Monday, February 3, 2020

Q&A with Freddie Ballentine and Chrystal E. Williams

Mezzo Chrystal E. Williams and tenor Freddie Ballentine attended the same performing arts high school in Virginia. Their paths have crossed a few times since graduating from Governor’s School for the Arts. They celebrate years of friendship and have a school reunion here in Seattle while performing in our production of Charlie Parker’s Yardbird.

How well did you know each other at the Governor’s School?

Chrystal E. Williams: I was a senior.

Freddie Ballentine: I was a little freshman boy soprano. We didn’t actually have much of a chance to get to know each other in school because of the age difference. But it was a very small performing arts school, so we still knew each other a lot better than we knew most of our normal school classmates. Chrystal was more of a mentor to me. I remember a summer boot camp we had together. She was introduced as our section leader. I was immediately intimidated because Chrystal was a serious and smart woman even then. I was a clumsily little chubby boy. She sat next to me during our rehearsal of Saint-SaĆ«ns Christmas Oratorio. She had to teach me how to follow along in the music. She was so focused and capable. I remember thinking that there was no way I deserved to be at this school if people like her were there.

C.W.: I recall that he was this sweet looking boy called an alto. I remember thinking an alto?

F.B.: We had most of our classes together. I was lazy about sight-reading, so I usually tried to sit next to her so I could hear the notes rather than read them. Haha! She always call me out for that. She does so even more now that we’re adults. We also performed in everything together back in high school. I was in the chorus and the self-appointed/unofficial Cherubino cover in our production of Le nozze di Figaro. She sang Contessa opposite Speedo Green and Will Liverman.

C.W.: We grew closer during our time together at the Aspen Music Festival around 2007 or 2008. I was there when he was transforming to tenor. When I think about it, I’ve heard him as an alto, baritone, and tenor. I’ve heard him as a soprano, too.

Chrystal E. Williams (left) as Rebecca Parker, Charlie Parker's Yardbird, English National Opera, 2017. Photo Richard Hubert Smith

Is Charlie Parker’s Yardbird your first professional together?

C.W.: No, Appomattox with Washington National Opera was our first professional show together.

F.B.: That was in 2014 or 2015.

C.W.: And a few years ago, we performed together in the annual Messiah at the Governor’ School. Will Liverman also sang with us.

Have you remained in touch since graduating from high school?

C.W.: Yes! We text each other, connect via social media, and we often run into each other as well!

F.B.: We text and message each other often. This business has a way for making sure people keep in touch.

Frederick Ballentine as Don Jose, Carmen, Seattle Opera, 2019. Photo Bill Mohn

What favorite memories will you share with each other when you see each other?

F.B.: I’m sure we will share the many quotes and outbursts we witnessed from our late teacher, Mr. Robert Brown. He was such a positive force in our lives. He was a beautiful over the top human. There’s a lot to remember about him. And we’ll talk about our time together in Aspen and DC.

C.W.: I will be sure to remind Freddie to keep those feet planted firmly on the ground. I’m one of his ‘I remember you when’ circle members. Freddie is having a wonderful career. As a friend, colleague, old mentor, and sister figure, I want to be sure that Freddie never forgets that summer I heard him hollering across campus working on those high notes. I’m sure he’ll remember the rest! It’s certainly paid off. Freddie has always been the type to put himself out there; to just go for it. That energy and drive serves him well today. I am so happy for him and all that he has accomplished!

Seattle Opera’s Charlie Parker's Yardbird plays February 22–March 7 at McCaw Hall.
Tickets and info: