• Interview with Jeffrey Gwaltney singing Canio for Opera Carolina

    Opera Lively is continuing the coverage for our partner Opera Carolina's double bill of Leoncavallo's Pagliacci and Rachmaninoff's Aleko, which is having its US professional premiere by a major company. Escaping the usual Cav-Pag, it is indeed an excellent idea to pair these two operas with similar storylines and even some musical moments that appear to cross-reference each other (which is certainly coincidental because they were composed simultaneously, miles apart).

    The show will run three times at the Blumenthal Performing Arts Center in downtown Charlotte, NC, on Sunday April 10 at 2 PM, Thursday April 14 at 7:30 PM, and Saturday April 16 at 8 PM. Tickets ranging from $19 to $150 can be purchased by clicking [here].

    We came to expect from Opera Carolina over the ideas exquisite musical and production values, and this double bill appears indeed intriguing, because it marks the start of the planned long-term collaboration between the Charlotte company and New York City Opera. Michael Capasso, who resurrected NYCO, is stage-directing the pieces. Maestro Meena will be manning the podium, and we know that his presence guarantees the musical excellence of the performances.

    The singers are also very exciting, and we are interviewing three of them (spanning five roles). We have already published our piece with soprano Elizabeth Caballero who portrays the two leading ladies in each opera - Nedda in Pagliacci and Zemfira in Aleko. Read her interview by clicking (here).

    Today we are bringing to our readers American tenor
    Jeff Gwaltney who will be Canio.

    In a week or so we will finish this series by publishing the third interview, with Russian baritone Alexey Lavrov who will be singing both Silvio and Aleko. Then we will publish a review of the show.

    Please continue to support our excellent Opera Carolina by attending this fabulous double-bill.


    Singer: Jeffrey Gwaltney
    Fach: Tenor
    Born in: USA
    Website: www.jeffgwaltneytenor.com
    Recently in: C
    armen (Don José), Edmonton Opera
    Next in: Pagliacci (Canio), Opera Carolina


    Artistic Heighlights


    Bachelor's Degree in Vocal Performance, University of Indiana, 2006
    Master's Degree in Vocal Performance, Winthrop University, 2009
    A former student of Gary Lakes; currently a pupil of John Fowler

    Notable Domestic Appearances

    Major companies
    Washington National Opera - Abdallo in Nabucco; Normanno in Lucia di Lammermoor
    Glimmerglass Festival - Radamés in Aida; Officer Snow in A Blizzard on Marblehead Neck; Giasone in Medea

    Other companies
    Rodolfo with Opera on the James; Rodolfo and Don José with Opera North (USA); Turiddu with Lancaster Opera; Hoffmann with Central Piedmont Opera, Pinkerton with Mobile Opera, among others.

    Jeff as Pinkerton

    Notable International Appearances

    Scottish Opera - Erik in Der Fliegende Holländer
    Lyric Opera Dublin - Prince in Rusalka
    Royal Albert Hall - Pinkerton in Madama Butterfly
    Opera Holland Park - Dick Johnson in La Fanciulla del West; Luigi in Il Tabarro
    Wexford Opera Festival - Simon Perez in Koanga
    Edmonton Opera - Don José in Carmen


    The Domingo-Cafrits Young Artist Scholarship, 2010
    Glimmerglass Young Artist, 2011 and 2012


    The Exclusive Opera Lively Interview with Jeffreyk Gwaltney

    This is our interview #194. Copyright Opera Lively. Reproduction of excerpts is authorized for all purposes as long as the source is quoted and a link to the full piece is provided. Reproduction of the entire interview requires authorization - use the Contact Us form. Photos are fair promotional use (we do not know the names of the photographers; will be happy to include if we are told who they are).

    Luiz Gazzola for Opera Lively - The role of Canio has some of the most iconic music for tenor in all of opera, and enormous dramatic impact with his poignant situation. It must be thrilling to interpret this character. Please tell us about your feelings when incarnating him, and how you plan to go about it.

    Jeffrey Gwaltney - I must admit that I Pagliacci and other verismo operas of this time period actually enticed me to begin studying classical music in the first place. There is something that is so raw and humanistic about the drama, and the music really is able to highlight that in a display of true mastery by Leoncavallo.

    As a student, I actually aspired to be a baritone, so I hoped to play the role of Silvio or Tonio. I had no way to foresee a chance to sing the role of Canio, but now that I am on this side of the drama, I have to say the most obvious challenge is NOT trying to fill the shoes of the many, great artists that have realized this role before me. Those are big shoes to fill indeed (Caruso, Björling, Corelli, Domingo, Vickers, and Pavarotti etc.).

    Jeff as Canio

    The challenge I find with this role, is finding a way to be present in the climaxes of this piece with dramatic credibility, while retaining the consistency that is required to sing the music with due respect for the quality which this art form deserves. This part is a particular challenge, and I will go about accomplishing it with preparation, meditation, and eating my wheaties! [smiles]

    OL - One of your mentors, Plácido Domingo, with whom you worked at Washington National Opera, delivered one of the most extraordinary filmed performances of this role, in the famous Zeffirelli movie, with Stratas as Nedda. Was he an inspiration in your preparation to sing Canio? Was anybody else also a model for you?

    JG - Maestro Domingo is an ideal model; he is not only technically proficient as a singer, he is one of the greatest actors on the stage today, period. Yes, I know this recording you've referenced well; as witness to his ability, consider the fall on stage without missing a single beat... Incredible! However, there are others indeed; the menacing calm of John Vickers, the unbridled passion of Mario Del Monaco, the piercing beauty of Corelli, and the list really could go on and on. I am not only an opera singer, but an opera enthusiast. I respect the performance history of this art form very much.

    OL - In terms of character arc, Canio doesn’t evolve very much in the opera – he remains bitter, disillusioned, and jealous throughout the piece. You’ve portrayed another verismo character on the opposite side of a love triangle – instead of the betrayed husband who kills, as Luigi in Il Tabarro you were the wife’s lover who gets killed. Tell us about these characters, and please let us know, acting wise, which one was easier to portray, and why.

    JG - Since you've put it that way, in my view, they seem to be two stock characters: the forlorn lover and the ardent suitor. Canio is a working artist who may be a little idealistic when regarding the nature of his partnership with Nedda. His passion eventually drives him to mania and despair once his suspicions of infidelity are realized.

    Jeff as Luigi

    Luigi is a a libertine who is disenchanted with the the social injustice of Parisian working class struggle; this emboldens him to press for what he wants in absconding with the unfaithful and conflicted Giorgetta. Both are driven by strong emotions; one rage, and the other hope of a better life. Acting wise, I would say Luigi is easier to play, as hope is a more familiar emotion with which to identify in comparison to Canio's rage.

    OL - While I’m sure you are extremely well-prepared, I wonder if having to sing one of the most famous arias of all time – "Vesti la giubba" – and one that you know the entire audience is waiting for, is a bit nerve-wrecking. Please tell us about it.

    JG - "Vesti la giubba" is undoubtedly one of the most recognizable pieces from the standard operatic repertoire. It has the distinction of being the first million album selling recording with Enrico Caruso singing in 1902. The music is powerful alone, but the dramatic implication of that aria in context holds even more weight. It is nerve wracking for sure, but also should feel almost therapeutic for Canio to release such inner turmoil. I approach this piece of music with the utmost respect.

    OL - It must be nice to get to sing this spectacular character, but then be able to sit down and relax, and maybe watch your friends and colleagues perform Aleko, next. It’s very clever pairing since these two operas seem to mix very well both dramatically and musically. Not only they have similar themes, but they premiered two days apart, in 1892. Surprisingly, Aleko is very poorly known in the United States, although undeservedly so. Are you very familiar with it?

    JG - Being American in nationality and residence, I would be lying if I said I were familiar with Aleko. Calling it rare to see in America would be an understatement as you mentioned. I've never had a chance to see it. It is very exciting to be a part of this unconventional double bill, and I congratulate Opera Carolina for this interesting pairing. I wait with bated breath to see Aleko produced in a professional theater.

    OL - Unlike the very interesting move Opera Carolina is doing this time with this double bill, the usual pairing with Pagliacci is of course Cavalleria Rusticana, and you’ve portrayed Turiddu as well. It’s an eternal discussion, like Tom Brady vs. Peyton Manning… but which one do you prefer, Cav or Pag, and why?

    JG - I Pagliacci was one of the first operas that I owned on disc, so I am partial to it with nostalgia. However, I think Cavalleria Rusticana is more realistic dramatically in some senses, and the music is so incredible! It is hard to choose here, but if I must I would choose I Pagliacci.

    OL - You have had performances in at least six different productions already in the UK and Ireland, so your international career is taking off pretty nicely in the British Islands. Would you tell us a bit about your experiences singing there?

    JG - Singing in the UK and Ireland have been some of the most memorable experiences in my life. Living there during the rehearsal period offers so many opportunities to explore art and history, not to mention the plethora of music an theater to enjoy! London is such a special city where it is hard to be productive with all of the museums, galleries, concert halls, and theaters to distract you. There also seems to be a greater appreciation for art in general. Dublin also has a massive history in theater which I was not fully aware of until working there. The quality of the productions in the opera houses are also very high in general.

    OL - You’ve performed an obscure opera composed in 1899, Koanga by Frederic Delius, in the Fall of 2015 at the Wexford Opera Festival. I confess that this one I don’t know. It seems to be the first European opera that based its material on African-American music, and it is set in a plantation in Louisiana. Please educate me and our readers about it, and tell us about the production.

    JG - Wexford is a special place and the opera house is really a national treasure. It has the official title of Ireland's national opera theater. Delius' Koanga is a story of an African Voodoo prince who was stolen into slavery and brought to a Lousiana plantation. He arrives incensed and threatens to curse the entire lot, however he falls in love with a mixed-race servant of the plantation's matriarch. The plantation master consents to their marriage on the condition that Koanga will be a devoted slave. The plantation manager Simon Perez, who I played, also loves this handmaiden, Palmyra. He thwarts the wedding by kidnapping Palmyra, after Koanga's forced conversion to Christianity in order to validate the marriage.

    Jeff as Simon Perez

    Koanga is enraged, runs away and curses the plantation with plague and failed crops. Some time passe;, Koanga returns to find Simon Perez advancing on Palmyra, and slays him in justifiable rage. Koanga is immediately killed by hunters, and Palmyra kills herself in her grief. Not really a happy endin; it is opera after all.

    However one notable facet of the piece is the way in which Delius uses traditional Negro melodies in rhapsodic composition. Many of the choruses are just stunning. He was inspired by the traditional music he heard during his time on a plantation in Florida, hence another symphonic jewel of Delius, the Florida Suite. The music is extremely lush, and the drama is intense. The production was beautiful; they employed South African dancers whose modern take on traditional African dance enhanced the symbolism of Koanga's African roots. It was very rewarding to be a part of this production.

    OL - How did you get to pick opera as your career, growing up?

    JG - Like many of my colleagues, I came to opera later in life. As a child, although I loved music of all kinds, opera was not really accessible, as I grew up in a fairly rural area. I was exposed to opera when I was 18. My interest was really in music and straight theater, and once I began to understand what opera really was, it was a perfect marriage of the two. I decided when I was 20 to go to music college and begin my formal training in earnest as an opera singer. It is a very long road.

    OL - What are some of your extra-operatic interests?

    JG - Besides a general interest in arts and the humanities, I am a bit of an outdoors guy.

    I enjoy hiking, fishing, camping, and gardening.

    I am also a self-admitted foodie and enjoy cooking for friends and family. I love the farm-to-table scene that is so prevalent here in Charlotte with our great Farmer's markets. I also enjoy craft beer and local music. My wife and I like to travel together as much as possible and pay visits to loved ones along the way.

    OL - Thank you for your interesting answers!

    JG - Cheers!


    Let's listen to the singer, in "La gelida manina" from La Bohème


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