Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Meet Our Singers: KEITH JAMESON, the Henchmen

Audiences have been loving the four oddball servants played by Keith Jameson, who makes his Seattle Opera debut in The Tales of Hoffmann. Between Jameson’s extraordinary performance(s) and the remarkable work of our Costume and Hair and Makeup Departments, some in the audience think he is four different people! This exciting new talent told us a little about his work in this opera and his many-faceted career.

Keith Jameson sings Frantz's aria

Tell us about the characters you play in this crazy opera.
I sing the four servants, Andrès, Cochenille, Frantz, and Pitichinaccio. As the heroines all embody the same woman, and the villains are all different sides of the same man, I believe my characters embody aspects of the same man as well. They are all very distinct, with each one possessing a certain characteristic: Andrès is a man of very few words; Cochenille stutters; Frantz is hard of hearing; Pitichinaccio has a mean edge.

Have you performed these roles before?
I have not. I sang in the chorus of Tales of Hoffmann at the Brevard Music Center when I was an apprentice there in college. When I was asked to take on these roles, I was excited about creating four completely different characters, and hopefully four 'different' voices as well.

Keith Jameson as Cochenille
Elise Bakketun, photo

What is challenging about performing these roles?
Cochenille’s stuttering is a challenge in that he stutters on vowels, not consonants. Most other stuttering roles in opera (like Basilio in Le nozze di Figaro or Vasek in The Bartered Bride) stutter on consonants. In this production, Cochenille is an automaton like Olympia, so his speech is very clipped and mechanical, and the stuttering helped reflect that... also we decided that he was an 'earlier' model automaton, so he keeps stuttering until he gets the word right. It's been a lot of fun discovering the walk (and talk) of Cochenille.

What should we be listening for with the other three?
Andrès only sings three words: "Oui," "Non," and "Bon", short answers to Lindorf's questions in the Prologue (and Epilogue). Frantz sings a short aria in the Antonia scene. Because he is hard of hearing, his answers to questions are partly wrong. And watch out for how Pitichinaccio has a lot of stage business while hiding underneath a chaise sofa.

Norah Amsellem (Giulietta) and Keith Jameson (Pitichinaccio) in Les contes d'Hoffmann
Elise Bakketun, photo

Opera News did a nice story on you recently. It sounds like you started out singing in church?
Yes, I grew up in South Carolina, singing in the youth choir at my church, and the adult choir when I was in high school. We sang a lot of big, standard choral anthems. I also sang in a contemporary gospel group in high school. In addition, I was involved with musicals at my school and community theater. In college and graduate school, I continued to sing in church choirs, my college choir and chamber groups. I was the student conductor of my college choir, the Furman Singers at Furman University, during my senior year.

And how did you end up in opera?
I received a Master's in Conducting from the Eastman School of Music, and stayed on for my Doctorate. I realized that I 'liked' conducting, but I 'loved' singing. I was auditioning as a baritone for the Young Artists Program at Lyric Opera of Chicago, and all the judges thought I should be a tenor. So I was not accepted into the program, and instead transitioned from a baritone to tenor. I auditioned for 11 apprentice programs the following year, and was accepted into the Santa Fe Opera Apprentice Program, which I did for two summers. This was a major turning point for my career. After Santa Fe, I sang with New York City Opera for six consecutive seasons.

You started a music festival in your hometown in 2007—the Greenwood Music Festival. How did that come about?
My hometown of Greenwood, SC, does not get a lot of classical music or opera. (Actually SC only has one professional opera company, FBN Productions' Opera for Kids!, so it rarely gets major opera productions.) I wanted to bring more classical music and opera to that area, so from 2007-2011 we presented three American one-act operas by Barber, Barab and Menotti, Beauty and the Beast by André Grétry (in French with titles), and a world premier children's opera Mooch the Messy by Marcus DeLoach, a baritone who has sung in Seattle. We also presented chamber music, choral groups, cabaret evenings, a wind symphony from Atlanta, and the musical I Do! I Do! Although we stopped in 2011, I believe the Greenwood Music Festival may come back one day, possibly as a smaller organization or in as a different company.

Keith Jameson as Frantz
Elise Bakketun, photo

It looks like you’ve done some work in children’s operas. How did this work/this interest come about?
It is extremely important for kids to experience live opera, unamplified voices, up close and personal. It is one reason why we presented children's operas at my festival in SC four of the five seasons. I have written a children's opera, Petunia, based on the book by Roger Duvoisin, that was premiered and presented throughout South Carolina this past January and February, with FBN Productions. These children are our future audiences. We must do more to educate children (and for that matter, the broader public) on the joys of opera and classical music. As more and more funding is being cut from our schools, it is up to us, the artists, and the opera companies, to take opera to the public.

Sounds like you’re as comfortable in an opera as you are in a cabaret act? Is that aspect of your career still going?
I love cabaret and musical theater. I am developing a new cabaret show that will probably be presented in the fall of 2015 in New York, and will feature songs from musicals and popular songs of the 1950's through the 1980's. Also, I hope to do a show that concentrates on the early songs of Irving Berlin (and do a recording).

Where is your favorite place in the world to sing?
I am partial to Santa Fe. The outdoor theater and the beautiful sunsets before the performances make it unforgettable, truly a magical place. I also must say the Metropolitan Opera. To be home in New York, and singing on that amazing stage with the incredible history of that institution, is always a humbling experience.

Keith Jameson (Andrès) and Alfred Walker (Lindorf) in Les contes d'Hoffmann
Elise Bakketun, photo

What excites you about coming to Seattle?
I have never been to Seattle before, never been to this part of the country, and I am thrilled to be here. I hope to do some major running along the bay (I am preparing to run my first marathon later this year), and want to experience all of the fresh seafood and wonderful markets that are here as well. I am also so excited to be making my debut with Seattle Opera. It is a company that has such a terrific reputation and everyone I've spoken with has so enjoyed their experiences here.

1 comment:

  1. Watching Keith's body movements gave so much input & personality into his characters that I also did not realize he was 4. Even when 'just there' he was still conveying action. K.J. Should
    go far.