Role: Falstaff in Falstaff
What music did you listen to at home as a child?
Oh I guess like most children of the 70s and 80s I listened to a lot of pop rock. I quite fancied Chicago. Later I got into “The Outlaws”; Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, Johnny Cash, Tom Paul Glaser ….those guys. But I also liked a lot of jazz guitarists like George Benson and Al diMeola. So by college I was quite eclectic.
What’s your first memory of wanting to be a singer?
I remember being quite taken with some gospel singers in the late 70’s- Russ Taff in particular and I thought that could be interesting.
Late in college-maybe my Junior year-I borrowed some recordings of Cesare Siepi, Sherrill Milnes, George London, and Robert Merrill. I was quite taken with those voices. I then discovered that, through mimicry, I could make similar sounds. With a little help from my father-a voice teacher, and singer himself-I found that I could be fairly consistent with it, so the decision was all but made.
Then I did my first opera my Senior year and the dye was cast.
Are there any unique challenges or particulars to playing Falstaff, himself?
I am reminded of a very famous story of a dying actor. He was asked if he feared death. His response was, “My dear boy, dying is easy. Comedy is hard.“ I may have gotten the context wrong but one can certainly get the idea.
The most difficult part about the title role in Falstaff is the comedy. It is quite easy and a huge temptation to become foppish and “slapstick” with the comedy. Problem there is that is not how Shakespeare wrote him. Furthermore Maestro Verdi agrees.
Certainly some of the vocalism is difficult; the first scene comes to mind. When one is playing this scene, one has to vacillate between excitement about the prospect of courting these two women, and outrage in the great aria,“l’Onore…ladri”, which is incidentally borrowed from Henry IV. (Boito “stole” it, and Falstaff’s ode to sac also from Henry IV part 2, creating this homage to Shakespeare and earning Falstaff his title role status.)
But the challenge in much of the opera is to make the comedy more accessible. The humor lies in Sir John’s rather inflated self-image. He truly believes that any/all women would find him, in his immenseness, hopelessly irresistible. So when one plays the scene dead serious, that becomes hysterical.
What do you hope audiences take away from your performance?
Joy; pure, unadulterated joy
Would you care to expand on that?
Not really. Just kidding….
There are several types of people who Love this opera: Conductors/Orchestras who play it, singers who sing it, anyone who works on it; from directors to stage managers, and real live opera fanatics.
I saw the opera as a child and did not find the music memorable. As a young adult, however, I fell In love with both Baritone roles in the piece. As I grew older and worked on it was when I heard amazing little musical melodies throughout the piece that are just genius. Not one note is wasted… And, oh my gosh, the counterpoint rivals Bach!!
If you love great music, you’ll love Falstaff. If you love great Shakespearean comedy, you’ll go bonkers for this production. If you don’t love either of those, my hope is that you will be infected by OUR joy in performing it.
Have you now sung all the roles you want to sing or is there anything new you would still like to do?
Let me answer that in two parts: first, my bucket list is complete on the opera stage. I’ve sung all of the Verdi, Wagner, Puccini, and most of the Strauß roles I’ve ever even had a remote fantasy about. That is most gratifying.
That said, secondly, there are always more roles to experiment with. I’ve become fascinated with some of the French literature. I’d love a shot at Athanäel in Massenet’s Thais, Goloud in Debussy’s Pelleas et Melisande, and the title role in Don Quichotte also by Massenet. I would also like to try my hand at Barak in Strauß’ Die Frau Ohne Schatten.
There are also a couple of hybrid musical theatre pieces with fascinating characters; the title role in Most Happy Fella, the Poet in Kismet with all that yummy Borodin music in it, and the title role in Man of La Mancha, (to bookend Don Quichotte from the above paragraph.)
What’s the best part about performing for you?
The great basketball player Michael Jordon used a phrase; “leaving your game on the floor.” That means, that when one is finished with the game one does not have an ounce of energy left to give.
What are you looking forward to doing in Dallas?
Singing the National anthem for either a Mavericks game or a Rangers game, (hint, hint) and consuming my weight in BBQ, and Tex/Mex.
If you met someone who never listened to music before which song would you have them listen to and why?
It’s a tie between “Amazing Grace” and “Love Me Tender”. Both have simple plaintive melodies, great poetry, and a beautiful arc.
Do you have any Texas roots?
Oh my, yes….for many generations! Both sets of grandparents were native Texans as were my parents. In fact, they are both buried in San Antonio.
I have Aunts and Uncles in the San Antonio area, the Houston metropolitan area and Lubbock. I have cousins in Lubbock, Pasadena, Austin, and all over. I think a whole posse of them are coming to the show.
My uncle Emery, however, will not allow me to call myself a Texan but he’s almost too old to do anything about it, but out of respect….
Hometown: live in Madison, NJ; from Phoenix, AZ…but have deeeeeep Texas roots
Education: Grand Canyon College(now University); Oral Roberts University
Favorite book: I gotta say,the Bible. No one book covers the entirety of the human experience better.
I also like Lee Child’s Jack Reacher series.
Favorite foods: Mexican food, Thai food and a great steak.
Favorite color: tie between Thalo Blue and Aliziron Crimson
Favorite composer: tie—-Verdi and Wagner
Favorite singer: I coul say, ME, but that’s too hard:
here’s my list; Men: Cesare Siepi, Sherrill Milnes, Simon Estes, Robert Merill, George London, Johnny Cash, Luciano Pavarotti, Placido Domingo, Waylon Jennings, Toby Keith, Marty Robbins, Larry Gatlin, Frank Sinatra, Tom Jones, Elvis Presley, Lou Rawls, Bing Crosby, Johnny Hartman,
Women: Renata Tebaldi, Marilyn Horne, Stephanie Blythe, Nina Stemme, Bonnie Raitt, Dianna Krall, Dinah Washington, Ann Wilson of “Heart”
Favorite opera: the one I am performing