always play for myself, which is nice. I like to have a lot of lessons, to make sure that I'm working it into my voice and staying grounded. Because I've worked so much in Germany and Austria, I feel like I need fewer coachings in style than lessons in singing the role well with my voice. Since most of the German operas are so text-based, as long as I have that structure, it's easy to fit into the music.

Most successful singers I talk to say they've never had bad teaching to overcome. Is that you as well?
This might sound bizarre, but I think one of the best things about the Young Artists programs I've done is the visiting teachers. A different teacher every two weeks. Every teacher has his own way of teaching, his own “technique”. No teacher is right for everyone. I learned a lot from the teachers who weren't right for me, in figuring out why, and in working to keep or regain what was working for me before meeting these teachers. One thing I learned quickly is to just let go of a teacher who doesn't fit me.

At this point we had to conclude our interview to go to an excellent concert of Glimmerglass Young Artists.

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