Monday, January 19, 2015

ARTISTS CORNER: Tenor Rafael Davila

Tenor Rafael Dávila has quickly risen to be one of the most sought after tenors of his generation. The 2015 Winter Festival Season will mark the tenors 10th season with Sarasota Opera and the return to one of his most celebrated roles with the company; Cavaradossi in Puccini’s Tosca. With almost 60 roles already under his belt, Mr. Dávila just completed performances as Des Grieux in Puccini’s Manon Lescaut conducted by Maestro Plácido Domingo in Valencia, Spain. Other recent appearances include the historic Teatro San Carlo in Naples, Italy, Washington National Opera, Kansas City Opera, Opera de Puerto Rico, and Minnesota Opera. This season, Mr. Dávila will make his debut at the Chicago Lyric Opera in the world premiere of the opera Bel Canto
Continue reading to learn more about this dynamic artist. 
Q. Where are you originally from and where do you make your home now?
A. I was born in Chicago, Illinois but my parents moved back to Puerto Rico when I was still a baby. I grew up in Puerto Rico and that’s where I have been living since I finished my Master’s degree in Opera at the University of Texas in Austin.

Rafael Davila at Cavaradossi in 2009
at Sarasota Opera
Q. What was your first moment performing in front of an audience on stage?
A. Because of my choral experience I was invited to sing in the male chorus for the opera Rigoletto and that was my first encounter with opera.

Q. Did you have other career aspirations in the works before you decided on singing?  
A. When I was invited to sing in the local opera productions in Puerto Rico in the chorus I was pursuing a doctorate degree in Optometry. As I began my Optometry practice with patients I realized I could not see myself doing that for the rest of my life and that would rather prefer to devote my life to music.


Q. You have sung many of the great leading tenor roles here in Sarasota. Do you have a favorite production?
A. I am so grateful to Sarasota Opera for all the opportunities it has given me over the years to try so many different and new roles. I have many favorite productions but I would definitely have to say Tosca is one of them along with the beautiful production of Madama Butterfly, Otello, and Cav/Pag.

Q. What do you want the audience to know about the character of Cavaradossi after the curtain comes down?
A. I want the audience to know that Cavaradossi is a man of principles even if it means sacrificing what it is most important in his life.

Q. I imagine you are looking forward to performing this role again in Sarasota.  What do you enjoy about singing at Sarasota Opera?
A. Sarasota has been my second home for the past decade but professionally it has been my first home. It has been the perfect place to try so many new roles in a very friendly atmosphere. A beautiful theater so comfortable to sing and try new things and all the time spent preparing the production with the opportunity of singing so many performances until you feel as a singer you own the role.

Rafael Davila as Des Grieux in
Manon Lescaut in Valencia, Spain

Q. You just performed the role of Chevalier des Grieux in Puccini’s Manon Lescaut in Spain with Placido Domingo conducting. Was this your first time working with the great tenor? 
A. This invitation from maestro Domingo came after I worked with him for the first time in 2013 when I was hired to cover Cavaradossi with Los Angeles Opera. I had to do most of the rehearsals because the tenor who was singing the performances would arrive late due to other engagements. Immediately after the first rehearsals Domingo offered me the Des Grieux which he knew would fit perfectly in my voice.

Q. What is it like being lead by such an iconic figure in opera like Maestro Domingo?
A. Imagine being conducted by someone you admired growing up and whom I have seen singing this type of repertory. He offered many recommendations on all sorts of different topics; vocally, musically, personal, and professional which of course I will follow coming from somebody who has being as successful in this profession as him. But what really touched me about maestro Domingo is his kindness, his energy and how, with all the things he must have in his mind, he could remember every person and every single detail.

Rafael Davila with famed
tenor Placido Domingo
Q. Thus far, what is the most bizarre experience you have had during a rehearsal and/or a performance anywhere?
A. The stage is a place where many things can go wrong with catastrophic results. There are many anecdotes in a performer’s life but for me, so far the worst experience happened as I was singing my opening night of Pagliacci last summer at the San Carlo Theater in Naples. It was a kind of Cirque du Soliel production where the stage was filled with water and they brought a new soprano at the last moment who didn’t have much time to rehearse on stage under those circumstances. Almost at the end of the opera I was supposed to push her and she slipped on the water and fell on her face breaking her nose. Yet she was able to stand with her face full of blood and finished the performance.

Q. Do you have any pre-performance rituals?  Performance superstitions?  Good luck charms?  If yes, why?
A. Not really, just rest well, eat well and warm up as much as possible, often singing the whole opera in the dressing room before going onstage.

Rafael Davila in the title role of
Otello at Sarasota Opera
Q. How do you relax in between performances?  What hobbies do you enjoy at home and “on the road”?
A. Because of all the demanding roles I have been singing in the past years, the time between performances are used to rest and recover for the next performance. So I end up watching a lot of TV when I am on the road or going to the movies to catch up with the latest releases I haven’t seen. When I am in a new city I like to explore the city and go to the museums. When I am home I just try to forget about everything and enjoy the most with my relatives and friends.

Q. I’m sure work/life balance takes on a whole different meaning being a professional singer who travels. How do you stay connected to family and friends when you are “on the road?  
A. Now with the internet everything is so much easier. I remember all the money I spent on calling cards on my first trips to places like Italy and New Zealand. I have to talk daily with my wife and daughter to be able to relax knowing they are fine. Now with Skype I can talk with them for hours while seeing each other. I always try to bring my family with me whenever they are free to join me. I try to always schedule my engagements so I can go home in between. Now that my daughter is going to University I will try to bring my wife with me as often as possible.




Q. As we have people that travel from around the United States to attend performances at Sarasota Opera, are there any towns or cities that you have a strong connection with whether from growing up or attending school?
A. As I mentioned before, I was born in Chicago but don’t know the city at all. I was able to go back two summers ago to audition for the Chicago Lyric Opera Company and will be making my debut with them this year, so I am really looking forward to get to know the city where I was born, even if it will be during the cold winter. Apart from that, Austin, Texas where I studied my Master’s degree in Opera Performance and also where I started my career as a young artist for the Austin Lyric Opera. I was then invited as a guest artist for the next three seasons to do my debuts as Pinkerton in Madama Butterfly, The Duke of Mantua in Rigoletto, and Alfredo in La Traviata.

Don't miss seeing Mr. Davila's performance as Cavaradossi in Puccini's Tosca opening at Sarasota Opera on February 7th and running for 12 performances through March 28th. Tickets are available at www.sarasotaopera.org or by calling (941) 328-1300. 

As a special treat, here is a clip of Mr. Davila singing the aria "E lucevan le stele" from the 2009 production of Tosca at Sarasota Opera. 





Monday, January 12, 2015

ARTISTS CORNER: Baritone Sean Anderson

Sean Anderson, one of Sarasota Opera's favorite baritones, returns to Sarasota Opera this season as The Count Almaviva in Mozart's The Marriage of Figaro. In previous seasons, Mr. Anderson has won critical acclaim for his performances as von Eisenstein in Die Fledermaus, George Milton in Carlisle Floyd's Of Mice and Men, and Iago in Verdi's Otello 

Recent performances have included Belcore in L'Elisir d'Amore at Knoxville Opera, Zurga in Pearl Fishers at Opera Southwest, and Dandini in La Cenerentola at Intermountain Opera. Continue reading to learn more about this dynamic and versatile artist. 


Q. Where are you originally from and where do you base yourself out of today?
A. Born in Manhattan (New York, not Kansas), raised in Mississippi and Ohio. I am currently based in South Carolina with my wife, Erika and our 6 year old, Naomi.

Sean Anderson as von Eisenstein in
Sarasota Opera's
Die Fledermaus
Q. Why Opera?  What drew you to become a singer? 
A. My father, Alfred Anderson, was an opera singer. He also taught voice and opera at University of Southern Mississippi and the University of Akron in Ohio.  I first became truly aware of what he did for a living around 7-yrs old during a production of Man of La Mancha in which he played the role of Cervantes/Quixote. I made myself a spear out of a broom stick, armor out of cardboard, and a helmet out of aluminum foil, and marched around the house singing “I am I Don Quixote!” at the top of my lungs. I’ve been hooked on theater ever since.

Q. What singing did you do as a teenager?
A. During my awkward years, I was in marching band and performed Shakespeare with a community theater company. After my voice changed, I was in several high-school choirs, including one that met every morning at 7:10am. I was also in a local show choir, and, of course, nearly every opera Dad’s students performed at the University. I made my operatic debut as Harry in Britten’s Albert Herring when I was 10. 

Q. What are you looking forward to most about performing the role of Count Almaviva in this season’s production of The Marriage of Figaro?
A. The Marriage of Figaro may very well be my favorite opera. Whenever I see it, I hear and experience something new. While I’ve performed just about every section of the role (in concerts, auditions, etc.), I have yet to perform it in a full production. I’m very excited to finally debut Il Conte (the Count), a role that, in my opinion, plays right to my wheel-house.  
Sean Anderson as The Pirate King in The Pirate of Penzance. 
Q. You have sung the role of Figaro in The Barber of Seville but now you are playing the role of Figaro’s employer. Are you afraid of suffering any kind of character identity crisis?
A. Who wouldn’t enjoy getting to be the loveable Figaro? That said, I don’t think I’ll have any problems. It’s always fun to play the antagonist.
Sean Anderson (left) as George Milton in Sarasota Opera's 2013 production of Of Mice and Men. 
Q. What do you find most challenging about this role?  What do you enjoy about it?
A. Without doubt, the recitative. Effective acting while singing so many foreign words is a great challenge. I’m striving for as much accuracy and character as I can achieve. My goal is for the audience to understand the text without having to look at the supertitles.

I enjoy that the Count has so many different moods and colors. Throughout the opera, the character displays a wide spectrum of emotions, perfectly reflected and enhanced by Mozart’s music.
Sean Anderson as the villainous
Iago inVerdi's
 Otello
Q. You have sung both wonderful comedic and tragic serious roles at Sarasota Opera. Do you have a preference of one over the other?
A. Not particularly, but the variety is nice. At other companies, I’m only regarded as appropriate for one or the other. Maestro DeRenzi has gently pushed me in many directions I wouldn’t have thought to go on my own, for which I’m grateful.

Q. Are there any famous Count Almavivas of the past you admire or enjoy listening to?
A. My father, Alfred Anderson

Q. You have been a steady presence at Sarasota Opera for several seasons.  You must enjoy singing here? 
A. Of course! Any artist wants to work with the best, and the best are consistently found at Sarasota Opera!

Q. What do you think makes Sarasota Opera so special from other opera companies?
A. The rapport we have with each other and with our audience. Seeing so many familiar faces over the years creates a family-like atmosphere that is wonderful to work in.

Sean Anderson as Marcello in
Puccini's La boheme
Q. Do you have any pre-performance rituals?  Performance superstitions?  Good luck charms?  If yes, why?
A. Experience has shown that a light meal (usually a smoothie of some sort), plenty of water, and a quiet hour reviewing my score makes for good performances. I am not superstitious.

Q. How do you relax in between performances?  What hobbies do you enjoy at home and “on the road”?
A. I exercise and read. At home, my hobbies consist of taking care of a 6 year old. On the road, I love to get friends together for board games. 

Q. As you have been to Sarasota Opera for several seasons now, what do you enjoy doing in the area while you are not in rehearsal or performing?
A. Actually, I am not really a beach person, but I do enjoy the many wonderful restaurants in the area. I also frequent the FST (Florida Studio Theater) when I'm in town.

Q. How do you stay connected to family and friends when you are “on the road”?  Do you keep a blog?  Website? Facebook?  Twitter?
A. I Facebook a lot, and my family and I like to talk via FaceTime on our phones. I can’t imagine what life was like for my mother and father while he was on the road during his performing career. He would sometimes only get to make one call to her a week – from a payphone! Unbelievable.

I’m in the process of creating a new website, but you can keep up with my performance antics by liking my profession Facebook page: SeanAnderson, Singer.

Don't miss seeing Sean Anderson as the Count Almaviva in Mozart's most charming comedies The Marriage of Figaro opening Valentine's Day, February 14th and running for 9 performances through March 27th. Visit sarasotaopera.org or call (941) 328-1300 for more information and tickets. 

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Ruggero Leoncavallo - Opera's "One-Hit Wonder"

Ruggero Leoncavallo
In his 1889 essay “The Decay of Lying” author Oscar Wilde wrote, “Life imitates Art far more than Art imitates Life.” This was certainly the case with opera’s most well known one-hit wonder, Ruggero Leoncavallo, as he was forced to defend the source of his idea to create the opera that finally secured his place in operatic notoriety: Pagliacci
Leoncavallo was born to the Neopolitan elite. His father was a judge and his mother was from a prominent aristocratic family in Naples. He began his musical studies at age 11. Records differ if he ever received a degree but he left the conservatory at the age of 18 regarded as a very competent pianist and possessing thorough musical training.   
Leoncavallo traveled to Bologna after high school in 1877. Although it is not clear whether he was actually enrolled in University, he began working with Giosuè Carducci – Italy’s most famous poet, writer, and a dominant figure in the city life of Bologna. It was then Leoncavallo began to shape his musical ideals and started to see himself as a composer.  
It was Carducci who encouraged Leoncavallo to embark on his most ambitious composition project: a historical operatic trilogy of the Italian Renaissance modeled after Wagner’s Ring. Unfortunately, he only completed one of the three operas, I medici, which was not well received by audience and critics when it premiered 15 years after its inception. 
The Teatro Dal Verme in Milan where Pagliacci
had it's premiere in 1892.
Suffering from years of rejection and false promises, Leoncavallo was forced to support himself and his family working as a rehearsal pianist, vocal coach, and voice teacher. He had reached a point of desperation when he conceived of creating Pagliacci. Well aware of the run-away success of Mascagni’s one-act Cavalleria Rusticana which had debuted to great acclaim in 1890, he abandoned his trilogy and dove into the creation of a one-act opera meant to rival Mascagni’s success. 
He composed both the libretto and music for Pagliacci in only five months. He submitted the work to Edoardo Sonzogno, a music publisher who had established a one-act opera contest in 1883 and was responsible for launching Mascagni and Cavalleria Rusticana to fame. Sonzogno accepted the opera immediately and presented it at the Teatro Dal Verme in Milan on May 21, 1892. The opera received mixed reviews critically but was an immediate success with the audience. Productions quickly spread across Italy and Central Europe finally earning Leoncavallo the fame and wealth he greatly desired.
Catulle Mendès
Despite the success of the opera, controversy remains over the source of the composer’s libretto. When the French version of the opera was published in 1894 in preparation for a production in Brussels, Catulle Mendès, a well known French playwright, accused Leoncavallo of plagiarism. His claim states Leoncavallo had plagiarized the plot of his opera from his play La femme de Tabarin, an extremely popular play which premiered in Paris in 1887. Mendès’s play centers around a clown named Tabarin who, during the course of a speech to the audience in the final scene, discovers his wife, Francisquine, in the arms of a soldier. Tabarin is provided with a sword from the audience and kills his wife in front of the crowd who initially take it as part of the show until it is revealed she is truly dead; very much in line with the course of action in Pagliacci. 
Leoncavallo rejected Mendès’s claims stating he had never seen his play. He claimed the story was based on an episode he had overheard sitting in his father’s court when he was a young boy. In addition, Leoncavallo made the point that Mendès’s play itself was based on another play entitled Un drama Nuevo by the playwright Manuel Tamayo y Baus, another story depicting a love triangle amongst a group of actors as they prepare a play for performance, which had premiered twenty years earlier. Mendès dropped his suit but questions lingered around the true genesis of Leoncavallo’s idea for Pagliacci.    
Still plagued by Mendès’s assertions of plagiarism five years later, Leoncavallo offered a more detailed explanation regarding the source of the storyline for Pagliacci. He now claimed that he had in fact witnessed the murder in his own household. He explains the character of Silvio was modeled after a man named Gaetano Scavello, a servant who worked in his family’s household, who was murdered by the D’Alessandro brothers, Luigi and Giovanni, with a knife. Court transcripts from the proceedings suggest that Giovanni and Gaetano were romancing the same woman, resulting in a murder spurred by jealousy and revenge just as in Pagliacci
Tenor Enrico Caruso (left) as Canio at the turn of the century and 
Michael Robert Hendrick (right) as Canio at Sarasota Opera. 
Despite Leoncavallo’s claims of ignorance to either of the two works, scholars find it difficult to believe that a man so well educated, traveled, and a proud aficionado of the theater would have never seen or at least been aware of the two plays in question. You also can’t help but notice the use of the play-within-the-play structure in which the characters portray actors on stage, and, in all three instances, mimic their “real life” circumstances.
Marco Nistico as Tonio, Veronica Mitina as Nedda, and Michael Robert Hendrick as Canio
in Sarasota Opera's production of
Pagliacci. Photo by Rod Millington.
Regardless of controversy, Pagliacci was an instance where Ruggero Leoncavallo illustrated his mastery of words and music. The musicologist Matteo Sansone stated the following in his essay “The Verismo of Ruggero Leoncavallo: A Source Study of Pagliacci”:
His single-handed, earnest efforts to achieve success in the fiercely competitive world of late nineteenth-century Italian opera deserve full recognition… Leoncavallo could shape libretto and then versify the text according to his own musical requirements – an ability that none of his colleagues possessed. He was able to research on a chosen subject… and insert authentic material, such as songs, poems and historical details, into his librettos… he was… an ingenious craftsman… a deft manipulator of literary sources and a perceptive observer of current trends.  
Ruggero Leoncavallo's Pagliacci opens at Sarasota Opera Friday, October 31st, and will run for six performances through November 15th. Tickets are available at www.sarasotaopera.org or by calling the box office at (941) 328-1300.
- Samuel Lowry, Director of Audience Development

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Can You Sing in Elvish?

Youth Opera members sing in several different languages including Italian, French, Russian, and English. But this fall they will try a new one - Elvish - when Sarasota Youth Opera re-mounts it's production of Dean Burry's The Hobbit in November.

Sarasota Youth Opera 2008 production of The Hobbit

The Hobbit is a classic story of an unwitting hero on a journey. Author J.R.R. Tolkien began The Hobbit as a story for his own children. When he wrote it in book form, it became the mark against which all modern fantasy is measured. It is the first book of Lord of the Rings and the inspiration for most of the genre ever since. As in most adventures, our hero must have companions and a wise guide, encounter many hardships, meet more than a few villains, and finally have the chance to triumph. All of these adventures are spiced with magic, colorful characters, terrifying creatures and, of course, music. Even for those who are not familiar with Tolkien's story, the adventure and characters will become old friends by the end of the opera.


Dean Burry, Canadian composer and librettist, has crafted an operatic fantasy through Middle Earth, which Sarasota Youth Opera will perform May 9 and 10. Last fall, the singers were delighted to meet and sing for Burry. His rapport with the chorus members and willingness to answer their many questions were inspiring. Burry wrote the opera in English, adding phrases in Elvish to set the mood.


To help color this fantasy world, Burry has drawn on a variety of musical styles to represent the various groups of characters: English folk songs for the hobbits, madrigals for the elves, Russian folk songs for dwarves, a little bit of Kurt Weill for goblins, and a habanera-tango for the dragon.


Youth Opera members are excited about bring this piece back to the Sarasota Opera stage for everyone of all ages to enjoy!



Performances of Dean Burry's The Hobbit are Saturday, November 15th at 7:00pm and Sunday, November 16th at 1:30pm. Tickets range from $12 - $55 and are available at www.sarasotaopera.org or by calling (941) 328-1300. 

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Opera is Alive and Well!

For those of us who are opera lovers and follow the comings and goings in the opera world, we might feel that there is cause for despair. Recent tales of doom include one failed company (New York City Opera) and another that was saved from the brink (San Diego Opera.)  In addition the leader of the largest opera company in the world has been complaining that opera audiences are dying, the art form is moribund, and without significant union concessions, his company will go bankrupt in a few years.
James Buckhouse of Twitter presents to more than 500 attendees at the 2014 Opera America Conference.
Photo by Jerry Placken/Meyer Sound
I’ve just returned from the Opera America conference in San Francisco where representatives from most of the opera companies in North America met, shared best practices, and worked on strategies for the future. I believe that we all returned from that experience with renewed positive energy and a certainty that opera is not only alive and well, but thriving.

First let me just say that the situations in New York and San Diego were unique. New York City Opera succumbed after years of board and management missteps, well documented in the press and to the despair of many of us who grew up with that company. San Diego Opera on the other hand was saved by explosive community involvement that wouldn’t let the agenda of a few in the management and board close a company that had seen 28 years of surplus budgets.

As for the dilemma of the Metropolitan Opera, I won’t comment on a union negotiation, about which I don’t have the full details. I will, however, dispute Peter Gelb’s claims that opera is a “dinosaur of an art form.” Unlike that extinct species, opera is alive and breathing and more vital than ever.

At Opera America were many great stories to tell. Companies like San Francisco Opera, Minnesota Opera, and Houston Grand Opera have seen an increase in subscription sales. In an informal poll taken amongst General Directors of opera companies, most reported ending their fiscal years in the black. Performances have increased, the repertoire has widened, and many companies are finding interesting ways to innovate to attract new audiences.

One of the most heartening examples of the broad based appeal of operas is the reaction to the stadium or park simulcasts. Initiatives in San Francisco, Philadelphia, Washington, and Houston to broadcast a live opera to a broad-based audience in baseball parks and public spaces far exceeded expectations, generating thousands of new opera lovers, many of whom turn into opera goers in the opera house.

The news here in Sarasota is positive as well. This past year we’ve seen an increase in subscriptions. And the response of our patrons to the Patterson Challenge to eliminate the Nadel clawback debt generated an overwhelming response that not only closed the appeal within a month of its announcement, it brought us a significant number of new donors, reversing a trend that has held since the outset of the recession in 2008.

And for the second year in a row, we closed our fiscal year with a substantial surplus, this year nearly $300,000.

And if some claim that our audiences are too old, I invite you to attend one of our Youth Opera events. This year’s enrollment included 80 young people and our summer camp exceeded 70 for the second year in a row.

To report that all is perfect in the opera world would be insincere. Like all non-profit arts organizations we face challenges. We are all recovering from the 2008 recession and we have to find a way to overcome the high cost of producing opera and to keep ticket prices at a level that are affordable, especially for new audiences. We have to bring the art form more to the public consciousness and eliminate stigmas (remember when opera singers were regularly on Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show) and we have to find a way to expose even more of our youth to the glories of opera, since availability in schools have decreased.

But, as Mark Twain purportedly said, “reports of my death are exaggerated.” Opera lives on and will continue to stimulate, excite, and entertain audiences for many years to come. I’m excited to be part of that, and I hope you are too.

- Richard Russell, Executive Director

Monday, February 24, 2014

ARTISTS CORNER: Tenor Hak Soo Kim

Tenor Hak Soo Kim
Korean-American tenor Hak Soo Kim returns to Sarasota Opera this season as The Count Almaviva in Rossini's The Barber of Seville. Last season, Mr. Kim won critical acclaim for his virtuosic performances of both the Duke of Mantua in Rigoletto as well as Edoardo di Sanval in the 2013 winter production of A King for a Day (Un giorno di regno).  Mr. Kim's other recent appearances include Los Angeles Opera, Accademia Rossiniana in Pesaro, Italy, Opera New Jersey as well as in concert with the Los Angeles Master Chorale and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. 

Continue reading to learn what has kept Mr. Kim returning to Sarasota for four productions as well as what specialty hobby he practices in between performances.    

Q. Where are you originally from and where do you base yourself out of today?
A. I am originally from Seoul, Korea.  I came to the U.S., when I was 17 years old to become a diplomat. Now, I base myself in New York City, where I have a fabulous support system of friends, mentors and teachers.

Mr. Kim as Gastone in La traviata at Los Angeles Opera
Q. Why Opera?  What drew you to become a singer?
A. I love singing, simply because it makes me feel great.  Opera is so multi-faceted that, no matter how much I study, it still remains mysteriously challenging.  In other words, I can never get bored.  Besides, I always ended up getting back to singing, no matter how much I tried to venture into other career paths--in college I majored in German and Economics and was on the verge of becoming an investment banker, and recently, I worked as a captain and sommelier at a restaurant with two Michelin star rating in New York City.  In the end, though, nothing else makes me happier but singing on stage!

Q. What singing did you do as a teenager?
A. I sang at the school musicals for all four years in high school.  Fortunately, the private boarding school that I attended, Western Reserve Academy in Hudson, OH, had a great theater program, and I was able to fully take advantage of the resources.  I sang Frederic in Pirates of Penzance, Billy Lawlor in 42nd St, Nanki-Poo in Mikado and John Jasper in The Mystery of Edwin Drood.

Mr. Kim as the Duke of Mantua in
Rigoletto at Sarasota Opera
A. Your past three operas with Sarasota Opera have all been role debuts, correct?  Is it nice to sing a role you have already done somewhere else?
Q. Yes, "Repetition is the mother of perfection."  As long as I keep my standard high, there is always room for improvement, and the best and the simplest way to improve oneself is through repetition.  Besides, even though this is my fourth production of The Barber of Seville, I feel that my journey is different every time. We are using a different edition of the score, Maestro Cormio takes different tempos from other conductors I have worked with, and the cast has different chemistry.  It definitely is an exciting process to mold my previous experiences into what we have here in Sarasota.

Q. What are you looking forward to most about performing the role of Count Almaviva in this season’s production of The Barber of Seville?
A. I am excited about bringing my own vocal interpretation of the role.  Maestro Cormio and I are working particularly on bringing more lyric legato lines and unifying them into Italian poetry with more directional rhymes, instead of fast, jumpy and light singing.

Mr. Kim as Ernesto in Don Pasquale at Opera Colorado
Q. What is your process for preparing a role for performance?
A. First, I start by finding and reading the original literature.  Secondly, I move to the poetry of the libretto with focus on rhymes and accents.  Then, I focus on designing how I am going to sing the role.  Because every role has its unique challenges, I need to figure out how I am going to move my voice through those passages.  During rehearsals, I concentrate on how I am going to pace myself, singing and acting.  The Barber of Seville especially needs this game plan, since the role of Count Almaviva is such a marathon role vocally.

Q. What do you want the audience to know about your character?  What do you find most challenging about this role?
A. Count Almaviva is unfortunately not that smart in this opera.  His eagerness to find his true love dictates his behavior.  He is looking for someone to love him for who he is, not what he is.  Therefore, he does not want to reveal his true identity.

This role is extremely difficult, because of its sheer length.  I open the opera with an aria and close the opera with one of the toughest arias for tenors.  Throughout the performance, I disguise as a student, drunk soldier, music teacher and come back as a count, which means that I am constantly changing costumes and wigs, even when I am not on stage.  I never get to rest during the entire performance, and that is just exhausting. The role of Count Almaviva calls for a lot of athleticism.

Mr. Kim as Matteo in Strauss' Arabella at Santa Fe Opera
Q. As I mentioned before, this will be your fourth opera with Sarasota Opera.  You must enjoy singing here. What do you think makes Sarasota Opera so special that people return season after season?
A. The support system here is incredible--music staff and administrators are always there to help me in any means possible.  In addition, there is a wonderful group of patrons, ushers, and supporters whom I have gotten to know better since my debut season in 2010.  It just has been a great experience to be working in this company.

Q. Thus far, what is the most bizarre experience you have had during a rehearsal?  During a performance?
A. Fortunately and unfortunately, I really do not have any bizarre episode during rehearsals or performances.

Q. Do you have any pre-performance rituals?  Performance superstitions?  Good luck charms? 
A. My pre-performance preparation starts from the day before the performance.  I go on vocal rest to make sure my voice is fresh for the day of the show.  Then, on the very day, I just make sure that my body is fully awake and has a good rate of metabolism--I eat and exercise.  I also make sure that I am very well hydrated before the performance, because I know for sure that I will be sweating a lot out there.

Mr. Kim as Edoardo di Sanval and soprano
Danielle Walker as Giuletta in Verdi's A King for a Day 
Q. How do you relax in between performances?  What hobbies do you enjoy at home and “on the road”?
A. Last July, I passed three-day long exams to be a certified sommelier by the Court of Master Sommeliers. So, I definitely enjoy wine to relax between performances.  Like opera, wine requires a life-long study. Whenever I grow weary of a musical journey, I pick up a wine book and a glass of wine, and my soul gets recharged.

I also enjoy bike-riding, golfing, scuba diving and skiing, depending on the season and where I am.

Q. How do you stay connected to family and friends when you are “on the road”?  Do you keep a blog? Website? Facebook?  Twitter?
A. Last December I deactivated my Facebook account because I felt that I was getting too distracted.  I wanted to use my time more wisely.  Then, I received so many messages from my friends all over the world to open it back up, as they wanted to be updated on where I am and what journey I am taking whether it is on wine, restaurant or opera.  So, I crawled my way back to the Facebook empire.

Don't miss your chance to hear Mr. Kim's dazzling vocalism as Count Almaviva in Rossini's The Barber of Seville now through March 21st.  Tickets are available at www.sarasotaopera.org or by calling (941) 328-1300.

Monday, February 17, 2014

ARTISTS CORNER: Bass-baritone Matthew Burns

Bass-baritone Matt Burns
Bass-baritone Matthew Burns, who the New York Times describes as possessing a "beautiful bass-baritone voice," makes his debut at Sarasota Opera this season as Basilio in The Barber of Seville which opened February 15th.  Mr. Burns career highlights include appearances at New York City Opera, Los Angeles Opera, Opera Theater of St. Louis, and Boston Lyric Opera as well as performing in concert at some of the world's most prestigious stages. 

Continue reading to learn what opera inspired Mr. Burns to become an opera singer, what he avoids putting on his cheesecake before a performance, and how a "chance" meeting on the street introduced him to the love of his life.      



Q. Where are you from originally and where do you live currently?
A. I was born and raised in Richmond, Virginia. I now live in Astoria, Queens, NYC, once home to Maria Callas, Tony Bennett, Ethel Merman, The Costanzas from Seinfeld, and Archie Bunker.

Mr. Burns as Leporello in Don Giovanni
at Boston Lyric Opera
Q. What drew you to become a singer? Was there a specific “Aha!” moment of clarity?
A. I like transient living and poverty. Maybe I should have just been a carny?
Seriously, I have been singing since I can remember. I used to sing for my extended family at Christmas time when I was a little guy. I got into choir in middle school and stayed through graduation. I was in a grunge band in high school. I decided to go to college to be a better singer but they only taught opera. So I stuck it out for a couple of years. I took up a double major in music education and performance. In 1995, I saw a performance of Don Giovanni at Virginia Opera. I laughed for the first time as an opera audience member. "Aha!" It was a combination of the character of Leporello, Mozart's music, and my cumulative training to that point, but that was it for me. I decided that I wanted to do THAT, make people laugh. I devoted myself to this amazing art form from that moment on.

Q. Did you have other career aspirations in the works before you decided on singing?
A. I loved psychology. I thought about a double major in college in Music and Psychology. This has proven useful when delving into the minds of the characters I have had the privilege of playing over the years.

Q. You have sung the role of Basilio before. What do you enjoy about performing this role?
A. Basilio sings one of the classic opera arias, "La Calunnia", the rumor. When I first started studying opera, I noticed that "La Calunnia" was on every great bass aria  compilation. I love that this role has lived in the throats and bodies of some of the greatest performers of all time.

Mr. Burns as Basilio in The Barber of Seville
at Sarasota Opera
Q. This is your chance to put Basilio center stage. What do you want the audience know about Basilio?
A. My therapist says that people drop clues about themselves all the time. You just have to be paying attention. The fun part of playing Basilio is that no one really pays attention to him throughout the opera. They are all wrapped up in their own mess. Even at the end of his big number, Bartolo immediately dismisses Basilio's idea for his own. "Do re mi fa sol" (Money makes me King)! This is a phrase Basilio mutters when he enters in the Act 1 finale. Characters reveal who they truly are when they are talking to themselves.  This line has lead many directors to make Basilio a kleptomaniac. I look forward revisiting Basilio to see how this side of his personality develops.

Q. Looking over your performance resume, you have sung both a number of dramatic and comedic roles. Do you have a preference?
A. Until last year, I would have said comedic roles, also given my answer from earlier asking about my inspiration for pursuing this career. However, I got the opportunity to sing the role of George in Of Mice and Men, an opera Sarasota Opera produced last year. It was one of the highlights of my life. There is so much meat on that bone. I look forward to delving into many dramatic roles in the future in addition to many Leporellos, Basilios and Figaros.

Q. Now, is it true that you met your wife (soprano Anne Carolyn Bird) performing in an opera?
A. No, I first "accosted" her on the street in front of Time Warner Center in NYC. We were scheduled to perform opposite each other as Figaro and Susanna in The Marriage of Figaro in Grand Rapids, MI later that month. I recognized her from her Facebook profile pic.

When we were in Grand Rapids rehearsing The Marriage of Figaro, (which should really be called Figaro's wedding) is when I fell pretty hard for her. I kept my feelings hidden as we were just colleagues. But as fate has it, while we were there rehearsing, she got a last minute replacement job to sing Rosina in The Barber of Seville in Dayton, Ohio, where I was scheduled to be Basilio. We had three weeks off between The Marriage of Figaro and The Barber of Seville. The first day of rehearsal in Dayton I knew I was toast. We started "datin' in Dayton", were engaged four months later, and were married four months after that. We had the chance to perform Susanna and Figaro at Virginia Opera last season. It was a dream to revisit the roles that brought us together.
Mr. Burns wife, soprano Anne Carolyn Bird, in rehearsal while Mr. Burns and their son Henry watch from off-stage.
Q. It must be exciting being married to another successful singer but I imagine it poses some unique challenges?
A. It is exciting and boring and everything else in between, just like any other marriage. We are the proud parents of a wonderful three and a half year old boy, Henry. That does complicate things a bit. I won't get into the logistics that is required to do…well, anything. Let's just say, my next career should be in air traffic control with the amount of logistical planning I have to go through on a daily basis.

Mr. Burns as George in Of Mice and Men
at Utah Opera
Q. Why do you think people should come and see this opera?
A. Why should people go see the Mona Lisa? Why should people go see the Grand canyon? Because when you have access to something as great as this in your hometown, you have to experience it. Opera is an always changing art form. So even if you have seen The Barber of Seville before, you have not seen this one. Operas are like great cuisine. The basic recipes are the same, but the amounts of the ingredients, the quality of the ingredients and the way it is presented will change with each chef. We, the artists, bring our years of experience and training with us making this performance unique. No two will be the same. So, Don't miss it!

Q. Thus far, what is the most bizarre experience you have had during a rehearsal or performance anywhere you have sung? 
A. I was just out of music school working with an independent producer at Brooklyn Academy of Music on a Handel Opera called Siroe. I was the only American in the cast. The agreed upon language to speak in was French. I took French in high school so I felt pretty comfortable but was certainly not fluent by any means. At the intermission of the final dress rehearsal right before the first entrance, the director sees me backstage and asks: "Ou est la salle?" To which I replied, in French "follow me". I remember well that one of the phrases you had to know in high school if you wanted to go the restroom was "puis-je aller à la salle de bains?". "May I go to the restroom?" Clever me, I take him, an older, heavy set man with very slender legs down two flights of stairs and point into the dressing rooms. I gesture in and say, "D'accord, la salle" He looks at me and says something to the effect of "pas la salle de bain, la salle de Theatre" ("Not the bathroom, the hall to the theater")!

Q. Do you have any pre-performance rituals? Performance superstitions? Good luck charms?
A. I don't have any superstitions but I do have reflux. So eating cheesecake with bacon covered with Sriracha the night before the show is not happening.

Q. How do you relax in between performances? What hobbies do you enjoy at home and “on the road?
A. I eat Sriracha covered cheesecake with bacon. Not exactly! But, I am a foodie and an oenophile. I will be seeking out amazing food in and around Sarasota. I love finding holes in the wall that only locals know about in addition to exploring chef restaurants and trying new foods. I am not big on the chain restaurants.
So if anyone wants to take me to somewhere amazing, I'm game. I love cooking too. I bring a spice kit and a chef knife on every gig. I anticipate many cast meals.

Mr. Burns as Taddeo in Rossini L'italiana in Algieri
Q. How do you stay connected to family and friends when you are “on the road”? Do you keep a blog? Website? Facebook? Twitter?
A. With Anne-Carolyn and Henry, we Skype at least once a day usually at breakfast.  For the rest of the family, I am on Facebook. I treat Facebook like a living photo album for the sake of my family. Some of my extended family don't get to see us except once a year. I like to keep them updated. I try to keep Facebook to actual friends, people I would stop to chat with on the street if I saw them. But the list grows every year.
I have a twitter feed but am not very active. You can find me at @baseberrytone on Twitter.

Don't miss Mr. Burns' critically acclaimed comic timing as Basilio in Rossini's The Barber of Seville opening Saturday, February 15th and running through March 21st.  Tickets are available at www.sarasotaopera.org or by calling (941) 328-1300.