In our recent Speight’s Corner video, we got to see you and Michael Fabiano butt heads a bit over your baseball allegiances: you’re a Red Sox fan, and he roots for the Yankees. Especially now that the baseball season is just around the corner, has there been any trash talk between you two in rehearsals?
Oh, it’s constant. [Laughs] It’s pretty much every time I see him! Michael and I have very different personalities, and I’m usually pretty reserved—but if something comes up where there’s a point of contention, like baseball, then yep. And it’s just like the camaraderie we have on stage, which is especially good because I’d never met him before, so we had that connection right off the bat.
We love having our Young Artists return to Seattle Opera. When you look back on your time as a Young Artist, what do you remember about the experience?
There were so many great things, like having Peter Kazaras and Stephen Wadsworth around, and getting Speight’s input on the business and how it really is. Plus, it was a good group of artists, and four of us were from University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, including Michael Todd Simpson.
So, tell us about that season’s Florencia en el Amazonas experience! Well, when I found out Seattle Opera was doing Florenica on the mainstage, I borrowed a copy from the library and fell in love with the music instantly. And I said, “You know what? I’m going to coach this with [Head of Coach-Accompanists] David McDade.” I wanted to really learn it and practice it, because I just loved the music. Meanwhile, Nathan Gunn didn’t have a cover for his role as Ríolobo, and sure enough, he got sick. So Speight came and grabbed me and said, “We need you to do this!” because I just happened to know it.
The most nerve-racking part of it was up until the show started, I didn’t know exactly what they wanted me to do—because Nathan was not entirely indisposed. He didn’t want to not sing if he didn’t have to, and so just before the show started, they said, “Here’s what you’re going to do. You’re going to sit there, and if Maestro points at you, you start singing.” [Laughs] I knew I would have to do the climactic storm scene, because Nathan didn’t feel comfortable singing that one scene, but…
…but you were basically on call for any other parts that he might need covered.
Yeah. I’ve never heard of that sort of arrangement, but it worked out and didn’t disturb the show at all. It was the best way to handle it.
Photo by Alan Alabastro
And now you’re here for La Bohème, in which you will sing Schaunard! How many times would you guess you’ve performed La Bohème in your career?
Forty times. And I’m not sick of it.
It’s that kind of opera; people can see it over and over again and never get tired of it. Why do you think Bohème has endured the way it has?
Because we’ve all been young, struggling up-and-comers—though maybe not necessarily as artists. But we can all relate to that struggle. And we can relate to love, and to loss. And the music is exquisite.
It’s one of those operas that affects me more the more I do it. Rather than becoming desensitized, it’s just the opposite. I discover more through my own study and through the insights of others, like Maestro Carlo Montanaro here. It’s fascinating, his observations on Bohème. For example, there’s one little exchange in Act Two; when I first heard it, I thought, “This is a nice, clever, simple exchange.” It’s when everyone is finally sitting down at the tables, and Marcello is starting to get bitter and sarcastic about everything. And he says, “O bella età d'inganni e d'utopie! Si crede, spera, e tutto bello appare!“ [“O lovely state of paradise and deception! With belief and hope, all seems perfect”] and then Rodolfo takes his line, “La più divina delle poesie è quella, amico, che c'insegna amare!” [“The greatest poetry, my friend, is that which teaches us to love!”]. What Maestro pointed out is that in the first line, Marcello provides warmth (though, of course, it’s a warm color but a bitter sentiment). And then the tenor comes in and he sings the same line, but it’s just transposed up, and he provides the power. And hearing how one line moves to the other like that—well, it’s the same music, but it’s a different element that gets brought out. And that’s just one little example!
Photo by Alan Alabastro
Do you have a favorite moment in La Bohème, whether to perform yourself, or to watch from the audience?
When Colline says, “Salami!” [Laughs] No, I always joke that’s my favorite part, but gosh, to pick a favorite… OK, well, to narrow it down, this may not be my favorite moment in the opera but it’s my favorite moment I get to sing. It’s when Schaunard says—you know what, it’s not even when Schaunard is singing. It’s when he leaves Rodolfo so he can be alone with Mimì. It’s a very touching moment. And Puccini brings back Schaunard’s motif. In the beginning, when I first come in, it’s “Ba ba ba ba ba!” [snaps fingers, sings Schaunard’s entrance music], it’s a party, I got food, I got money, we’re gonna party! But later on, when I leave Rodolfo to be with his dying lover, it’s the same music, for the same person, but it’s a completely different mood. [Sings slower Schaunard motif from his Act 4 exit, before “Sono andati?”] So actually, that’s my favorite part to perform.
Do you ever get choked up, performing this opera?
Maestro said he started crying when he was silently studying the score on the plane—just by opening the book and looking at it. And that happens to me, too. But one thing I actually learned from Stephen Wadsworth, when I was a Young Artist, was that you need to find that line before you lose emotional control. You define that line as clearly as, say, a line on the floor. Once you cross over it, you lose control. So you say, “I’m going up to this point before the line, and I will keep this much distance from the line.” You can learn to do that, just like you can learn to balance on one foot.
Moving away from the opera stage, how is your career as a recitalist going? And what’s next after La Bohème wraps up?
Oh, well, thank you for asking! I actually just released a recital CD that went straight to No. 1 on Amazon.com for opera and vocal CDs. It’s of a few 21st-century American composers: Jake Heggie, Stephen Paulus, Tom Cipullo, and Lori Laitman. I enjoy a good balance of recital, concert, and opera. And after this, I’m going straight to another opera—The Marriage of Figaro—and then am doing my favorite role, Dandini from La Cenerentola.