Tag Archives: Talented Tenors

what makes a great tenor?

Rolando Villazón

No matter how much you know about opera or about tenors for that matter, you’ll love this seven-part series “What Makes a Great Tenor?” produced by the BBC and hosted by tenor legend Rolando Villazón.

Villazón is an intelligent, gracious host. He is generous with his praise of other world-renowned tenors of his generation–Juan Diego Flórez, Plácido Domingo, Jonas Kauffman. And shares his instrument on cue–a real pro!

He is a most charming teacher and guide. And the perfect choice to lead us through this series. When he says, “They have all [tenors] received deafening applause,” that’s an experience he himself can claim, rightly so.  Later when he says, “Being a tenor takes dedication and a lot of hard work”  observations on his profession like this and others are delievered with credence and conviction.

This is a truly delightful series that enlightens and entertains. You’ll hear Roberto Alagna speaking in French about how significant it was that the tenor voice became a virile-sounding vocal part in the 1830s, which has certainly been a large measure of his superstar appeal and countless others.

There are wonderful contemporary and historic snippets of the great ones singing the great arias. Even interviews with the divas of today regarding the signficance and the challenges of the tenor role.

Here is the first part (1/7) of “What Makes A Great Tenor?”  All seven parts are available on YouTube. It is not to be missed. Do let me know what you think of it.

 

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the anniversary of an opera that launched legendary tenor’s career

Plácido Domingo as Don Rodrigo in his US premiere at NYC Opera, 1966

Today (July 24) in 1964 marks the premiere of composer Alberto Ginastera’s Don Rodrigo, in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

Don Rodrigo, a three-act opera based on the last Visigothic king of Spain, was Ginastera’s first. It was a 12-tone opera, a method of composing devised by Schoenberg that gives all 12 tones in the chromatic scale (more or less) equal importance thereby avoiding a key.

The NY Times called Don Rodrigo brilliant in the 1964 review of its premiere though it was considered unsuccessful in Argentina, despite being commissioned by Municipality of the City of Buenos Aires.

Less than two years later, on February 22, 1966, Plácido Domingo had his international breakthrough by singing the (difficult) title role of this opera at the US premiere of the work by New York City Opera, which coincidentally marked NYC Opera’s inaugural performance at New York State Theater at Lincoln Center (now the David H. Koch Theater).

Because of this Lincoln Center premiere of Don Rodrigo, a 25-year-old Spanish tenor became a household name.

The YouTube clip below has interviews with Domingo and Julius Rudel, General Director and Principal Conductor at NYC Opera from 1957 to 1979.

The excitement Rudel shares about his company moving to Lincoln Center and the sheer joy that Domingo conveys about premiering at Lincoln Center are palpable.

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Filed under 20th Century Opera, Modern opera, opera firsts, Premieres, tenors

did you know the tenor was the ‘holding’ voice?

As a word person, I’m forever curious about the origin of words. (I really should have taken Latin instead of German classes in high school. Latin would have been a stronger springboard to support my lifelong interest in etymology.)

Since we are featuring tenors all month on Operatoonity, I simply had to find out where the word came from.

Did you know “tenor” derives from the Latin word tenere, which means “to hold”? Like so many other words now in use, it came to mean something quite different over the centuries.

Apparently, between about 1250 and 1500, during the time of medieval polyphony (music with two or more independent lines), the tenor was the structurally fundamental (or holding) voice–vocal or instrumental. All other voices were normally calculated in relation to the tenor.

Until the late 15th century, the tenor was usually the lowest voice, in order to provide a harmonic foundation. It was also in the 15th century that “tenor” came to signify the male voice that sang such parts. For earlier repertoire, a line marked ‘tenor’ indicated the part’s role and not the required voice type. Indeed, even as late as the eighteenth century, partbooks for ‘tenor’ might contain parts for a range of voice types.

So when did the word tenor as we know it come to mean the highest male vocal part or one who sings that part?

According to Yale Press’s “The Prehistory of the Voice,” the notion of the modern tenor voice “accelerated rapidly from the eighteenth century onward” until it became the voice part we know it as today–the voice of princes and dukes, of lovers and their beloved, of martyrs and heroes.

Bravi, tenori!

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meet @mitchthetenor: sings internationally; loves American song

Mitchell Sturgess, tenor

Tenor Mitchell Sturges hails from Salt Lake City, Utah.  Currently, he lives in Tucson, Arizona, where he is under the tutelage of Dr. Kristin Dauphinais at the University of Arizona.

But in a manner of speaking, he’s like VISA. Mitch is everywhere you want him to be.

That’s because he’s really plugged into social media (he was one of the early adopters, judging from his huge friend and follower base), which is how I met him, and how I arranged for Mitch to be one of this month’s Talented Tenors.

Some of his past performances include leading roles in Gianni Schicchi, Il barbiere di Siviglia and Amahl and the Night Visitors, collaborating with the University of Utah Opera Theatre, Paradigm Chamber Orchestra, & Salt Lake Symphony.

In the summer of 2007, he sang the role of Gherardo in Puccini’s Gianni Schicchi & the Sergeant in Donizetti’s Rita in Pesaro, Italy, at international music festival La Musica Lirica. He has been a featured soloist throughout Salt Lake performing J.S. Bach’s St. Matthew Passion, P.D.Q. Bach’s Oedipus Tex, Britten’s Rejoice in the Lamb, Dvořák’s Requiem & Händel’s Messiah. In spring 2010, he was a featured soloist with Utopia Early Music, performing music from 17th century England.

No wonder his Twitter username is @mitchthetenor. Being a tenor is his life and his livelihood!

Welcome to Operatoonity, Mitch!

Where did you grow up and how did it affect your life choices?
I grew up in Salt Lake City, and this definitely affected my life choices. When I was in high school, we were known for our music, specifically the choral arts, with approximately 500 students in the choir department.The arts here are supported very well, with lots of different performing organizations performing all 52 weeks of the year. In addition to the professional groups, there are quite a few community performing groups that offer solo performance opportunities to the young and rising talent of Salt Lake, giving the opportunity to perform with an orchestra and/or chorus. Beyond those groups, there are lots of community venues (churches, colleges, etc.) that have concert series that mostly feature local talent. This is one of the greatest things, as finding a venue is usually the hardest part of putting together a performance. Had I not grown up in a place where the arts are not as strongly supported, I could have gone in a completely different career.

Performing in MacBeth

Do you believe that being an opera/classically trained singer is your destiny?
Short answer: Yes. I feel, that wherever my career path takes me, I will always sing. I have a couple different interests in the classical music industry (in no particular order): being a professional singer, being an artistic director of a company or concert series, a faculty member at a college or university, or music director for a church. The nice part about some of these options is that, in some cases, more than one could occur. I think, as of right now, my career is lining up more toward being on faculty somewhere. While being on faculty, I could (and would) still have professional engagements around the world, and this is definitely an option during the summer. Even if I don’t end up at an educational institution, I have a strong love of performing and recitals, and would perform constantly, whatever my position is.
How would you describe your voice?
I would maybe say that it is like (read: heading towards) Rockwell Blake’s sound. I sing mostly Rossini & Mozart, but have a little more heft than the standard leggerio. That said, I have had my voice described as being ‘transparently clean’ and that I sing ‘honestly and with clarity.’

Singing in 'Betly'

What single experience has been the most meaningful in your operatic pursuits thus far?
The most meaningful operatic experience so far was when I went to Italy in 2007, and had the opportunity to sing in a production of Gianni Schicchi & Donizetti’s Betly in a young artist program. It was five weeks of pure bliss. During that time, in addition to our musical training, we were in 20 hours of Italian class each week.

Although not really operatic, the most meaningful experience for me in my classical training was this past summer when I was presented in recital at St. Martin-in-the-Fields in London. It was an amazing experience, and one I hope to repeat in the coming years.

Favorite composer? Favorite opera? Favorite role?  Favorite venue?
Picking a favorite composer is kind of like picking a favorite child. But, if pressed, it would be a tie between Rossini & Mozart. They wrote such beautiful timeless music. My favorite opera would have to be Barber of Seville–the music is so great and the characters are wonderful. My favorite role is usually whatever I’m working on, but Nika Magadoff in The Consul is quite a delight to sing. My favorite operatic venue is the Met, no question. Favorite concert venue is Disney Hall in LA. Favorite recital venue is St. Martin-in-the-Fields in London–the acoustics there simply divine.

What would you like to be doing in five years? Ten years?
In five years, I will be working on my DMA in performance. In ten, I would hope to be working professionally in some capacity in this industry. Ideally, I’d like to have a few years of real performing experience before I theoretically ‘settle down’ in a faculty position.

When did you embrace social media and how has it impacted your career or visibility. Or has it?
I started on Twitter mid-2008 on a whim and didn’t really use it to communicate with others until 2009. I don’t know if I could say that it has impacted my career . . . yet. My visibility has gone up though. What it has really done is put me in contact with people or groups that I would love to work with in the future.

What is something most people don’t know about you, something not on your resume?
I am an avid crocheter. I enjoy making afgans for my friends and family. This was actually something that was incorporated into an opera once…

a photo from his new website

Where can we see you in 2011-12?
In November of this year, I will be performing in The Consul with University of Arizona Opera Theatre. I have two recitals in March of 2012, one in Tucson, at St. Philip’s-in-the-Hills, and one at the Los Angeles City College. This recital is exciting as it is a test run of a recital I plan on taking to London and various parts of the US in the 2012-2013 season. Also, it features music that is a strong passion of mine: American song.

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You can find out more about Mitchell Sturges at his website. Or follow him Twitter @mitchthetenor or become his Facebook friend–where he is approaching godlike status with 2,292 friends (but would just love to have a few hundred more).

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Filed under Interviews, Performers, profiles, tenors

lend me a tenor?

all month on Operatoonity

I’d love to, but you’ll have to be more specific. That’s like a surgeon saying, “Lend me an instrument” when he needs a scalpel.

Since it’s Talented Tenors month, I thought I’d talk about the categories of tenors determined by the range, weight, and color of their voices. Within the operasphere, not only is there ample discussion about all the different vocal types, opera lovers also argue about which singers should be where, which I suppose boils down to which roles do they sing best.

One thing is for certain–tenors know what roles they can sing. They know their categories (their Fach, as its known in German) and so do the opera houses who hire them. Below is one popular categorization of tenors. Where possible I included an opera singer I’ve seen who has been associated with the category.

Juan Diego Flórez, 'Rossini' tenor

Light-lyric tenor–depending on the repertoire, these voices are often called leggiero tenors or “Rossini” tenors. Juan Diego Flórez is one tenor I’ve seen  in the Met’s Le Comte Ory whose name comes up frequently in this category. On his website he refers to himself as a bel canto tenor or one who is ideal for Rossini, Donizetti, and Bellini operas. His website says that he has distinguished himself for his  “fluid, expressive singing and dazzling virtuosity.” Now that I’ve heard him in person, I can’t agree more.

Lyric tenor–with not quite the high register of the light-lyric tenor, this voice category is well represented by many beloved roles in opera such as:

Rodolfo, La bohème (Puccini)
Ferrando, Così fan tutte (Mozart)
Elvino, La sonnambula (Bellini)
Ramiro, La Cenerentola (Rossini)
Nemorino, L’elisir d’amore (Donizetti)

David Lomeli

Mexico City native and Operalia winner David Lomeli sings lyric tenor roles. He has garnered critical acclaim for his Rodolfo, which he’s currently singing at the Sante Fe Opera Festival. I saw him sing Nemorino for New York City opera last March, for which he earned rave reviews, including mine.

Lyric-dramatic tenor–while still lyric in nature, this category of singer demands a certain brightness or dramatic color to soar over the orchestra. Light dramatic tenors are often sought for these roles:

Cavaradossi, Tosca (Puccini)
Don José, Carmen (Bizet)
Florestan, Fidelio (Beethoven)
Canio, Pagliacci (Leoncavallo)
Max, Der Freischütz  (von Weber)

Marcelo Àlvarez

Some consider Marcelo Àlvarez a lyric tenor though the weight and color of his voice was ideally suited to singing the role of the artist Cavaradossi at the Met this past winter.

Dramatic tenor–also called tenore di forza in Italian. Dramatic tenor roles that require a spinto quality–an ability to push the voice–so that it sails over heavily-textured orchestral passages. Sometimes this is also called a robusto tenor. Depending on how they are cast, roles can include:

Andrea Chénier in Giordano’s opera of the same name
Don Alvaro, La forza del destino (Verdi)
Otello in Verdi’s opera of the same name

The title role in Verdi’s Ernani and Manrico (Il trovatore, Verdi) were originally considered part of the robusto tenor tradition even though these roles aren’t often cast that way these days.

Salvatore Licitra, tenore di forza

Tenor Salvatore Licitra is commonly identified as a tenore di forza among opera cognoscenti. I had the great pleasure of seeing him sing the role of King Gustav in “A Masked Ball” at Washington National Opera‘s “Opera in the Outfield” a simulcast of the Kennedy Center production in Nationals Park. Besides wowing the crowd with his singing, he proudly donned a Nationals cap at curtain call and will forever be adored by WNO fans who are also Nationals fans.

Stuart Skelton, heldentenor

Heldentenor–this is the dramatic tenor voice of the German repertoire that demands a distinctive ‘ring’ and weight for roles such as:

Siegfried, Der Ring des Nibelungen (Wagner)
Parsifal, Parsifal (Wagner)
Tristan, Tristan und Isolde ( Wagner)
Walther von Stolzing, Die Meistersinger ( Wagner)

Stuart Skelton is widely considered one of the pre-eminent heldentenors of his generation. Though I didn’t see Skelton in ENO’s Parsifal, David Karlin at Bachtrack.com did and said his singing nearly blew the roof off the London Coliseum. See David’s review here.

What about you, Operatoonity readers? Whom have you observed who define this classification? Any delights or surprises? Do you have a favorite type of tenor voice?

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get to know ‘Pavarotti of the Panhandle,’ tenor Eric Barry

Eric Barry, tenor

Eric Barry is setting himself apart with his distinctive sound–which is both passionate and earnest–and with his genuine facility for dramatic expression.

His performances have earned him international approval: the PBS documentary Young Opera declared him to be “the next big thing in the tenor world.”

The Spanish-American tenor has been heard throughout the US and Europe–including broadcasts on National Public Radio. Eric is a graduate of the prestigious School of Music at Yale University, where he earned both an M.M. and an A. D. in Opera Performance.

He has so many professional engagements in the coming year that they can’t can’t all be mentioned in this post. (I hope he packs as well as he sings!) Why? Because everyone wants to hear this young talent! (Including moi.)

Welcome to Operatoonity, Eric. We are very excited to learn more about you.

Where did you grow up and how did it affect your life choices?

Eric Barry at the Teatro Real in Madrid

I grew up in Sundown, Texas — population 1511.  Sundown is about an hour from the closest movie theater or mall, and over three hours away from the closest opera company.  My mother always listened to classical music in the house and every now and then played CD’s of ‘The Three Tenors.’  I remember hating it.  “They’re just screaming,” I’d tell her.  That was the most exposure I’d had to classical singing until I was 20 years old.  Little did I know that a seed was being planted way back then.

Years later I found myself studying business in college and basically tripped into an offer for voice lessons.  (That’s an entire story on it’s own!)  I was an accomplished trumpet player but singing was relatively foreign to me.  I remember thinking, “I have to read music and words??”  Nevertheless, I had a pretty natural gift for singing and kept taking lessons clear into my MBA degree. I’d get a gig every now and then when my voice teacher would recommend me for something and as time passed those gigs got bigger and more exclusive.  Within a couple of years of studying voice I had already sung for princes and presidents and all kinds of social VIP’s. It was quite a ride, and for being only a hobby at the time I was starting to get quite involved.

Before I completed my MBA, my voice teacher sat me down and told me that if I didn’t take the dive and study music full time I’d probably never do it. I took a trip to NYC with my teacher and my mom and sang for various people and eventually decided to move to the East Coast.  From there things really started to blossom. I’ve been on the coast for four years now and now sing opera full time. If you asked me just five years ago what I’d be doing in 2011, I most certainly wouldn’t have guessed this!

When did you know that you were destined to become an opera/classically trained singer?
Ha, ha. There is a specific moment in my life when I realized my potential, but that’s a very personal story that I don’t usually share because I consider the events somewhat sacred. I can say that after I stumbled into those voice lessons, I knew that I liked singing. It was fascinating to think that a single human voice could be so penetrating that it could be heard over an orchestra in a 2,000 seat house. But, it was at least three years after my first voice lesson that I realized I had real potential.

The longer I pursued the art form, the more opportunities began to present themselves. I was offered a gig with the local symphony, and a small role in the local opera company, then lead role, etc. etc.  I wasn’t even really pursuing it, but the opportunities were there. I decided to audition for a summer program and was accepted.  As I mentioned earlier, everyone encouraged me to move to New York and start working as soon as I could. So, in 2007, I packed up my car and moved. During that drive I remember collecting my thoughts as to how I came to the decision to make such a drastic change in my life, and honestly, it all happened so quickly I couldn’t even connect the dots. I was nervous, but proud of myself for taking the leap of faith.

Pavarotti of the Panhandle

You have been called the ‘Pavarotti of the Panhandle.’  Do you agree with the comparison?
A four-star general heard me sing the national anthem at a political event in Texas and started his speech by complimenting my rendition. He said, “I never thought I’d fly from the Pentagon for this event today and hear something like that. You have your very own “Pavarotti of the Panhandle.”  The event was covered by the newspaper and the title stuck from that point forward.

Let’s be honest…no one will ever replace Luciano. My talents pale in comparison, but I do think there is something engaging in my voice that is attractive to listen to. That distinct beauty is VERY present in Pavarotti’s voice. You can hear a recording of him from 500 feet away and know that it’s him within two measures. I think I have a distinct sound too, but more than anything we just look similar!

How would you describe your voice?
What a hard question to answer. I actually went onto my website to listen to a clip before answering this. My singing is very Italianate. That’s just the way I was taught – very long, legato lines with an emphasis on true Italianate vowels.  I have a decent range and can comfortably sing a tenor’s low-b to high-d on stage. I love romantic music, but can move my voice surprisingly well too so I’m starting to sing a lot of Rossini and Bellini as well. As to my timbre, I think I have a unique tone that has a quality I can only describe as “honest.” I don’t really know how else to describe it.

What  role/opportunity/person was the biggest single influence on your career?
So many people have played a large part in the succession of events that have put me here.  Dr. Joe Ella Cansler, my first voice teacher, is responsible for convincing me to take voice lessons in college.  Needless to say, I loved it, and without her I would most likely not be singing at all.

But, I’d have to say that Mary Jane Johnson has probably been the most influential person in my career. She is a dear friend of Dr. Cansler’s, was my second voice teacher, and is a small town girl from Texas who became an international star.  Mary Jane nurtured me, taught me everything I know about Italianate singing, and has worked me like a dog. We have laughed and cried together over the years and I consider her family. She still advises me to this day and will always be a fixture for me.

Curtain call for 'La Bohème,' Teatro Comunale di Sulmona in Italy

As to influential roles, they’ve all played a part in my growth. My most memorable production up to this point was La Bohème at the Teatro Comunale di Sulmona in Italy.  It was my international debut in my favorite opera . . . in Italy!  It was really a dream come true.

One of the most advantageous opportunities for me was studying at Yale University. They called me in May of 2008 and asked me to audition.  I nervously accepted, auditioned the next day, and ended up getting two degrees there in three years.  Being there opened a lot of doors for me and I was able to learn a lot about myself during my time there.

How did the opportunity to be on the PBS “Young Opera” special come about?
I received a call from the program host asking if I’d be willing to interview for a PBS documentary on up-and-coming opera singers.  I’m not sure how they had heard about me because I had only been singing full-time for less than a year at that point.  Heck, I didn’t even know I was “up-and-coming.”  But I did know that I couldn’t turn down the opportunity.  After the interview was aired on TV and posted to the Internet, it received an overwhelming amount of attention.  I’ve been fortunate to collaborate with that production team on other projects as well, but that initial interview was certainly a memorable moment in my early career.

Favorite composer? Favorite opera? Favorite role? Favorite venue?
Favorite composer:  Puccini (although Wagner is creeping up the list) Favorite opera: La Bohème. Cliché? Perhaps, but I love it. Favorite role: This answer changes with the weather.  On a serious day, maybe Don Carlo. On a light-hearted day, Gianni Schicchi is pretty great. Favorite venue?  Who doesn’t want to sing at La Scala?

As the Duke in 'Rigoletto'

What would you like to be doing in five years?  Ten years?
It’s healthy and important to review professional goals so I’m glad you asked that. I think it’s realistic to hope for very steady regional work supplemented by appearances in a few large houses in the U.S. and Europe (I am an EU citizen after all!) in five years, most likely singing Mozart, Donizetti, Bellini and some Rossini. In ten years, I’d love to be jumping between international opera houses singing all of that and Puccini. I LOVE concert work too. I’d be perfectly content singing requiems, hodies and oratorios wherever those opportunities arise too. And, since my background is in business, I think eventually I’d like to manage other singers careers!

What is something most people don’t know about you, something not on your resume?
I feel like I’m a prince of useless talent:  From spinning random objects on my finger to catching marshmallows in my mouth from seven stories high. Or being a killer ping-pong player, frisbee thrower, and competition kite flyer. Odd talent is my specialty, including singing opera I suppose. I also love to cook and travel with my own kitchen knives.

Where can people see you in 2011-12?
Currently I’m singing with the Wolf Trap Opera company. We just finished a run of Wolf-Ferarri’s Le donne curiose (Washington Times review, Washington Post review,) and I’m now prepping for a recital with Steven Blier and a production of Sweeney Todd (as Anthony) with the National Symphony Orchestra.  Here’s a rundown of my schedule for the rest for the 2011  (more in the works!):

  • July 10, 2011 – Recital w/Steven Blier, Wolf Trap Opera Company
  • July 22, 2011 – Sweeney Todd as Anthony, Wolf Trap Opera Company with National Symphony Orchestra
  • October 1-2, 2011 – La Bohème as Rodolfo, Amarillo Opera
  • October 14, 2011 – Symphony No. 1 by Frank Ticheli with the Yale University Concert Band

Eric will be touring the US in the Fall of 2011 performing the Mozart Requiem with the Munich Symphony:

  • Oct. 26, 2011 – Richmond, KY
  • Oct. 27 – Granville, OH
  • Oct. 28 – Carmel, IN
  • Oct. 30 – Manhattan, KS
  • Nov. 1 – Fayetteville, AR
  • Nov. 3 – Conway, AR
  • Nov. 4 – St. Louis, MO
  • Nov. 5 – Joplin, MO
  • Nov. 6 – Overland Park, KS
  • Nov. 7 – Lincoln, NE
  • Nov. 10 – Winston-Salem, NC
  • Nov. 13 – Athens, GA
  • Nov. 15 – West Palm Beach, FL
  • Nov. 16 – West Palm Beach, FL
  • Nov. 17 – Gainesville, FL
  • Nov. 18 – Daytona, FL
  • Dec. 1-4, 2011, Hodie by Ralph Vaughan Williams with the Hartford Symphony Orchestra

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Anyone is interested in the rest of Eric’s season, can visit him or contact him through his website. Or you can follow him on Twitter @ebtenor where his profile reads: Tenor, but also a sophisticated Spaniard, vaudevillian veteran, ultimate consumer, instigator/enabler, certified ninja, chef and visionary.

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Filed under Interviews, Opera and humor, Performers, 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.

Comments Off on meet a teaching tenor– K.E. Querns Langley

Filed under Bel canto opera, Interviews, profiles, tenors

celebrating The American Tenors on the Fourth of July

Of course, America boasts lots of talented tenors who could (and should) be celebrated today, the day when the United States of America was born with the signing of the Declaration of Independence in Philadelphia in 1776.

But have you heard of  the performing group The American Tenors: the trio of  Marcus McConico, Nathan Granner, and Ben Gulley? Now, that’s American! A patriotic musical package of sorts, perfect for featuring on a Fourth of July Operatoonity post.

From l to r: Nathan Granner, Ben Gulley, Marcus McConico

The American Tenors were the brainchild of Frank McNamara (the creative force behind the success of The Irish Tenors), and were launched following a nationwide search early in 2002 by McNamara. The American Tenors began their journey with a PBS special recorded at the Kodak Theatre in Hollywood, following a signing by Sony Classical.

The American Tenors have delighted audiences across the U.S. and Europe with their combination of great voices, humor and choice of material from “Nessun Dorma” to “West Side Story,”  from the Great American Songbook to Neopolitan favorites.

“We are set to hit 24 dates this coming season,” Nathan Granner, the only original member of the group (and the most enterprising tenor I know), said of their 2011-12 contracts. “We have usually had two or three gigs a year, but this year is  more robust.”

I’ll say!

Ben Gulley is the newest member of the group and was “plucked from close to home,” per Granner. “He’s young, versatile, charming and an amazing voice! His career is skyrocketing. Also we have Marcus McConico, who has been with us for five years.”

Tenor Daniel Montenegro  sang  with The American Tenors for five years. “We miss him deeply. But he’s doing well. His career in opera is flourishing,” explained Granner, with Montenegro being a new Adler Fellow with San Francisco Opera.

Interestingly, Granner reports that the group has had six tenors participating to date.

Here is a YouTube clip celebrating The American Tenors, past and present, singing “Shenandoah,” one of my all-time favorite American folk songs from their Great American Songbook. (To hear Granner, Gulley, and McConico singing together, listen to this clip from their website):

Happy Birthday, USA, my home sweet home.

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Filed under Heartstoppers, Holidays, opera trends, Video