Category Archives: Bel canto opera

today’s top tenors

I put the task off until today. But since it’s the last day of Talented Tenors month, it was now or never.

(It being the list of top tenors singing today.)

Strangely, there’s lots of information on the best tenors of yesteryear. Just not the best tenors performing today. What’s the cause of that? Recordings, I suppose, are infinitely more accessible than live opera performance though I much prefer to see them and hear them.

These singers range in age from 38 (Juan Diego Flórez, the youngest) to age 70 (Plácido Domingo, the oldest). Apart from Domingo, there’s no more than ten years’ difference in the ages of the other tenors selected. This is important because it presumes a requisite level of experience and exposure that can only be gained over years of time, which is why there are no twenty-somethings on this list.

So, in alphabetical order here they are–the best tenors in the world–today.

Roberto Alagna

Roberto Alagna — born June 7, 1963, a French operatic tenor of Sicilian descent. He made his professional debut in 1988 as Alfredo Germont in ‘La Traviata’ with the Glyndebourne Opera touring company. His performances as Romeo in Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette at Covent Garden in 1994 catapulted him to international stardom.

Marcelo Álvarez

Marcelo Álvarez — born February 27, 1962, an Argentine lyric tenor. He achieved international success starting in the mid-1990s, his first role being Count Almaviva in “The Barber of Seville” by Rossini in Córdoba in June 1994. Four years later, he debuted at the Metropolitan Opera La Traviata in the role of Alfredo.

Plácido Domingo

Plácido Domingo — born January 21, 1941, a Spanish tenor and conductor.  His launch into international stardom occurred in February 1966, when he sang the title role in the U.S. premiere of Ginastera‘s Don Rodrigo for New York City Opera. In March 2008, he debuted in his 128th opera role, and as of July 2011 his 136 roles give Domingo more roles than any other tenor.

Juan Diego Flórez

Juan Diego Flórez — born January 13, 1973,  a Peruvian operatic tenor, particularly known for his roles in bel canto operas. Flórez’s first breakthrough and professional debut came in 1996, at the Rossini Festival in the Italian city of Pesaro, Rossini’s birthplace.

Jonas Kaufmann

Jonas Kaufmann — born July 10, 1969,  a German tenor, particularly known for his spinto roles. He was a prize-winner at the 1993 Nürnberg Meistersinger Competition. One of his breakout roles occurred with the 2003 Salzburg Festival for the role of Belmonte in Mozart’s “Die Entführung aus dem Serail.” Another significant step in his career came about in February of 2006 with his début as Alfredo in “La Traviata” at the Metropolitan Opera in New York, at the invitation of James Levine.

Rolando Villazón

Rolando Villazón —  born February 22, 1972, a Mexican tenor. He came to international attention in 1999 when he won both first prizes awarded in Plácido Domingo’s Operalia, an international competition for emerging opera singers – in opera and zarzuela. He made his European debut that same year as Des Grieux in Massenet’s Manon in Genoa. swiftly followed by further debuts at Opéra de Paris as Alfredo in La traviata; and the Deutsche Staatsoper Berlin as Macduff in Verdi’s Macbeth.

I’ve had the pleasure of seeing both Álvarez and Flórez at the Met in the last year and seeing Domingo conduct a beautiful Butterfly at WNO. I sincerely hope to see Alagna, Kaufmann, and Villazón in the near future.

What say you? Would these singers be on your list of top tenors?

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Filed under 21st Century Opera, Bel canto opera, Opera Awards, Performers, Sunday Best, tenors

chattin’ up David Lomeli: Mexican tenor, toast of NYC!

Tenor David Lomeli

He’s an Operalia winner. He’s a recent graduate of San Francisco Opera‘s prestigious Adler Fellows program for the most advanced young singers.

As Nemorino in Donizetti’s The Elixir of Love presented by New York City Opera this past spring, tenor David Lomeli was the rising star New York critics raved about and audiences gushed over:

“Mr. Lomelí captured the opera’s potent combination of hilarity and pathos. He certainly deserved all the applause and bravos. He was, in a word, delightful.
–The New York Times (full review here)

After David sang “Una Furtiva Lagrima” on opening night (his first Elixir ever, by the way), the audience applauded for a solid minute and a half. “The choristers backstage timed it,” David said in a recent phone interview.

I saw David sing the role for New York City Opera. In my review for Backtrack, I cited his second-act aria as one the most magical moments I’d experienced as an operagoer, the kind we all pray to be in the audience for and are  fortunate to witness.

Without equivocation, David Lomeli was la estrella de Nueva York. As The New York Observer said in their feature “Who Matters Now,” David Lomeli brings “Latin ardor to the stage.”

In case you didn’t know, his first name David (which he pronounces daVEED) means beloved. How fitting! This is one performer who is simply adored — whenever he sings, wherever he goes.

It seems that this love fest for David Lomeli began 29 years ago when he was born in Mexico City into a musically talented family. As a small child, he had blonde hair and pink skin, and the thirteen women he grew up with fussed over him to no end because of his fair coloring. And it seems as though all the fussing over David Lomeli has never stopped. 

(Or maybe it’s only just begun.)

Since winning Plácido Domingo’s Operalia in 2006, to this day Maestro Domingo mentors him, regarding David not only as a protege but also embracing him like family. David has been generously encouraged by many big names in opera including Luciano Pavarotti who once told David that being a next generation opera star would be much harder than the challenges he himself faced because of the acting and staging demands opera performance requires these days. He considers another very famous Mexican tenor Rolando Villazón his generational idol.

David is currently playing Rodolfo in 'La Bohème' at Santa Fe Opera / photo by Ken Howard

David Lomeli is talented and  hard-working, putting everything he has (mind, body, soul) into each of his performances. He is uber-friendly, utterly charming, and yet very down-t0-earth, having agreed to be profiled on Operatoonity though he and I had never met prior to this interview.

His is fluent in English — he attended a British school in Mexico — and so his answers are his own. (No translation required).

Bienvenido, David! Since your performance in ‘Elixir’ so gladdened my heart (porque cantando se alegran, los corazones), it is such a pleasure to have this chance to talk with you.

Can you tell me a little about your childhood (besides being a native of Mexico City)–how you grew up and how it affected your decision to sing opera?
Well, in my family there was always music.  My grandmother and my mother were singers — my mom a mezzo and grandma a soprano. I was raised by them my first years. My dad plays the guitar. You can tell by the quantity and quality of the Mexican tenors, that we are surrounded my music all the time — between salsa, mariachi, corrido, cumbia and boleros we always singing. The opera path opened in college where I finished an engineer career in computer systems. The beautiful way of Mexicans to do things happened in college.

My university had a theater of 2,500 seats with  a concert series featuring artists like Pavarotti, Ramon Vargas and Gustavo Dudamel coming every year, a musical theater company that made many Spanish world premieres of Broadway shows and a full orchestra. But there was no music degree offered, so we did operas and musical with whatever student of other degrees wanted to do it as an extra credit. The opera company of the university offered to pay my tuition as an engineer if I dedicated my extra time to sing with them and that’s how it happened. They sent me to Barcelona and Milan to study my degree in evening with  musical training in the mornings. I learned a lot by doing performances, graduating with more than 300 performances in the school theater productions. It was a great period of my life.

David won Operalia in 2006, a competition open to all voice categories for singers ages 18 to 30 years who are ready to for the world’s great opera stages.

You were invited to compete in Operalia in 2006, representing the United States (according to the website). How did that come about?
You are right – the site says that I represented the US.  But, I am not sure why, because  when I won they said, “David Lomeli, tenor from MEXICO.”   I do owe a lot to my US  training and support, but my green Mexican passport does not lie.  Ha ha ha!  I am still proud to be Mexican! (The citation has since been corrected to reflect his real country of origin.)

What are your memories of that experience—being named a finalist and then winning 1st prize and zarzuela?
It was a dream come true. It was my first real competition, and  my career was starting so fast. In February 2006, I just was sneaked up by my teacher Cesar Ulloa for an audition with Plácido Domingo. By August of 2006 I had a legal working visa and I had my first musical rehearsal ever! And it was next to Ferruccio Furlanetto, Salvatore Licitra, Eric Halverson, the dear Dolora Zajick (she gave me multiple suggestions on voice and career) — all conducted my maestro James Conlon. It was wild! I was surrounded by new friends and idols like Rolando Villazon and Anna Netrebko and then — kaboom! Two months later I won Operalia. I really appreciate so much the judges that trusted me that I could represent the label of an Operalia winner, when I think they saw a green raw potential and they offered the help needed to really jump start my career.

I remember clearly the system —  I was last in the operatic round and also last in the zarzuela one. I didn’t have any rehearsal with the orchestra and I had never sang those pieces with orchestra ever. “O souverain” from Massenet’s Le Cid was my operatic piece, and it was a different version!!! And the zarzuela piece was very complicated. Thank God  Maestro Domingo was there to take care of me on the pit. An angel intervened that day for sure.  I was so nervous.

How has Operalia impacted your career since winning the contest?
It gives you a label that never goes away.  It is like being number one in a tennis rank or golf list.  It is an accomplishment that gives certain validation to your work.  And it is a very different kind of competition. Most of the competitions are judged by singers now retired or in their way to retirement. This is a competition judged by impresarios and general managers. Also there are more than 40 other scouts for management, PR and companies there. If you score high with the people that hire, then I think is a very good sign of your possible potential. Another positive difference  is that this is a world competition — you have to compete against the Latin tenors, the Russian beauties, the Korean baritones, the American superlatively trained musicians.

I think there are very few in the world that give so much money in prizes and accept singers from over the world. I was never a viable candidate because of my immigration status to compete in most of the famous competitions held at the US, so when I won this competition, certainly my career got a boost. Most importantly, it brought together my team.

Operalia and the L.A Opera Young Artist Program brought to my life my coach Anthony Manoli and my guru and agent Matthew Epstein. These men,  together with my teacher, have helped me shape every aspect of my singing nowadays. They are constantly pushing for vocal excellence, correct preparation of the roles, appropriate rest time, the suggestion of  having a little project every performance to improve something each time, and they ask me to retain a sense of every performance being better than the last. Also, of course, the help find me a lot of singing debuts. Ha ha!

What has been the greatest thrill in your career thus far? Greatest challenge?
The greatest challenge has been to understand that I was not yet ready. When I won Operalia, I was suddenly around the globe in operatic publications and magazines. I was mentioned in lists next to Ana María Martínez, Rolando Villazón, or Joseph Calleja. But I was really only an engineer. I needed high class training and on the speed of lightning. Thank God, Maestro Domingo and their family, the guys at CAMI (Columbia Artists Management, Inc.), and the people at the Merola Opera Program and Adler Fellowship Program at San Francisco Opera were there to calm me down. I needed help  to understand that this career is not of speed but of continuous improvement.

David as Nemorino in 'Elixir' at New York City Opera / photo (c) Carol Rosegg.

In truth, the greatest thrill of my career so far was the three previous bars to start “Una furtiva lagrima” on stage at NYCO for my premiere. I sensed it was the make-it-or-break-it moment for me. It was just a phenomenal rush of adrenaline and the moment that every tenor dreams about.  When I finished the aria,  it was a very big moment for me.  It made up  for years of sacrifice, lonely times when you lose yourself and then later find you in a different corner of a different city, wearing the same clothes, but speaking another language and a different composer.  It justified so many moments of tears. I was laughing and crying at the same time and I couldn’t stop for a long time after. It was at that moment that I had the sense of my OWN satisfaction with my own voice.

Do you have any favorites? Composer? Opera? Role? Venue?
I love Donizetti, and I am dying to sing more of it. Favorite operas:  Dom Sébastien, La Fille du Regiment. Favorite role: Duca d’alba. It is like Donizetti wrote for voices like mine. I adore his lines and the extension. My personality is a combination of Nemorino, Rodolfo, and Werther. So each three roles are a treat for my soul when I have the opportunity to voice them.

You got rave reviews in all the NY press after your debut as Nemorino for NYC Opera. How does it feel to know NYC is dying to have you back to sing? Are you coming back–soon (fingers crossed)?
As you know, the opera world is very booked in advance but there have been talks for me to come back.  It’s not yet possible for me to schedule a return, but I hope so in the future.

What is something most people don’t know about you, something not on your professional bio?
No one really understands how passionate I am about soccer. I have traveled the world for the experience of soccer in a stadium. I am a huge supporter of Manchester United and also my home team Barcelona. Just yesterday my country became champion of the world in the under 17 cup hosted in my birthplace, Mexico City.  To see more than 100,000  voices singing “Cielito Lindo” brought tears to my eyes so far away.

Where can we see you in 2011-12?
I start my season with the Canadian Opera Company in Toronto doing the Duke in Rigoletto, then I go to Germany to sing Edgardo in Lucia at Deutsche Oper Berlin, and again the Duke in Karlsruhe with my dear Stefania Dovhan as Gilda.  I am looking forward to my debut  in Houston Grand Opera with Maestro Patrick Summers as Alfredo  in La Traviata and also to my first major solo recital to be held in Birmingham, Alabama.  My season concludes with Bohème in the magnificent summer festival at Glyndebourne.

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David  is performing at Santa Fe Opera Festival through August 26, and is excited about Santa Fe’s upcoming Press Week (early August). He has a new website soon to launch, designed by the talented Catherine Pisaroni, who has created outstanding websites for many of today’s most renowned opera stars. You can also follow him on Twitter @davidlomelink, where he Tweets, con gusto, in Spanish and English.

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Filed under 21st Century Opera, Bel canto opera, Best of Operatoonity, Classic Opera, Heartstoppers, Interviews, North American Opera, profiles, tenors

meet a teaching tenor– K.E. Querns Langley

K.E. Querns Langley

K.E. (Ken) Querns Langley is a talented tenor and an international voice teacher. He has lived, taught as a vocal instructor, and sang in London and Italy. He studied classical voice with great teachers from The Royal College of Music in London, The Curtis Institute of Music, The Manhattan School of Music, and with coaches from La Scala in Milan, La Fenice in Venice, and The National Opera Studio.

Presently he is the Music Department Chair & Professor of Voice at the Pennsylvania School of The Performing Arts. His studio was recently voted, “Best Voice Lessons  in Philadelphia.”

One of Ken’s voice teachers lovingly exclaimed that his squillo (the resonant, trumpet-like sound in the voice of opera singers)  “could peel the paint off the walls.” Ken’s repertoire is primarily 19th Century Bel Canto & Romantic Repertoire, and he sings comfortably in: Italian, French, German, Spanish, English and Neapolitan.

He holds a Master of Arts in Humanities (Music, Opera & Language) and a Bachelor of Arts in Language (Music & Voice Performance).

Welcome to Operatoonity, Ken!

Where did you grow up and how did it affect your life choices?
I grew up in southern New Jersey amidst farms forests and wetlands. Most of my childhood was spent running through fields of corn playing ‘hide & go seek’ and building log cabins in the woods. Those were the days when parents could say “Go out and play!” and you would come home around dark, or when you heard them call for you. One of the most persistent sounds of my childhood was my grandmother yelling over the fields “Kenny” sustaining the finial “ee” in a high piercing belt voice.  The other thing about my grandmother’s voice was her yodeling. Every morning she would drive me to school and would yodel all the way.  I just figured that everyone’s grandmothers yodeled.

From that description, one would assume an idyllic rural upbringing, but it couldn’t be further from the truth. I spent most of my time playing outside because I couldn’t bare the thought of being inside. The son of an alcoholic mother and a deadbeat father, I was left to my own devices to raise myself, and “come up” as they say. My grandparents did their best to show me love and help me, but there is no substitute for a real family. So, when the time came to go to college at 17, I ran.  I ran as fast as I could and didn’t look back. When the city wasn’t far enough, I kept running … to London, Switzerland, Italy and back again.  How did it affect my choices? Simply actually, try not to get caught again in the fire from which I was wrought.

When did you know that you were destined to become an opera/classically trained singer?
I had begun singing as a boy soprano when I was 8 years old, and spent a lot of time in choirs and in the schools shows.  One day during choir rehearsal, the choir master stopped all the children asked “Who is singing with vibrato?” Seeing that none of us knew what that was, no one said a word. He then clarified, “Who is making their voice do this?” He made a rocking motion with his hands and 20 little fingers pointed directly at me as if to identify the one that should be taken off to the stocks, but the choir master’s response was “Good, keep doing that!!” Needless to say I was greatly relieved.  Thinking back, I imagine the damage he could have done by requiring me to sing straight-tone.

But honestly, I had no idea that I was suited to Operatic literature until I was 18 or 19 years old. When I began studying with a teacher from the Curtis Institute of music, I was told that I had an operatic voice and should consider training classically.  I was more interested in musical theatre at the time, but she insisted on classical rep. for technique purposes, and I found that I enjoyed the challenge.

How would you describe your voice?
It’s tough to describe one’s own voice objectively. I can only give a list of attributes, but as far as being descriptive, I can relay what I’ve been told. My two first principal teachers described my voice as having a timbre similar to Jussi Bjoerling, and as my first teacher described it “bronze colored with flecks of gold.” Whatever that means. Sounds like a compliment, so I take it.

Personally, I consider my greatest attributes to be: a sustainable full-voiced range well over three octaves (obviously not including falsetto which adds a significant interval), great coloratura agility (I enjoy fioratura and have a trill even in the upper register), Sustainable high-noted to D E F above High C, and a lush middle and lower register.  Now, getting it all matched up … that has been journey!

What is it about your voice that makes you so successful singing bel canto roles?
Perhaps I got ahead of myself listing my attributes. I think that the structure of the instrument itself is partially to thank, but it is difficult to know if it’s nature or nurture. I say that because during my formative training years I spent hundreds of hours singing along to Joan Sutherland while listening to her most famous roles. So I was performing difficult scales and training the muscles in bel canto style before I ever learned to fear the coloratura and sopracuti or ever realized the difficulty level what I was doing. I think had I not been singing along to Sutherland, I would have developed a technique, probably into much more dramatic music.  But all in all, I am glad that I was trained in a legitimate bel canto tradition.  My teachers came from studios of pupils of Marchesi and/or Lamperti, and I feel a sense of pride and continuity of history.

You are fluent in Italian. Did living two years in Italy impact your opera performance
I began my linguistic study with French actually. I had been studying French for 5 or 6 years before I began Italian and German, then Greek, Latin & Spanish. It just so happened that I had the opportunity to live in Italy, after 4 years in London, and that became the dominant language. I was quite lucky to learn Italian in Italy, because I was able instinctively understand the composition and importance of double consonants and the subtle shadings of vowels that occur under certain circumstances. You can’t really integrate the subtleties of a language from outside the country, because you don’t hear it everyday on the street or on the news, and you don’t have people CONSTANTLY correcting you in conversation. Also, living in Europe gave me an understanding of language diction that you simply can’t get from IPA (International Phonetic Alphabet), because many sounds use the same symbols which are actually pronounced differently in different languages.

Being fluent in any of the languages has truly impacted my ability to perform, because I am singing from a place of understanding, not of learning.  When you speak a language, you know the words and the structure and you have an intimate relationship with the language. Words give you an emotional response that can’t be replaced with acting. When you translate a word, your remove it from its own context and translate it into something you understand, but in the end it’s not the same. You sing the original, not the translation and you have to convince yourself of the meaning rather than truly feeling and understanding the significance … more than the meaning.

Favorite composer? Favorite opera? Favorite role?  Favorite venue?
Donizetti is by far my favorite composer and Anna Bolena, is my favorite opera. I have been enjoying this opera for decades and I can’t tell you how wonderful it is to see it coming back into the repertoire. I learned the role of Lord Richard Percy years ago, and was told that it was a waste of time, but it has now become an asset in my mind, because the role has sat with me for so long. Favorite venue is too difficult to say really, each one has their great aspects.

Why did you begin teaching? When did you realize you had an aptitude for teaching vocal performance?
The truth would have to be out of necessity. I was studying in London with Kenneth Woolham from the Royal College of Music, and I needed the extra income. I finally felt that I had acquired enough training that I had a least something to offer someone who had no training at all, low and behold I found that I was quite good at it. I was told by my teacher that I had “an ear for voice” but that really didn’t mean anything to me. I knew I was good with languages, because I had always been told so and had studied so many, and that my diction was good, even in German (I was once asked by a Dutch man if I was German after performing a German aria in concert). So, I knew I could offer help in that arena.

Very quickly,  I realized I could help beginners because it was nearly every week that someone new would come into the studio, not understanding how to bridge their passagio and get in to their head voice and it never failed that I was able to show them how to do it in that lesson. It was very rare that a student didn’t take to my technique. Then I began working with more advanced students, and the 10 years of hardcore language. Diction, style & coaching came in. It is truly enthralling to help a student understand the difference between Mozart, French or Italian legatos or how to approach a cadenza by different composers. Working legato and phrasing are very passionate and need to be fully understood and appreciated.

Website for Ken's voice studio

You have voice studios across the world. How did that synergy come about?
I began teaching in London, which is where my heart lives, but for visa reasons I had to return to the US until my EU citizenship came through. It took far longer than anticipated. In that time, I was able to develop my studios in the US and now have the opportunity to travel back and forth to the UK, and hopefully I will be able to expand. We are now considering opening a performing arts school in London which will offer most forms of dance, acting and music.

What would you like to be doing in five years? Ten years?
I should be based in London by that time, and I think I would like to be in full swing of a singing career. I’m not very old and have lots of tread still on the tires. The voice is very free and flexible, and the high notes require no more effort than the middle voice and the vibrato is nice and even, so I expect to have many more years of singing; barring that, I will continue to teach and develop both professionally and artistically.

When did you embrace social media and how has it impacted your career or visibility. Or has it?
Social media has become a necessity in reaching audiences. If you are not there, it’s as if you don’t exist. An artist either has to do it themselves or have someone do it for them. I have been using social media to promote my teaching and singing for many years, even before we had facebook or twitter. I’m not even sure there was a term for it then, but I was trying to get my name out there. But I really do enjoy being able to reach out and be more directly in contact with people from all over the world.  The difficulty now is the competition. Managing your online presence has become a second job and can be detrimental to the actual artistic work.

What is something most people don’t know about you, something not on your resume?
It’s so difficult to convey your personality in a CV. It requires the Social Media content to flesh out the artist with blogs, videos, pictures. So I guess it would be my dedication, perfectionism, comradely with fellow artists.  Any director or conductor that has worked with me has always asked for me again by name. I enjoy developing relationships with those around me and want to help us all work towards a more truthful and significant artistic environment. CVs tend to be lists of things, and what you get in the end is a sort of generic idea of what someone has done, with whom they’ve done and where they’ve been, but there is no soul … only PR. So, I would really like people to see the person behind the Tenor; a real person, a man and an artist.

Where can we see you in 2011?
I have a few recitals coming up, an Italiana in Algeri, and maybe a Cenerentola. But I will keep you posted as things develop.

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You can find out more about Ken’s voice studio at his website. Also, you can follow him on Twitter @KEQL and on Facebook at http://facebook.com/BelCantoSinger.

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get to know Michelle Trovato, lyric coloratura

Michelle Trovato

“Spot-on.”  “A beautifully produced soprano.” “Already turning heads.” “A bundle of energy and vocal thrills.”   

 These are just some of the glowing comments reviewers have made about award-winning lyric coloratura soprano Michelle Trovato. Michelle received a bachelors of music in voice from the North Carolina School of the Arts School of Music in 2003. She trained with the New York Opera Studio, 2004-2005, and in 2008. She was a member of the Opera Colorado Outreach Ensemble in 2008, and performed with the Seattle Opera Young Artist Program during the 2008-2009 season.    

 A handful of Michelle’s recent honors include Grand Finalist  in the Concorso Internazionale di Canto Lirico, P. Cappuccili, Italy 2009; 3rd Prize in the Marie Kraja International Opera Competition in Tirana, Albania 2009; winner of the Opera Index, Inc Enouragement Grant Award 2009; and winner Concorso Lirico International Opera Competition, U.S. Division 2009.   

Welcome to “Operatoonity,” Michelle! So glad to have you.   

Lez Azuriales Competition Winner, France, 2007

Where did you grow up, what was your home life like, and how did it affect your life choices?
I grew up initially on Long Island, New York, which was very important because the arts are so active out there, and of course because of the close vicinity to NYC.  We were also bused into the city from school on a regular basis to see Broadway musicals, practice sessions with the NY Philharmonic….and operas!  I saw Aida at the Met when I was 13-years-old and cried during the tomb scene.  I had no idea what the opera was about, never saw a program, and there weren’t supertitles yet, so I had no idea what I was seeing or hearing! But I found it very moving, I just didn’t know why at the time.  And of course we were in the very last row, so I couldn’t believe the POWER of their voices!  I never thought that I could do that; it never even occurred to me.  But I was always singing and performing in musicals and plays both in school and in the community on Long Island.    

The big change came when I was 15-years-old, and my family relocated to Virginia, where I began immediately studying with a retired opera diva named Basel Landia Wowk.  We started out singing every legit soprano musical theatre song you can think of, and slowly she began introducing opera arias into my repertoire.  She would say: “You’re Italian, right?  Just TRY it!!” And she gave me books to read (most notably Bubbles, Beverly Sills’ autobiography), recordings to listen to and videos to watch.  The next thing I knew, I was hooked!   

When did you make the decision to pursue classical vocal performance as a career?
I pretty much decided to pursue singing as a career at around 18-years-old.    

singing Lucia for Center Stage Opera, CA / photo by vulia.com

How would you describe your voice? What repertoire do you sing best?   

I have that warm lyric sound with the upper extension and facility that works especially well in the bel canto repertoire.  I think this also helps in singing new music, which often calls for a large range and agility. Objectively speaking, I suppose that I sing Italian repertoire the best, especially works by Donizetti, Bellini, some Verdi, and Puccini (the lyric roles), but it is a big goal of mine to help promote new music.   

Favorite composer? Favorite opera? Favorite role?
I can’t even pick a favorite color!  I do have a dream of singing all the Donizetti Queens….I’ve already performed Anna Bolena in concert and really look forward to singing the others!  I would also love to play Baby Doe.  There is something about that role that really speaks to me…perhaps because she was an extraordinarily strong woman, just like the Queens.   

Do you have any opera role models?
Reading Sills’ autobiographies really gave me courage as a young singer, as did reading about Callas’ young life.  These women, coming from a poor background, who struggled for every bit of success that they achieved….amazing.  I would say that I identify with Sills’ brand of “good humor in the face of adversity” the best, but both women have inspired me a great deal.  My current voice teacher, Carol Kirkpatrick, is also a huge role model for me.  Not only as an artist, but as a human being, she is always striving to better herself. I admire her greatly for that and for many other reasons.   

“You’re Italian, right?  Just TRY it!!”
–Basel Landia Wowk, Michelle’s first voice teacher, encouraging her to sing operatic works
   

What was the single, most meaningful experience you’ve had as a performer or student of the classical arts?
Singing the Faure Requiem on the 1st Anniversary of 9/11 is something I will never forget.  There were thousands of people crammed into the sanctuary of a beautiful church, and even the basement, where they were piping in the concert, was full.  Singing the “Pie Jesu,” I had to remember that my job was to give comfort and to sing with joy, as we always should, even in the darkest times.  I can only imagine what 9/11/11 is going to be like, 10 years later.  I have hope that the event will be about honoring those who have died and bringing that same joy and comfort to those who are with us today.   

Michelle in 'La Traviata'

What would you like to be doing in five years? Ten years?
I would like to become more financially stable over the next 5 to 10 years by singing in larger and larger companies both nationally and internationally, but mostly I just want to keep SINGING.  Opera, of course, but I have already performed one recital program this year and am looking forward to a 2nd one in May.  There is a huge wealth of concert and recital repertoire out there and I have ideas for more programs than I can count!     

Do I have a dream to sing at the Met?  Yes, it would be wonderful.  But my goals are not focused that way.  I LOVE what I do and I just want to keep doing it and make enough money to live- not an easy task.  The way I view it, I want to continue to strive for artistic and vocal excellence and work with like-minded artists.  And pay my bills.  Beyond that, I am content.  (Even if I never make it to the “big house”!)   

When did you begin using social media to advance your platform and how has it impacted your career or visibility?
I developed a website back in 2007 after a big competition win.  (I finally had something to put online!)  Also, I was booked in YAPs for almost the following 2 years, so it was the perfect time to get my information on the web.  I also joined Facebook in 2007 to keep in touch with people I met at the competition (they couldn’t believe I’d never heard of it!) but I am quite new to Twitter.  I only joined Twitter a few months ago.  I am enjoying it so far, and am particularly glad to have made the connection with “Operatoonity!!”  Next is Youtube.  I have to learn how to edit video and get it up there; I am super technically unsavvy, sadly.  I WILL have more video online in the next few months, this is my Scarlett O’Hara “As God is my witness” declaration!    

As to how it’s impacted my career, of course it’s a huge help to be able to refer people to my website for further information about me and for sound clips, as well as production photos. I have definitely made some major connections on Facebook, and I have both gotten and helped others get work because I was able to connect with them there.  I have been contacted after performances from quite a few audience members who found me on Facebook (perhaps I should start a Fan page as well?) and have received numerous engagements from connecting with people online.  It’s amazing- you just never know.   

What is something most people don’t know about you, something not on your resume?
I’m on a pop album called “Incomplete Denial,” singing in the background on one track.  They paid me to go into the recording studio for an hour and sing the same phrase over and over.  I found the job on Craigslist!    

Michelle's Kennedy Center debut singing 'Mystic Odes' / photo by Robby Lamb

Where can we expect to see/hear you in 2011?
I have my 2nd recital of the year coming up, a program inspired by “Angels and Demons” at the Hudson Opera House in upstate New York on May 14th through Diamond Opera Theater.  This summer, I will be a member of the Caramoor Festival’s Bel Canto Young Artists program, the only program in the States (that I know of) that is focused on the bel canto repertoire, and then attend the International Vocal Arts Institute (IVAI) in Montreal.  And I’m fortunate that there are other engagements beyond that, which I can’t announce just yet.   

 * * *   

You can follow Michelle on Twitter @michelletrovato or alternately friend her on Facebook  where she has posted some wonderful production photos. For more about her performances and for some wonderful audio clips, visit her website.

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Filed under Bel canto opera, Interviews, Performers, sopranos, Sunday Best

don’t quote me . . .

Since I featured the novel Bel Canto yesterday, I thought I’d share a quote from the book:

“Try to concentrate on the music. The music is the truth of opera.”
–Ann Patchett

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Filed under Bel canto opera, Classic Opera, opera quotes

have you read ‘Bel Canto’?

I don’t do many book reviews on “Operatoonity,” but since we are featuring North American opera this month, I wanted to mention a beautiful read by a North American author that employs classic opera as a backdrop. 

Bel Canto by Ann Patchett

The book is called Bel Canto, and for me it was a life-changing read. Bel Canto is a highly acclaimed novel by Ann Patchett that bridges literary and suspense writing. It won both the Orange Prize for fiction and also the Pen/Faulkner Award in 2002. An opera motif is a major thematic thread in the story. 

As you most likely know, “Bel canto” is a term from opera that refers to a style of singing that emphasizes beautiful tone, good phrasing, and a clean articulation of words, popularized in the 19th Century in Europe. 

More than any other single work, his book conveyed to me the importance that opera holds in some people’s lives. Granted, that could be because I’m a writer, and I respond to the language of words before the language of music. 

If you don’t know the book, here’s what it’s about:  

Bel Canto revolves around a famous opera singer who is taken hostage by local insurgents while singing at a private birthday party for a Japanese businessman. The siege takes place in the home of the vice president of an unstable South American country. The kidnappers’ plan is foiled from the beginning—their target—the president of the country is a no-show; he decided not to attend the party after all. So the guerrillas make a list of demands, which neither the police nor the government intend to meet—none of the hostages are very valuable, except for the opera singer. 

This is a character-driven piece of literary fiction with a strong plot. The inciting incident, the siege, is a riveting plot point, setting the stage for deep character development. The end is also gripping. What’s interesting about this book is that language is always in the foreground—that’s what makes it literary. The author doesn’t care whether the reader has any knowledge of opera in building the story—it’s only used as a tool for developing character and plot. 

Bel Canto does an exquisite job conveying there are people around the world with a fervent, even reverent love for opera—that the human voice is a powerful seductress and may be the best and the finest instrument in the world as “played” by some. That listeners have a deep and visceral connection with opera. That certain composers and arias can awaken things in the human soul that other forms of art cannot. And of course, opera celebrates the human voice. No one comes to the opera primarily to hear the orchestra. Opera is also an acquired taste, and I like the way Ann Patchett showed how these characters acquired their love for opera, when it applied, and what about opera and opera singers other characters less familiar with opera came to love. 

If you haven’t read the book and you enjoy both an engrossing read and classic opera, you absolutely must put it on your reading list.

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Filed under Bel canto opera, Classic Opera, North American Opera, Opera fiction

Donizetti operas–three score and counting, all totaled

'Lucia di Lammermoor' --Operatoonity readers favorite Donizetti

In this century, it’s generally agreed upon that only a dozen of Donizetti’s operas are worth producing. Arguably some people would quibble with even that figure. According to the Donizetti poll I posted yesterday, your favorite is Lucia di Lammermoor.  Some opera fans I know consider Lucia not only their favorite Donizetti, but their all-time favorite opera.  

According to one of Opera Pulse’s polls, in which I voted, Lucia is also the second best opera character to be for Halloween (she was my first choice). I also had a blast writing about Lucia on this blog last June. Whoever schedules Lucia during the most popular marrying month in North America must have a wicked sense of humor. Don’t expect to see Lucia on the cover of Bride Magazine anytime soon.  

After one of my readers mentioned that some of Donizetti’s lesser known operas featured some of the silliest plots ever, I decided to give them a look-see. According to The Penguin Opera Guide, Donizetti wrote 65 operas in total. Other sites say 60. Sixty operas? Verdi wrote half that many. True, most of Verdi’s works endure today where as only one-fifth of Donizetti’s works are regularly produced. But 60? That’s a lotta opera! 

Did any other composer write as much as Donizetti? Apparently, depending on how you define opera, several composers are credited with more than 100 each, one surpassing 250, but how many composers whose work is produced today? Good question. Donizetti would have to be right up there.  

According to Bachtrack’s 2010 League Tables, Donizetti ranked 7th of composers with most opera performances worldwide with 240 after Verdi with 824, Mozart  with 771, Puccini  with 681, Wagner  with 273, Rossini  with 259, and Richard Strauss 246. More Strauss than Donizetti?  A surprising statistic, per moi.  

I can’t say which of the following Donizetti works are so silly they aren’t worth producing, but I can tell you which one would drive the marketing department crazy:  

Le convenienze ed inconvenienze teatrali   

Just how do you fit that title onto a poster?  

Anyhoo, here’s one list of his complete works:  

A  

    * L’ajo nell’imbarazzo
    * Alahor in Granata
    * Alfredo il grande
    * Alina, regina di Golconda
    * L’ange de Nisida
    * Anna Bolena
    * L’assedio di Calais
  

B  

    * Belisario
    * Betly
  

C  

    * Il campanello
    * Il castello di Kenilworth
    * Caterina Cornaro (opera)
    * Le convenienze ed inconvenienze teatrali
  

D  

    * Il diluvio universale
    * Dom Sébastien
    * Don Gregorio (opera)
    * Don Pasquale
    * Le duc d’Albe
 

 

Operatoonity readers' second favorite Donizetti

E  

    * L’elisir d’amore
  
 * Elvida
    * Emilia di Liverpool
    * Enrico di Borgogna
    * L’esule di Roma
  

F  

    * Fausta (opera)
    * La favorite
    * La fille du régiment
    * Francesca di Foix
    * Il furioso all’isola di San Domingo
  

G  

    * Gabriella di Vergy
    * Gemma di Vergy
    * Gianni di Calais
    * Gianni di Parigi
  

I  

    * Il giovedì grasso
    * Imelda de’ Lambertazzi
  

L  

    * Linda di Chamounix
    * Lucia di Lammermoor
    * Lucrezia Borgia (opera)
  

M  

    * Maria de Rudenz
    * Maria di Rohan
   
* Maria Padilla
    * Maria Stuarda
    * Marino Faliero (opera)
  

O  

    * Olivo e Pasquale
    * Otto mesi in due ore
  

P  

    * Parisina (opera)
    * Pia de’ Tolomei
    * Pietro il grande
    * Il Pigmalione
    * Poliuto
  

R  

    * Rita (opera)
    * Roberto Devereux
    * La romanzesca e l’uomo nero
    * Rosmonda d’Inghilterra
  

S  

    * Sancia di Castiglia  

T  

    * Torquato Tasso (opera)  

U  

    * Ugo, conte di Parigi
    * Una follia
  

Z  

    * La zingara
    * Zoraida di Granata
  

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Filed under 21st Century Opera, Audience participation, Bel canto opera, Classical Composers, North American Opera, Poll

favorite Donizetti opera?

This Saturday I’m going to see Donizetti’s L’elisir d’amore at New York City Opera. Last Saturday I listened to Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor on the radio, presented by the Metropolitan Opera. I’ve never done a Donizetti poll, so I thought one was in order.

So, gentle readers and bel canto buffs. Would you like to weigh in on your favorite Donizetti? Write-ins welcome in the comments, of course.

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Filed under Audience participation, Bel canto opera, Classic Opera, Poll