(1) What was my first exposure to opera?
Informally I recall sitting in front of the television set watching what could have been a Metropolitan Opera telecast, and the low voices were so amazingly captivating to me. At maybe 5 years of age I can recall a bass voice (possibly in Verdi’s Rigoletto) that reminds me now of one of my idols, Cesare Siepi. On another occasion I was certainly watching a movie of a singer (Laurence Tibbet, I believe) singing the Toreador Song in Carmen and breaking a glass with his final top note. I was so taken by it that I asked my high school choral instructor if she would give it to me. She sent me to the library, but I never found it. Thinking I might be interested in opera, the MET on Tour came to Cleveland in a production of Aida, and she asked if I wanted to be a supernumerary during a performance. I actually went on stage and earned $8 for my night of work. I later found a program of the opera that included Cornel MacNeil as Amonasro, Gilda Cruz-Romo as Aida, Mignon Dunn as Amneris and Jerome Hines (whom I later sang with in Baltimore in La Forza del Destino) as Ramphis. I have sung Amonasro at La Scala, Covent Garden and the Vienna Staatsoper, though I will sing the role of Ramphis soon with The Dallas Opera – a role I did many years ago in my hometown of Cleveland, Ohio.
(2) Was opera always in my plans for a lifelong career?
No, my first aspiration was to be a baseball playing priest. In baseball I went as far as a switching hitting Junior Varsity center fielder, but at age nineteen I did enter the Catholic seminary with The Society of the Most Precious Blood at Saint Joseph’s College in Rensselaer, Indiana. I stayed in the program for two years before my dream of becoming a Catholic priest went off the tracks, though my 2nd voice teacher (during my sophomore year) had already advised me that if I did consider something other than the priesthood I could possibly be a professional singer.
(3) What has been my favorite opera character to sing and why?
I would have to say there are at least FIVE I would call my favorites:
- Boito’s Mefistofele in the opera of the same name is one that I covered for about three seasons at New York City Opera, and it was the production of Tito Capobianco that featured the opera starting in complete darkness with a lighted baton being seen to begin the overture, and then the hand of God appears that is reaching toward that of MAN in Michelangelo’s masterpiece…. I was overwhelmed by that and because the Devil was once an angel, I was so inspired when I finally got my chance to sing it (like an angel would) in the hometown of Goethe (upon whose story the opera is based), in Frankfurt, Germany back in 2004.
- The role of the John the Baptist in Salome (Jochanaan) is one I first got to sing at La Scala in Milan in 2007, and because my first production/musical/play of any kind in high school (East Tech in Cleveland, Ohio) was Godspell (which featured me coming down the aisle singing, “Prepare ye the way of the Lord!”), the connection is obvious. The great conductor Lorin Maazel came backstage to my dressing room to congratulate me at the end of my 2nd and last performance of the opera at La Scala!
- Zaccariah the prophet (Zaccaria) in Verdi’s Nabucco is a role I’ve sung with great joy because the music and words are more than just a little inspiring.
- Verdi’s Macbeth is also one I enjoy singing because of the connection with the amazing text of Shakespeare.
- #5 would be the Dutchman himself because of his central themes of salvation and love.
(4) Name one nuance of The Flying Dutchman that audiences should keep an eye out for and not miss?
It’s not really a nuance, it can somehow get missed in the tragedy of the story, and that is that the idea of having enough love for someone to give YOUR LIFE for their salvation is very much in keeping with the Christian ideal of Christ giving his life on the cross for all mankind. Senta does this for the Dutchman.
(5) What is my personal philosophy in staying driven and positive in such a competitive art form.
I would say the desire to achieve vocal, dramatic and musical perfection in a field that is the culmination of all the arts (opera) is enough to keep anyone driven and positive.
(6) If I were not a successful opera singer, what would I be doing today?
Opera is EVERYTHING and it is an exceptional vehicle for my talents, but if I were not doing it I would be doing just about anything and everything else, which is what I’ve usually tried to do. I would be a minister or a carpenter, a plumber, an electrician, a voice teacher, a stage director, a music teacher, a language instructor, a baseball/basketball/tennis instructor, etc. The list goes on… My BA is in Sociology and Music, and I actually took my Graduate Exams in sociology and not music (thinking I might be a social worker or a professor of sociology) before I was accepted at Indiana University’s School of Music, and went on to complete by Master’s Degree – in music.