Thursday, January 30, 2014

ARTISTS CORNER: Bass-baritone Kevin Short

Bass Kevin Short
Bass-baritone Kevin Short has been a frequent artist at Sarasota Opera since making his debut in 1991 as Méphistophélès in Gounod's Faust.  Since his debut, Mr. Short has been seen in many leading roles at Sarasota Opera, particularly the works of Verdi.  In addition, Mr. Short's career has taken him to the stages of Stuttgart Opera, Houston Grand Opera, and the Metropolitan Opera House. 

This season, Mr. Short returns to sing the title role in Wagner's The Flying Dutchman, a role he has performed at Indianapolis Opera, the Stadttheater Bern, and most recently in Croatia. Continue reading to learn why Mr. Short enjoys singing the music of Wagner and what he thinks makes Sarasota Opera so special that has kept him coming back since 1991.  

Mr. Short as Nourabad in Sarasota Opera's
2000 production of The Pearl Fishers
Q. Where are you originally from and where do you base yourself out of today?
A. I was born in Washington, D.C. and grew up in Charles County, Maryland. Today I’m based between Basel, Switzerland and Miami, Florida

Q. Why Opera?  What drew you to become a singer?  
A. I had very good instructors/mentors at  Morgan State University (Baltimore, MD), the Curtis Institute (Philadelphia, PA), and Juilliard’s AOC (American Opera Center) that  were quite influential to me as a young singer. But by the time I was a junior at Morgan State University and had won a few young artist competitions, I was certain I wanted to be a professional opera singer.

Q. What singing did you do as a teenager?
A. It wasn’t until I was a junior in high school that I joined the school choir and I also sang a bit in the choir while attending St. Joseph’s Catholic Church.

Q. What are you looking forward to most about performing the role of The Dutchman in this season’s production of The Flying Dutchman?
A. I am most looking forward to literally singing every note of this brilliant score again and exploring undiscovered dramatic possibilities. The role is such a tour de force and the vocal and dramatic demands it places upon me are extremely exciting. I’m also very much looking forward to working with my outstanding colleagues, the musical and directing team, and I’m very interested to hear what the typical outstanding Sarasota Opera chorus will sound like with this masterpiece.

Mr. Short in the title role of Wagner's The Flying Dutchman at Indianapolis Opera
A. What is your process for preparing a role for performance?
Q. I find it very helpful to read the libretto first to get a real sense of the dramatic flow or arc of a piece and how my character factors into the overall equation. What is my relationship  to or how do I feel about each character in the opera whether I interact with them or not? It’s important for me to find out why I say what I say. I then start at the piano playing a section of my part multiple times to begin the memorization process. I move to the next section the next day while always revisiting the section from  the day before. If it’s music that is quite taxing I will often sing it down an octave or better yet, sing it very lightly in the octave. This helps to not start forming bad habits when trying to sing and learn at the same time. Overall there’s a sort of layering process that takes place. I also find it helpful to sing  my music in different tempi and mix things up a bit to not become too fixated with only one way of singing the music. This is espcecially useful if I’ve listened to or am familiar with recordings that could influence my interpretation before I’ve had input from the Maestro and director.

Mr. Short as Pagano in Verdi's
I Lombardi alla prima crociata
at Sarasota Opera
Q. Wagner roles seem particularly demanding.  Are there additional challenges in singing a Wagner role compared to other types of roles you have performed?
A. Yes, I find  for example, early Verdi and Wagner to be equally difficult to sing because of the tessitura of large sections of their music. Later Verdi is less problemic in this manner. Early Verdi also can require vocal gymnastics when handling vocal leaps. Dutchman does not as much as early Verdi, but there is the added demand of  having to contend with the thickness of his orchestration during  some musical and dramatic climaxes. A temptation for the Wagner singer is to try to force a bit too much. I think the singer benefits greatly if vocally they approach Wagner as they would singing a good many Italian operas. I also feel that Dutchman is the mist Italianate of his opera.

Q. What do you want the audience to know about the character of The Dutchman?  
A. That there may be a personality flaw that causes the Dutchman to have been so unsuccessful in finding  a true woman for so many years. He’s also not to be pitied as much as some may want to pity him. It’s his own arrogance in defying nature and God that caused his predicament

Q. What would you say to someone who might be intimidated to try their first Wagner opera?  
A. Dutchman is extremely accessible dramatically ,and musically it is some of the most sublime and glorious music one can imagine. If they’ve ever wondered what Wagner is like, then this is the perfect first Wagner opera, and it’s also not a long night at the opera at under 3 hours  from beginning to end with intermission.

Mr. Short as Signor La Rocca in
Sarasota Opera's production of
A King for a Day
Q. You have been a steady presence at Sarasota Opera for several seasons.  You must enjoy singing here. What do you think makes Sarasota Opera so special that people return season after season?
A. I absolutely love singing here for so many reasons such as the attention to detail from top to bottom. with everyone working at the company.

Because of the generous amount of time given to the rehearsal process, a singer will really develop and can explore the possibilities dramatically as well as vocally. There are also multiple performances that help facilitate this growth, which is extremely rare for most opera companies in the U.S.  Another reason is that Maestro DeRenzi has created an ensemble of singers and orchestra players that understand the Sarasota Opera music making process. Maestro’s musical language and performers that work regularly in Sarasota create an environment and unofficial system that is the closest thing we have in the States to a typical European fixed engagement system. 

Q. You have performed all over the world.  Do you find audiences behave differently in all the different countries you perform in? 
A. Yes, audiences seem to react in the manner and character of the characteristics of their country.

Mr. Short as The King in Opera Birmingham's production of Aida
Q. Thus far, what is the most bizarre experience you have had during a rehearsal?  During a performance?
A. I don’t want to elaborate, but the whole rehearsal and performance period this past summer performing Dutchman at the Split Festival.

Q. How do you relax in between performances?  What hobbies do you enjoy at home and “on the road”?
A. I enjoy riding my bicycle, drawing,and reading historical books.

Q. What music do you listen to when you are driving in the car?
A. A wide variety.  I enjoy listening to opera but also enjoy jazz, classic R&B, and pop music. 

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 use Skype a good deal while on the road. Facebook also comes in handy for keeping in touch with family and friends.  

Don't miss a note Mr. Short's performances as The Dutchman in this season's production of Wagner's The Flying Dutchman running for 7 performances between March 1st through March 23rd. Tickets are on sale now at or by calling (941) 328-1300.  

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