• Exclusive Interview with bass-baritone Richard Ollarsaba

    Opera Lively has interviewed Richard Ollarsaba, excellent American bass-baritone who sang Ferrando in our partner NC Opera's production of Il Trovatore. [Opera Lively interview # 22]

    We at Opera Lively are excited to see "our" Richard in the cast, the delightful young singer we've interviewed [here] (click on it), and whose excellent performances in The Merry Wives of Windsor and The Crucible at our official partners Piedmont Opera / the Fletcher Institute we've reviewed for the site, [here] and [here].

    So, this will be our fourth encounter with Richard, and we are pleased to see that his career continues to develop.

    We won't get into his trajectory and background during the interview because we've covered it extensively when we first interviewed him back in January (the first link above) - but here is his artistic biography:

    Richard Ollarsaba, a native of Tempe, Arizona, received his BM from the Cleveland Institute of Music in Cleveland, Ohio where he studied under Mary Schiller. Mr. Ollarsaba’s experience with the CIM Opera Theater include the role of Sarastro from Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte where he was reviewed by the Cleveland Plain Dealer as a “singer of exceptional ability” who “rolled out a bass of unusual beauty.” February 2009, he represented CIM by performing at the Kennedy Center in Washington D.C. as a part of the Kennedy Center Millennium Stage’s Conservatory Project.

    Mr. Ollarsaba made his Opera Cleveland debut in its 2008 production of Le nozze di Figaro in the role of Antonio. That following November, he performed with the Kansas City Symphony in their performances of Handel’s Messiah. The Kansas City Star reviewed that “despite his youth, he exhibited a marvelous resonant voice” and that “this is one singer to watch in years to come” (We at Opera Lively entirely agree with this).

    Mr. Ollarsaba has participated in the Music Academy of the West summer study program, summers 2009 and 2010 under the tutelage of world-renowned opera singer Marilyn Horne where he performed as the character Jarno in a rare performance of Ambroise Thomas’ Mignon and as Il Commendatore in Mozart’s Don Giovanni.

    Mr. Ollarsaba has just graduated from our official partner the A. J. Fletcher Opera Institute of the University of North Carolina School of the Arts in Winston-Salem. He earned there a MM, and a Professional Artist Certificate, studying with the Chair of the Voice Department (and Opera Lively member) Dr. Marilyn Taylor. In the beginning of his studies at the Fletcher, he has performed such roles as Lord Cecil from Donizetti’s Maria Stuarda, Superintendent Budd in Britten’s Albert Herring, Don Alfonso in Cosi fan tutte, and Tom Clark in Hotel Casablanca.

    He made his Piedmont Opera debut in their 2010 production of Il Trovatore in the role of Ferrando, then went on in 2012 to perform in the Fletcher's production of Nicolai's The Merry Wives of Windsor as Falstaff, and as Reverend John Hale in a joint production of the Fletcher and Piedmont Opera of Robert Ward's The Crucible (both reviewed on this site).

    Richard won first place in the Charles A. Lynam competition, was a Metropolitan Opera National Council North Carolina District Winner, and took second place in the Regional competition. He was a young artist with Chautauqua Opera last summer. Richard will sing the role of Masetto in Piedmont Opera’s production of Don Giovanni. He will also appear as soloist with the Greensboro Symphony.

    He will be at the Tanglewood Festival this summer, and has been accepted by Minnesota Opera as a resident artist starting this fall, to continue his career. We personally heard from maestro James Allbritten at the Fletcher/Piedmont Opera that Richard will be sorelly missed there. We fully expect to see Mr. Ollarsaba in the major opera houses and DVDs/CDs in the relatively near future, given his beautiful voice, handsome looks, and great acting skills.


    OL - By now we think of you as "our" Richard, because you were our first interviewee and we've been following your career; this will be the fourth time we see each other.

    RO - (laughs) I know, I know! When I heard you would be doing the interview, I said 'look at that, we keep running on each other!'

    OL - (laughs) That's right, we love it, because we are pretty sure that you'll be big! And we're growing too; we got into the first page of Google Search today, for the first time!

    RO - Oh, wonderful!

    OL - OK, so let's talk a little bit about Ferrando, your role in Il Trovatore. I don't want to keep you for too long because I know you have rehearsals soon, and all the part about your background we can skip because you've already told us about it in your first interview with us. How are you approaching the role in terms of tessitura? You have to get to an F3 and do some trills. Is it difficult?

    RO - Well, I will say that it's a little easier this time, because this is my second time performing the role. Having the experience of having done it before with Piedmont Opera makes it easier. Specifically for this time around, it's kind of just dusting off the cobwebs, if you will. I did it in the fall of 2010, it really hasn't been that long. It's really nice to shape it back up and put it back to where it used to be, as well as adding on all the new technique and all the new information I gained in that year-and-a-half span.

    OL - You know that Caruso said that the four best singers in the world are required to sing Il Trovatore. Do you think he should have said the five best singers?

    RO - (laughs) I actually quoted Caruso when we started rehearsals here. One of my colleagues in this production said very endearingly - 'no, it's five, because if we didn't have Ferrando, we wouldn't have the beginning of the opera! He is the one that is the first character that we hear, and he gives a big chunk of the plot. Without Ferrando's first scene the public really would be lost, not knowing who is who in the story.' I will agree with the people who will say that Caruso should have said five. (laughs)

    OL - Please tell our readers about the opening and your character. How will you go about the scene, in order to make an impact?

    RO - Well, it's a whole opening. It opens up right into the main characters. Ferrando mentions the Count as well as Manrico, the Trovatore, within the first couple of lines. He introduces two of the main characters of the cast, and like I said gives the first chunk of the story that is very integral to the rest of the plot. He describes how the Count di Luna's brother was stolen at birth, and they've been separated, and how to all people the brother is believed to be dead.

    There was a gipsy who is believed to have cursed his brother. The gipsy's daughter is the one who is believed to have stolen the Count's brother. Allegedly she killed his brother in the same funeral pyre as *her* mother. It sets up that part of the story so that Azucena comes in -- in act II -- and gives us the second half of the story, saying that it *was* her who came and stole the child but in fact she killed her own son as opposed to the son of the Count.

    Within that first scene I'll really try to give the idea of this very visceral and violent act and how Ferrando's reaction was. I mean, this is horrifying. Some of the last words he says in his aria is that they found the skeleton of the child still burning, obviously when it is too late. So I'll try to convey that horror, really take it to give all the power and energy to the other half of the story that Azucena will present further on in the opera.

    OL - I saw you in two operas already and you are a very gifted actor. Now you're doing a semi-staged performance. Any comments on this? Are you hindered from reaching your full potential as an actor because it is semi-staged, or is it being done so well that not being fully staged won't matter to the public?

    RO - I don't think it will matter at all. This first scene is very much storytelling. A well-trained singer will be able to tell the story with or without staging. I don't think I will be hindered whatsoever. Especially with the fact that I've done this in a full production fashion, so it's just taking on what I've already learned and just applying it, even though there will be less on stage with me. Actually, there is going to be even more on stage since the orchestra will be with us.

    OL - OK. Let me play the Devil's Advocate a little bit. Not just regarding the role of Ferrando, but the entire production. Let's imagine a seasoned, jaded operagoer reading the announcement of this performance on the newspaper, and thinking "I doubt that this production will beat the great recordings of this piece with the legendary singers of the past; why should I bother with attending this and spending my money on it instead of heading to the CD store and getting a copy of the most famous recordings?" What would you say to that person to convince him or her that he or she should come and see NC Opera's show?

    RO - I would say that opera, as much as it is a musical art form, is very much a dramatic and theatrical art form. Much of what we do as part of the industry is visual. Even though Verdi did such wonderful things as writing the characters so well into the music, and especially on recordings singers have been so well trained as to portray that with their voices; to see it live, to have those images that you are hearing portrayed to you physically right in front of you, I think is an experience that is irreplaceable. You can't get that anywhere else.

    Even if you see these productions that were recorded in the great halls on DVD - performances at La Scala, at the Met - I'd say that as wonderful resources as those are, I don't think there is anything to replace live theater, because it's like having a conversation with a person. They sing at you and tell you a story, then you can get involved with the story, as opposed to -- say -- a recording of someone telling the story. Is it very good? Yes, you could still get involved, but live opera adds that other layer of the storytelling when they can be right in front of you and suck you into the drama they are talking about.

    OL - Good! What about this cast gathered by NC Opera? What can the public expect from your peers?

    RO - Oh, there are wonderful! They are just wonderful singers and wonderful actors at that. I've been working with them these past couple of days, and we've been able to put together this production pretty quickly. Thy astound me. They understand what they are trying to do and what they are doing *so* well that I think it will be very exciting to see this production. I'm actually a little jealous that I don't get to sit out in the audience and enjoy it like everyone else, because (laughs) I'm in it! I think it will be just a wonderful production, just from the fact that these are such wonderfully trained and experienced singers that really know how to lift these characters right off the pages that Verdi has written.

    OL - Since the last time we've talked, are there any updates in your career? You're going to Minnesota Opera, right?

    RO - Yes, I'll be moving in the fall to Minneapolis to be a resident artist with Minnesota Opera.

    OL - Any newly scheduled performances?

    RO - Actually we'll be opening this Trovatore on Friday, and about a week from that on Thursday I'll be singing with the Greensboro Symphony as part of the award [Editor's note: first prize] I received at the Charles A. Lynam competition that happened in the fall of 2010 around the time I did my first Trovatore. I'll be at the Tanglewood Festival this summer working as one of their fellows, singing there before I head over to Minnesota.

    OL - Can you give us more details on the upcoming Greensboro concert?

    RO - Yes, I'll be the featured soloist for the concert. Especifically I'll be doing three arias: the "Catalogue Aria" from Don Giovanni, as well as "Aleko's Cavatina" from Aleko by Rachmaninoff, and "Come dal ciel precipita" from Verdi's Macbeth.

    OL - Maybe I'll go, and it will be the fifth time I see you!

    RO - (laughs) Oh yes, please come!

    [Editor's note - here is the link for this performance and ticket info: Greensboro Symphony]

    OL - Thank you, Richard.

    RO - Thank *you,* so nice talking with you again.

    OL - It looks like Opera Lively will be interviewing you every other month! (laughs). You'll be the featured resident artist of Opera Lively!

    RO - (laughs hard)


    Here are some pictures Almaviva took of Mr. Ollarsaba during his performance of Falstaff in the Fletcher Institute's Merry Wives of Windsor:

    And here, a sample of Mr. Ollarsaba's singing:

    Don't miss the performances! Friday April 27 in Raleigh, and Sunday April 29 in Chapel Hill.

    Comments 2 Comments
    1. Schigolch's Avatar
      Schigolch -
      'Our' Richard... Mr. Ollarsaba, I mean, is absolutely right, nothing can replace live theater!
    1. Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)'s Avatar
      Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva) -
      OK, I saw the performance; Richard was terrific as usual (full review tomorrow), I met his parents during the performance, chatted with him after the opera, and I've just purchased tickets for my wife and I to see his Greensboro Symphony concert next Saturday.

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