• Interviews with Markus Beam, Brian Banion, Leah Wool, Victor Ryan Robertson, and Kevin Glavin

    Piedmont Opera has presented Rossini's Il Barbiere di Siviglia on March 15, 2013 at 8 PM, 17 at 2 PM, and 19 at 7:30 PM, in Winston-Salem, NC, at the Stevens Center, in Italian, with English supertitles.

    Scroll down for fascinating, compact (10 questions), insightful answers by the principal singers describing their personal relationships with this operatic masterpiece and with their characters. [Opera Lively interviews # 80, 81, 82, 83, and 84]


    Exclusive Opera Lively interviews with the artists appear below. We've been asking similar questions to all singers to get a sense of their individual views on the same topics, and we've also added some role-specific and person-specific questions.


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    The first interview was done with lyric baritone Markus Beam, who will be singing Figaro. Questions by Luiz Gazzola. More information about the artist can be found in his official management page, by clicking [here].

    Copyright VoxPage1.com


    OL - You were Figaro before at Theater St. Gallen. How do you compare this Piedmont Opera production with your role debut? What is distinctive about this current production? How is it coming around? What should the Piedmont Opera public expect from this production?

    MB - The production I did in Switzerland was a modern, updated production which set the action in an ocean front resort. Dr. Bartolo's house, in this production was a plastic surgeon's office complete with flying body parts, liposuction, and botox!

    The current production at Piedmont Opera is much closer to what one would have seen in Rossini's time. There are a couple of modern touches, but mostly we stick to a traditional take on the piece. The audience should expect to enjoy themselves, laugh, and hear some beautiful music.

    OL - Il Barbiere di Siviglia being such a popular opera, the risk is that the public will be a bit jaded, and think, "oh well, another Barber." The trick is always one of making it fresh and enticing. Let's think about your Figaro. Is there anything special you're planning to incorporate into your performance, to make it unique?

    MB - What I try to bring to Figaro is honesty and spontaneity. He's a quick thinking, jack-of-all trades, who enjoys seeing his schemes and plans come to fruition. As Figaro, I try to stay in the moment and enjoy the execution of the plans that I've set in motion.

    OL - The larger-than-life Figaro - how do you avoid over-acting? How do you describe the psychology of your character?

    MB - Again, I think the key is honesty and staying present. I avoid over-acting by trusting the comedy as Beaumarchais and Rossini have written it. The situations are funny enough in and of themselves and in my opinion, don't require underlining for the audience.

    Figaro is man who enjoys being needed and wanted. He's not particularly humble. He likes to come up with solutions and set schemes in motion. He also enjoys "needling" people a bit, which is evident in the recitative before his duets with both Count Almaviva and later with Rosina. He likes to see people sweat a little and revels in the fact that he's the one with all the answers.

    OL - I've always thought that the "Largo al factotum" is harder than it seems. I'm actually rarely content with it, watching and listening to different performers. How do you go about it? Please tell us about some of the vocal challenges in the role of Figaro. Are there great former Figaros that inspire you?

    MB - One of the many challenges of Largo is the public's familiarity with it. Many people know the piece and come with a favorite performer or recording in mind. It's also written, textually and musically to be "tossed off" as if it's a simple piece, when in fact it's very wordy and difficult. For me the trick is staying with the playful mood of the music and the playfulness of the text.

    Some of the challenges of Figaro are the agility required, as well as the amount of time on stage. It's a marathon, but a fun one!

    I generally turn to Italian Figaros. The piece is so text-driven with so much recitative that it's important to listen to native speakers. One that immediately comes to mind is Leo Nucci. His Italian and vocal agility are astounding, not to mention the fact that he's sung the role for decades.

    [Let's listen to Markus Beam singing the Largo:]

    OL - Please tell us about your time with Deutsche Oper Berlin. Being a semi-permanent member of a company in the German style, is it very challenging, given the need for learning so many roles and performing so often? Or is it actually a nurturing environment?

    MB - My time with the Deutsche Oper was very challenging and rewarding. I sang a vast array of roles from the baritone solos in Carmina Burana and Donner in Das Rheingold, to Silvio in I Pagliacci. I was lucky in that I didn't have any back to back performances of radically different vocal styles, so there was time to make the switch, vocally.

    The Fest system really teaches you to show up every day and give it your best. When you're performing and rehearsing that often, you don't have time to micromanage every note or to pamper yourself the way you do in a long rehearsal process with lots of time between performances. Some days it can feel a bit like "punching the clock" but it definitely builds stamina and is an amazing way to learn a tremendous amount of repertoire in a short time.

    OL - You've performed a lot in Europe. Please compare and contrast for us what it is like for an American singer, to perform over there versus over here.

    MB - New productions in Europe generally have a longer rehearsal time than in America, 6 weeks versus 3 or 4 here. There is also more updating of settings and less traditional productions than in the US. Many companies, particularly in Germany, are mostly funded by the State so theaters will do more obscure repertoire or riskier productions, because getting donors and selling tickets isn't as much of a concern.

    Another big difference is that many times operas have performances over an entire season, so I've had opportunities to sing 21 performances of Così in a season or 17 Papagenos. This is because in the Fest system everyone is payed a salary as opposed to per performance, so it's much cheaper to produce more performances than it would be in the States. At any rate, those chances to really live with a role in the same production, for that many performances just don't exist in the U.S.

    OL - Your repertoire is incredibly diverse. There is Baroque like in Rameau's Dardanus and some Handel, there is Mozart, and Wagner (Donner in Das Rheingold), some bel canto, some verismo, all the way to modern and contemporary composers like Weil's Mahagonny and 21st century opera, like Maw's Sophie's Choice. In what repertory do you feel most comfortable? Is this wide range difficult for the voice?

    MB - As a lyric baritone there is less specialization than with say a "Rossini tenor" or coloratura. Even baritones who sing Verdi may still sing Mozart or Rossini and perform 21st century operas as well. So for that reason, it's expected that most baritones sing various styles. I also enjoy switching things up and exploring a wide variety of repertoire both to sing and to perform.

    OL - You've been to young artist programs in San Francisco, Santa Fe, and Glimmerglass, as well as four years at the Academy of Vocal Arts in Philly. What part of your training was most instrumental? What would you say to young singers in terms of advice, regarding what programs to look for?

    MB - I really feel that all of the schooling and programs have contributed to my development as a singer. It all began for me at North Carolina School of the Arts as a high school student where I first began to seriously study music. I was in the choir of Piedmont Opera's artistic director, Jamie Albritten (who's also the head of NCSA's A.J. Fletcher Opera Institute), and it's there that I started learning languages, musicality, and how to really make music. I had a wonderful teacher, Christoper Trakas who was very encouraging and suggested that I look at the University of Cincinnati College Conservatory of Music. CCM is where I started to form my foundation of vocal technique and earned many performance opportunities. The Academy of Vocal Arts was a vigorous four-year training program that was heavily performance-oriented. The amazing coaches and teachers were demanding and expected a lot of us, which forces you to learn and improve. I'm currently working with a wonderful teacher in New York, Michael Paul, who is tremendously knowledgable and nurturing. So the learning process never ends. As a singer, you have to be a lifelong student.

    As far as young artist programs go, I was very fortunate to attend some really great ones. Santa Fe, Glimmerglass, San Fransisco's Merola Program, and Wolf Trap were all great places to see professionals at work and to be coached by some of the best coaches in the industry. I also got the opportunity to watch the professional principals, and to see first hand what it took to rehearse and perform at a high level.

    I would tell young singers to talk to recent alumni of various programs and find the ones with lots of individual coaching. Also, depending on the stage of your development, being somewhere where casting directors and agents will hear you is important (if you're ready for that step).

    OL - We're thrilled to know that you're a native of North Carolina, where Opera Lively's headquarters are located. Our state has an incredibly active operatic scene - just this season we had 22 different operas, 10 concerts, and 3 vocal competitions - 35 major operatic events, more than in many countries. So, was it like this when you were growing up? How did you get into classical music and operatic singing? Was it something that was in your background, family/school/church, etc.? Or did it come to you as a surprise?

    MB - I didn't have early exposure to opera. I am so lucky to have been raised by wonderful nurturing parents and with unending support form my extended family. I got into singing because my mother is a singer and was the lead singer in a band for most of my childhood. I remember writing out lyrics and helping her memorize new songs. When I was old enough, she would take me along on certain gigs and let me sit at the back of the stage. Sometimes I even got to quietly play a tambourine! Pretty soon I started singing myself, and after a while became the go-to singer for community events or parties.

    I don't remember being aware of opera until I was 14 or 15 when I heard a soprano sing in a beauty pageant, (of all places!). I asked her how she was able to do it, and she told me about her teacher. It turns out he lived two hours from me, but my parents drove the four-hour round trip so that I could have a one hour lesson once a week. His name is Josef English Walker and he is a graduate of NCSA. He suggested I audition for the high school division, which set everything in motion. From there it all snow-balled into the road I've taken.

    OL - Please tell us about you as a person - some of your likes, your goals and aspirations, your future plans.

    MB - I'm an avid reader and love to learn about different people and belief systems. My professional goals are to continue to work at the highest level of which I am capable and to always bring truth to whatever story I'm telling.


    Here is the second interview, with bass-baritone Brian Banion, singing Don Basilio. Questions by Luiz Gazzola. More information about the artist can be found in his official site, [here].

    Photo copyright Devon Cass


    OL - You were Basilio before, right? How do you compare this Piedmont Opera production with your previous experiences with other productions of this opera? What is distinctive about it? How is it coming around? What should the Piedmont Opera public expect from this production?

    BB- The largest difference in the Piedmont Opera production of Barber from what I have experienced elsewhere is the addition of Kevin Glavin as Bartolo. The combination of Bartolo's importance to Barber as an opera, combined with Kevin's overwhelming presence brings every scene into focus. For my part, I am such a better Basilio with Kevin than I would be without!

    OL - Il Barbiere di Siviglia being such a popular opera, the risk is that the public will be a bit jaded, and think, "oh well, another Barber." The trick is always one of making it fresh and enticing. Let's think about your Basilio. Is there anything special you're planning to incorporate into your performance, to make it unique?

    BB - This production is a traditional Barber, which I see as a positive. I don't pretend to be reinventing the wheel as Basilio. Rather, I hope to be paying homage to those greats who have previously sung this role. There is a reason why this opera is still alive after so much time in the standard repertory - it is tremendously entertaining when done well, and I believe that here, audiences will see a Barber done well. With that said, I have added a reference to National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation, and one local joke, in reference to my role as Dick Deadeye in Piedmont Opera's production of HMS Pinafore - I am anxious to see if it gets a laugh.

    OL - Acting-wise, are there any pitfalls in efficiently portraying Basilio? He's a lecherous guy, but also quite funny. How do you walk this line? How do you describe the psychology of your character?

    BB - For me, there is an underlying flamboyance to Basilio. He is dressed conservatively, and attempts to present himself as such, but ultimately, he cannot hide his inner Lady Gaga. We see this both in the recitative and aria, where Rossini writes crescendo after crescendo, with each one of them pulling quickly back to a more reserved nature, though ultimately his true nature wins over. Again, in the "Buona sera" quintet, we see him enter as methodical and controlled, and he exits wildly. The pitfall for me in the role, is to suggest femininity, which can be funny, but not hit the audience over the head with it.

    OL - We all love "La calunnia è un venticello." Is this one of your favorite arias? Do you try to make it unique in your interpretation of it, in any way?

    BB - I do enjoy "La calunnia," but more in the context of the show than as a concerted aria. In context, it is so comical; but in concert, the comedy is incredibly dependent on the sophistication level of the audience. As for my stamp on the piece, I never try to do things differently for the sake of being different - I believe it is my responsibility to continue the rich traditions established by those who came before me.

    OL - You've been to Piedmont Opera before, in HMS Pinafore, and in Don Giovanni. What is special about this company?

    BB - Piedmont Opera has always treated me so well, and it is a place I feel a great deal of loyalty towards. Everyone involved is focused on the success of the production, and no detail is left out. From the person who picks you up at the airport (My now very good friend, Chip Baxter) to the generous people who loan their wonderful cars for my use while in town (My now great friends Jim and Jane Poindexter), along with Piedmont Opera's detail oriented, friendly staff, one truly feels at home in Winston Salem.

    We even have the luxury of a supertitles person (Nancy Goldsmith) who attends every rehearsal, and custom-builds titles for the show, then runs them during the show, knowing the specific timing of what we are doing on stage. This makes for a unique audience experience at the opera, particularly in a comedy. During HMS Pinafore, the director had staged my character to enter by climbing over the side of the ship. He said during staging rehearsals that it would ultimately depend on whether or not the set would allow for climbing, and we had a back up plan. In the theater, we found that the set would not allow us to do what we had planned without alteration. Dennis Booth, the Technical Director was consulted, and I fully expected him to say that it was too much trouble. Instead, he built a custom ladder to enable me to climb over the ship. The audience roared with laughter when I climbed over, which would have been lost if the Piedmont crew had not been so willing to put in that extra effort. This is unusual in regional opera, to say the least.

    OL - Talking about HMS Pinafore, I've recently heard from a singer that Gilbert and Sullivan pieces are a lot more difficult than the public realizes, requiring great agility and rhythm. Would you elaborate on this, please?

    BB - I am perhaps not the best person to ask about this from a vocal standpoint, as my only G&S experiences have been as the title role in The Mikado, and as Dick Deadeye in HMS Pinafore, both roles which are more comedic than vocal in their focus. I do know that the Gilbert and Sullivan repertoire is considerably more sophisticated in text and musical values than some people realize. Behind all of the silliness lies real artistic value, which is why the works have the ability to entertain in modern times. Certainly one of the most valuable things an artist can have when in a G&S production is a quick wit and dramatic flexibility.

    OL - We at Opera Lively are always highly interested in contemporary opera. We'd love to hear more about the fact that you created the role of Reverend Arthur Baines in the world premiere of Aldridge's Elmer Gantry. In an interview with Thomas Hampson, he told us that this is the quintessential American story. Please describe to us what that experience was about, and tell us more about Elmer Gantry, the opera.

    BB - I was extremely fortunate to have the opportunity to be a part of Elmer Gantry. John Hoomes had the vision to bring it to production in Nashville, and he and Bill Boggs made some very difficult decisions in cutting material from the score to tighten the way it runs. Frank Kelley, the only singer in the cast who had been a part of the workshop cast some 17 years earlier, said that some incredible scenes are lying on the cutting room floor. It would be interesting to me to hear some of that music.

    If Elmer Gantry is the quintessential American story, certainly the operatic treatment it has been given makes it the quintessential American opera. Bob Aldridge's score is fiendishly difficult, ultra modern, and at the same time completely accessible for the audience. The way he sets text is extraordinary. There is a scene where Elmer is "speaking" on the phone, and the music is so natural that you would swear the singer is improvising the rhythm. In truth, this naturalness is just something Bob is able to manufacture, and he does this throughout the score. Herschel Garfein's libretto is amazing. He chooses the perfect words for each character and moment - Herschel is truly one of my favorite people on the planet. I eagerly await the next project from these two musical mad scientists.

    OL - You went to prestigious Indiana University and worked with the outstanding Giorgio Tozzi. Any interesting memories to share with us, about this part of your training?

    BB - I cannot describe how deeply I appreciate the influence Giorgio Tozzi had on my life. I spent five wonderful years with him at Indiana University, and stayed in close contact until his death in 2011. I think about him every day, and anyone who knows me will tell you that it is difficult for me to speak on any subject without starting a sentence with, "Giorgio always said...". This is a portion of what I wrote on the IU website which memorializes Giorgio. I think it describes his presence as a mentor pretty well.

    "Being a singer who knows Giorgio Tozzi meant that you knew you could do it – you knew you could do it because he did it, and you were just like him… and you knew this because he told you so every time he saw you. There was no more positive man towards a young singer than this man – you felt this positivity and the resulting confidence until you opened up one of his recordings and actually tried to imitate what he was able to do. His legato is still unparalleled, his diction was flawless, his sound was warm and uniquely human, and his stage acting was natural and deeply moving before it was a necessary goal of an operatic artist. He was an unusually humble man, particularly considering his amazing gifts."

    When I met my wife, Mezzo Soprano Elise DesChamps, Giorgio suggested that she begin to attend every lesson. He said that one day I would need her to understand my voice and that I would need to trust her ears. Over the next few years, he spoke to her as frequently as he spoke to me during lessons. Today, Elise is the only person I believe about my voice, and she has literally saved my life, guiding me through the transitions a singer must make as age changes the body.

    OL - In your email signature, there are some funny quotes. Well, we do understand the humoristic goal, but one of them took us aback a little - "when in doubt, sing loud." We actually think that, humor apart, we have an upsetting trend in opera, these days. The public is so used to electronics at home and in their cars, that they want everything louder. We think singers these days rarely sing anything softer than mezzo-forte even if the score calls for pianissimo, and we think it takes away some of the artistry. We really love it when a singer is able to keep the dynamics down and sing piano when it's needed. What is your opinion on this?

    BB - Giorgio Tozzi always said (there it is) that "at least half of good operatic singing is being loud enough to be heard" - this from an artist with an uncommonly good mezza voce.

    The question of dynamic range in opera is incredibly complicated. Giorgio felt that modern conductors allow the orchestra to play too loudly, causing singers to strain their voices to be heard. He felt that a conductor should not be called "Maestro" unless they were able to control an orchestra's volume, enabling the singers to sing comfortably. There is also the issue of the large theaters found in this country. Also, one could say that the recording industry has created some under-casting, compared to previous generations, requiring these singers to sing out of their comfort zone. Given these factors, it is a bit unfair to place blame on the singers.

    OL - You certainly have a point, there! How did you get into classical music and operatic singing? Was it something that was in your background, family/school/church, etc.? Or did it come to you as a surprise?

    BB - I was a trombone major in college. My undergraduate school required instrumental majors to take "Class Voice", where one would learn the basics of singing in a classroom situation. When I initially registered for the class, I dropped out when I learned that I would need to sing in front of my friends. By the time I took the class again, I was the only student registered, so I was in a one-on-one situation. The teacher (Sharon Bennett) helped me reluctantly discover that I should be a singer. I was collecting LPs (I now have around 7,000 - mostly vocal) and Sharon suggested that I should seek out recordings by Giorgio Tozzi, as she heard similarities in our sounds. These recordings were my first experiences with opera, and I learned my initial arias by imitating Giorgio. One year later, I found myself at IU, studying with this great man. I will forever be indebted to Sharon Bennett for this.

    OL - Please tell us about you as a person - some of your likes, your goals and aspirations, your future plans.

    BB - I have a beautiful 10 year old daughter named Viviane. She is the light of my life, and I attempt every day to deserve this gift. She is incredibly talented artistically, and is unbelievably mature. When you have something like this in your life, there can be nothing more important.

    My wife, Elise DesChamps, is a wonder. She knows my every thought before I have it. She is every beautiful thing a woman can be, and the only pure artist I have ever met. I am the most fortunate man in the world.

    I am obsessed with recordings. I love jazz, and prefer Sarah Vaughan to Ella Fitzgerald. I prefer the NBA to March Madness, and during Fantasy Football season can think of little else. I would rather golf than do anything else, though I am not a good golfer.

    I like to joke around, and as a result have spent most of my singing life in comedy. I truly hope to get the opportunity to sing some heavier repertoire, both vocally and dramatically in the future.


    Mezzo-soprano Leah Wool who is singing Rosina granted us the third interview; questions by Luiz Gazzola. More information about the artist can be found by clicking on this link to her official site, [here].

    Photo Credit Dario Acosta


    OL - You were Rosina recently at Sacramento Opera, and a while ago at Opéra Louisiane. How do you compare this Piedmont Opera production with the other two? What is distinctive about it? How is it coming around? What should the Piedmont Opera public expect from this production?

    LW - This production at Piedmont Opera is traditional like the other two you mentioned, with period costumes and sets. I did a production at Knoxville Opera that was done in traditional dress but incorporated modern gestures... there was even an "Elvis" moment during "Largo!" Most of the singers have sung their roles numerous times before, so rehearsals have been great fun as we discover new ways to bring the comedy to life. The audience should expect to have a wonderful time in the theater!

    OL - Il Barbiere di Siviglia being such a popular opera, the risk is that the public will be a bit jaded, and think, "oh well, another Barber." The trick is always one of making it fresh and enticing. Let's think about your Rosina. Is there anything special you're planning to incorporate into your performance, to make it unique?

    LW - This is the fifth production of Barbiere I've been in, and singing Rosina is a joy every time. It seems that every production has a slightly different take on Rosina as a character. In order to keep it fresh, I always spend time thinking about my ornamentation and whether there might be something I can change or adjust in order to suit her characterization.

    OL - Rosina is both an ingénue, and a very strong young lady. She strikes me as someone who possesses some street smarts, in spite of the fact that she is kept secluded. She is also extremely feminine. How do you describe the psychology of your character?

    LW - What I find interesting is Rosina's unique combination of innocence and moxie. She has an innate ability to understand men and outwit them, using both her feminine wiles and her intelligence.

    OL - "Una voce poco fa" can be more difficult to sing than it seems, can't it? Isn't the coloratura a bit daunting? Many singers try different ornamentations, so, there is always a choice between a straightforward performance, and one that diverges a bit from the mainstream, with the singer impacting upon it some more personal ornamentation twists. How do you go about it? Please tell us about some of the vocal challenges in the role of Rosina.

    LW - I think every singer finds different challenges in learning "Una voce poco fa," and really, this repertoire in general. I think the biggest challenge is to find ways to make the aria your own, while still respecting the style. Also, even though the passagework is intricate, it has to sound easy. I've endeavored to find ornaments that suit my voice and also illuminate Rosina's youthful joy and wit.

    OL - The Barber is a very funny opera. You've done La Cenerentola as well. These are light, funny roles. But then, you've done the Secretary in The Consul. These two operas couldn't be any more opposite. What is more comfortable for you, comedy or tragedy?

    LW - Over the past few seasons I have definitely sung more comedy. It is deeply gratifying to sing roles like the Secretary, or Erika in Vanessa, as they require the performer to explore darker and more complex emotions. I find singing Rossini extremely gratifying, because the music just sparkles and feels wonderful to sing.

    OL - You did Offenbach's La Belle Hélène with Santa Fe Opera - such a nice piece, and with such an outstanding company! Any good memories to share with us, from that production? What are your thoughts about performing operetta versus performing opera?

    LW - That was such a fabulous experience! I was an apprentice artist at Santa Fe Opera that season, so the opportunity to share the stage with Susan Graham (who sang the title role) was so exciting! The production was absolutely hilarious and a little bit naughty. Operetta is so much fun - it always feels like getting back to my roots in musical theatre, which was my first love.

    OL - You have a diverse repertory, as far back as Handel, and as contemporary as Glass' Kepler, which has just recently had its world premiere. Do you have a preference for one of the eras, or do you like to explore multiple eras, styles, and sub-genres?

    LW - I think it's important to your growth as an artist to explore a varied repertoire, and I've been fortunate to be involved with projects like Kepler. Philip Glass attended the performance and came backstage afterwards to spend time with the cast, which was very kind. I enjoy singing contemporary music, and it's always quite special to be part of a premiere.

    OL - How did you get into classical music and operatic singing? Was it something that was in your background, family/school/church, etc.? Or did it come to you as a surprise?

    LW - I grew up just outside New York City, so I was very lucky in that my parents took my sister and me to concerts at Lincoln Center, Carnegie Hall, and Broadway shows from an early age. My mother has a beautiful voice. I didn't even realize I had singing talent until I was 12, thanks to a kind music teacher I had in middle school who picked my voice out of the crowd. At first, I thought I'd want a career in musical theater. However, after I started voice lessons in high school, it soon became clear that my voice was more suited for classical music. But musical theater, especially "golden age" rep, is still dear to my heart!

    OL - You went to Yale. How was it?

    LW - Yale's opera program is all graduate level, so I was in a small program of about 16 opera singers at the School of Music. There is also an undergraduate opera company, but their shows are completely separate from the graduate program's activities.

    OL - Please tell us about you as a person - some of your likes, your goals and aspirations, your future plans.

    LW - I live in NYC with my husband, who is a journalist/producer. We love to cook and go to great restaurants when we can! I'm an avid reader, particularly of historical fiction, but I also love memoirs and biographies. When I'm home, I try to visit family and lucky for us, everyone is in the NY metro area.


    Here we can see a video sample of the gifted singer Ms. Wool's beautiful coloratura, in the title role of La Cenerentola :

    [Click here] and you'll be taken to a page with the video (we can't embed this format).


    Next, we get Victor Ryan Robertson in the role of Count Almaviva. Learn more about this talented singer by visiting his website; click [here]. Questions by Luiz Gazzola. The all-caps for emphasis are the singer's.

    Victor Ryan Robertson, photo credit unknown, fair promotional use


    OL - You’ve sung this role in at least five other productions that I know of – with Opera Carolina, Minnesota Opera, Michigan Opera Theatre, PORT Opera Festival, and Arizona Opera. How do you compare this Piedmont Opera production with some of the most notable ones you’ve done? What is distinctive about it? How is it coming around? What should the Piedmont Opera public expect from this production?

    VRR - I have done alot of productions of Il Barbiere and what I've noticed a lot of the times is that I'm using the same costumes and sets. Some production sets are popular and used everywhere. This Piedmont production I have never used before and I find it very accommodating. Its a beautifully simple set that actually looks like Seville... go figure. I also love the size of the theatre (Stevens Center). It is the PERFECT size for bel canto opera and I wish I could take it with me wherever I go. That makes a huge difference in how you approach singing certain lines, if not the entire opera! I can attack the score with an ease that I seldom find in other houses that may seat up to 3,500.

    OL - Il Barbiere di Siviglia being such a popular opera, the risk is that the public will be a bit jaded, and think, "oh well, another Barber." The trick is always one of making it fresh and enticing. Let's think about your Count Almaviva. Is there anything special you're planning to incorporate into your performance, to make it unique? What advice the stage director in this production has been giving to the singers, in rehearsal?

    VRR - Il barbiere is done A LOT and yes there is the possibility of the public to be a bit less excited about yet another one, but saying that, it STILL is only done once every five or six years per city so just like a La Bohème or Porgy and Bess it is much appreciated every time. I was in an almost fatal motorcycle accident in 2010 and besides being very grateful to just be here, I wasnt sure if I'd be able to sing the Count again. My face was fractured, all my front teeth knocked out aside from other broken bones. The doctor said I might not sing again.

    BUT I recovered surprisingly fast and would you believe, Il barbiere was the first opera I did after that accident at Arizona Opera. I did well considering, but I maybe should have given myself more time to recover and afterwards I had doubt weather I'd be able to sing it again at a high level. After two years away from the score I find it in many ways now EASIER to sing and vocally I have developed more nuances than before. I can't believe it but the whole scope of the character, I understand much better now, theatrically and vocally.

    OL - Oh, wow! We're glad that you've recovered. The two big outings of Count Almaviva in the two most famous operatic treatments of this Beaumarchais character - in Rossini’s Barber and Mozart’s Nozze – depict him with very different colors. How do you describe the psychology of your character?

    VRR - The character of the Count is of nobility and refinement. My colleagues are so talented and funny that at first in rehearsals I wanted to match their comic quickness and skills. That's not who Almaviva is, though. His demeanor counters that humor which makes it for a much more balanced show. Also he must first and foremost just sing as pretty as possible. His music calls for it, especially in "Se il mio nome," the second aria in the first act. This aria pulls the audience in and helps them root for the Count in all his misadventures. They are able to rally around this love story because of the beautifully sincere, hopeful, and elegant delivery of his character, early on.

    OL - In your preparation, do you typically read the source as well, like in this case Beaumarchais’ three plays? And regarding the musical preparation for such a fabulous role, do you explore your predecessors’ recordings? Are there singers you particularly look up to, among the past performers of Count Almaviva?

    VRR - Generally I do research for every opera I sing. Why was it written? What message was it trying to get out? What was the culture in which it was written? From what book was it taken and how close to that book is this story? BUT considering every director takes his or her own approach to the score and they could also change the time in which it takes place by 100 years, you are left with just your character's feelings in relation to the story. I once did a La Bohème in 1950s France. Of course the story remains the same BUT now you are faced with different conflicts like World War II, malaria, television and its effects on that particular culture.

    As for my favorite Almavivas I admire, YouTube has made it so wonderfully easy to watch the greats, live throughout their career. We never had that kind of access before. It's a wonderful thing too because I love how Juan Diego sings "Ecco ridente" in the La Scala 2007 production but love Lawrence Brownlee's interpretation of "Se il mio nome" in his 2009 Berlin production. These days you're not just stuck with studio recordings but the real stuff, live, up close and unedited.

    OL - Are there specific challenges in singing and/or acting the role of Count Almaviva?

    VRR - The challenges that come with singing Almaviva have come full circle. As I stated earlier I used to approach him a lot more aggressive and a bit bombastic with maybe too much humor. Now I see him for what he is and am comfortable portraying just that. Vocally it is a gift to be able to sing him so much because now I know of all the potholes, roadblocks, and /or difficulties. It's still never very easy to sing him but a lot easier than before, and I feel he is a vocal acrobat.

    OL - The Barber is a very funny opera, and you’ve done other comedies like La Cenerentola, La Fille du Regiment, and L’Elisir d’Amore. You've done tragic tenor roles as well – Ottavio in Don Giovanni, Alfredo in La Traviata, Edgardo in Lucia to name a few, as well as a role that requires good theatrical range because it goes a bit both ways, that of Hoffmann. What is your preference? Are you more comfortable with comedic or tragic roles? Would you please elaborate on the different skill sets they require?

    VRR - I find that I have been more comfortable over the years doing light-hearted, fun-loving characters: the Nemorinos and Tonios of opera. I used to find it difficult being serious on stage. I didnt have access to those emotions as much. Doing the role of Hoffmann, where he was a drunk, a poet, and a dreamer, it blended a lot of emotions well, to the point that I didnt find it so hard. That could also be said of the role Sportin' Life in Porgy and Bess. They were written so well to seamlessly go in and out of polar opposite emotions quickly. Those two characters helped me improve my serious side as well as my accident in 2010. That was such a tough year emotionally but it has expanded my emotional capacity.

    OL - You’ve performed the role of Sportin’ Life in Porgy and Bess numerous times, in venues as prestigious as Los Angeles Opera and Deutsche Oper Berlin, among others. I’ve just interviewed your colleague Lawrence Brownlee, and we were talking about the controversy regarding Porgy and Bess, which has afforded to African-American singers/actors an outlet in a time when unfortunately they weren’t being given other roles, but is also seen by some members of the community as a piece that detrimentally and stereotypically depicts African-Americans. What is your opinion on this controversy, and on the piece itself (which, by the way, personally, I love)?

    VRR - I didn't start singing the role of Sportin' Life in Porgy and Bess until well into my career and I never even considered it. I knew that first I must establish myself as a legitimate bel canto operatic tenor and to take on that role too soon might just pigeon-hole me. I also knew it was such a good character within a great show that when I did get the opportunity it would be awesome.

    It's a masterpiece. Just like the movie Django Unchained which has recently received a lot of criticism for its content, Porgy takes on this fractured time in America with a love story. You cannot run away from this rich history. Sportin' Life was a street hustler, slick and deadly. He really existed and his voice should be heard too. I grew up in South Carolina and in the Low Country some people STILL speak that way. It's real. How else can you portray it? Washing it down, covering it up, cleaning it up only robs people of a history that had its time and was a pawn in the game of this great country. Now I LOVE singing that role. He's so smooth, and his music rivals "Summertime".

    OL - We’d be curious to know how audiences abroad react to our very own Porgy and Bess. Do you have any memories to share about that production in Berlin, and how the public received it?

    VRR - Doing Porgy and Bess in Berlin for the first time since its famous production with Leontine Price in 68 was special. The audience went crazy. The house was sold out in all twenty-five shows. There were standing ovations for fifteen minutes every night. I had never experienced anything like it at the time, or since. The irony was that it was a South African production!! Capetown Opera saw me do the Francesca Zambello's Los Angeles production and has hired me to do it all over the world. They easily turned Catfish Row into a Township and the transition was perfect. Oppression, poverty, racism, and love were all mirrored in the Township of Khayelitsha. To be a part of their history in the setting of Porgy and Bess was the most unique of experiences. They added Xhosa, Zulu, Tswana, and Afrikaans language in the text and the audience just ate it up. I've always wondered how an American audience would feel about their interpretation.

    OL - Wow, very interesting! How did you get into classical music and operatic singing? Was it something that was in your background, family/school/church, etc.? Or did it come to you as a surprise?

    VRR - I fell into classical music by accident. After dropping out of college on a full tennis scholarship I drifted into rock/R&B bands traveling through the countryside of the Carolinas and Georgia. I played late night in smoky bars for very little pay. I did this for a few years and then moved to Atlanta. After one of my shows the bass player for the Grammy award-winning group Arrested Development pulled me aside and asked if I wanted to start a band with him. We did and named it Kuntah. At one of those shows a professor of music at Georgia State University (Mary Ann Hill) heard me sing and suggested I study with her. I slowly agreed but only to improve my vocal range as a singer. She had other intentions though, and from the start thought I should be singing opera. Once I got wind of this it was too late to say no and I was in love with the literature she kept having me practice (Italian 24 songs, Mozart). Somehow I was accepted into the prestigious Young Artists Program at Tri Cities Opera in NY where maestro Peyton Hibbitt took me under his wings and showed me how to pull apart and learn a score.

    OL - Please tell us about your goals and aspirations.

    VRR - So far it's been an honor to do something so challenging and rewarding for a living. My next goals are to take these roles to even higher levels. I've had a lot to overcome in this process. Opera exposes so much from a person's soul that one cannot hide. In order to reach new levels artistically I've had to look at myself and where I want to be, honestly. This profession is not for the faint of heart. You've got to really love it and I think it should be that way.


    Here, in a production by the Lyric Opera of Kansas City of La Fille du Régiment in English, we can hear Victor Robertson's beautiful lyric tenor voice with the famous nine high Cs:


    Finally, the last principal singer in this production we were able to talk to, is Kevin Glavin in the role of Doctor Bartolo. More information about this very experienced and talented singer can be found [here].

    Kevin Glavin, photo credit unknown, fair promotional use


    OL - You’ve sung this role with prestigious companies such as San Francisco Opera, New York City Opera, and many others throughout the nation (I’ve counted at least nine more). How do you compare this Piedmont Opera production with some of the most notable ones you’ve done? What is distinctive about it? How is it coming around? What should the Piedmont Opera public expect from this production?

    KG - First, thank you for your interest and support for Piedmont opera. I've actually been performing Bartolo since 1989 when I first was called nine days before rehearsal began with Pittsburgh Opera (the company at the time was directed by the great stage director Tito Capobianco). I've done this opera every year since then, including all throughout Canada, Spain, South America, and scenes programs in Italy. I do at least two to three productions a year and have lost count of how many performances that equals.

    This production is similar to many that I've done in the past , because we are following a lot of the traditions that I have learned and worked on since 1985. I'm enjoying working with this fine young cast which is distinctive for me in that I can pass on some of my knowledge that I learned years ago when I studied in Italy. I hope that the audience will enjoy seeing and hearing a Barber that is true to what Rossini expected in this Opera, and I know they will have a great time.

    OL - Il Barbiere di Siviglia being such a popular opera, the risk is that the public will be a bit jaded, and think, "oh well, another Barber." The trick is always one of making it fresh and enticing. Let's think about your Bartolo. Is there anything special you're planning to incorporate into your performance, to make it unique? I’ve heard from your colleagues that they are rather impressed with your work. If you had to address a newcomer to this role and teach him how to do a great Bartolo, what would be your advice?

    KG - I have done countless Barbers and I never get tired of performing this show. When I worked on these Buffo characters I wanted to create interesting people so I watch different folks on the street and study how they walk and react to varying situations so I can create characters that are believable yet that the public can find the humor in these roles. So I don't think there is any trick. I tell young singers to create their own Bartolo, because everyone's sense of timing and comedy is different. And also I tell them to always stay in character and know what other actors are saying and doing so you can react to any situation.

    OL - Of the basso buffo roles, Bartolo is arguably the most famous one. He hits all the stereotypes for this kind of character, but he must have some distinctive characteristics, to have become such an icon, and probably, the measuring stick to be used for other such roles. How do you describe the psychology of your character?

    KG - When I study any of these characters I start with the realization that I am portraying a human being with all their strengths and vulnerabilities. Rossini took these characters out of the Commedia dell'Arte so they all have specific types. Bartolo is an older gentleman who has a ward Rosina and as long as she doesn't get married he has control of her dowry. So first he is a medical doctor and I might add that he has some clout and he is not stupid, although some people play him that way. The things that make this such a great character for me are first and foremost that he is strong and he doesn't trust anyone so he is always questioning everything, which makes him very interesting to play. Oh, and by the way he gets into some of the most hilarious situations in opera. Secondly he has some of the most difficult music to sing.

    OL - Yes. What are the specific challenges in singing the role of Bartolo? Rossini’s patter arias require a great dose of agility, right?

    KG - The aria "A un dottor della mia sorte" has everything you could ask for in an aria from great high parts to legato then the best patter section in the Buffo repertoire. One has to have great agility to sing any of Rossinis operas. I've been told that I am one of the few Bartolos in the world today that actually sings and acts these roles, and the reason I think people believe this, is because a lot of guys who do this repertory either have a good voice and don't have good comic skills, or they are funny but don't have the vocal chops to handle this very difficult music. One of the greatest challenges of singing this repertory is trying to catch a breath.

    OL - The Barber is a very funny opera. You've specialized in the Buffo repertory, with all the great and beloved roles not only in the Barber, but also in Don Pasquale, L’Italiana in Algeri, La Cenerentola, L’Elisir d’Amore, etc. You are known for great comedic flair. But have you ever thought of doing the dramatic bass roles as well, such as, for example, The Grand Inquisitor in Don Carlos ? Or do you like comedy so much that you wouldn’t go there?

    KG - I've been asked this question many times in my career and I can honestly say that I am completely satisfied with my career doing the Buffo characters, but if I would be considered for one serious role it would be Scarpia in Tosca.

    OL - I’m thrilled to learn that you’ve done the role of Brighella in Wagner's Das Liebesverbot with Glimmerglass Opera. While Wagner himself didn’t think much of what he called his youthful follies (Das Liebesverbot, and Die Feen), I think that these operas are grossly underestimated, and are only so, because people want to compare them to Wagner’s spectacular mature works. Personally, I think that if someone were to listen to and watch a production of Das Liebesverbot without knowing who composed it (therefore preventing the effect of Wagner’s great works competing with it), the person would be likely to find this light and funny piece, a very good opera, worthy of a steady spot in the standard repertory. I was hoping that in 2013, during Wagner’s bicentennial, we’d see more productions of it, and hopefully a DVD, and I was disappointed to realize that in spite of the celebrations of the great composer’s bicentennial, Das Liebesverbot remains nowhere to be seen, especially outside of Germany where from time to time it finds a theater willing to do it, with a couple of recordings. So I was glad to know that at least we got a production of it at Glimmerglass. Would you please share with our readers your opinion of the piece (both musically and theatrically), and memories you may have of that Glimmerglass production?

    KG - I have great memories of doing Das Liebesverbot in Glimmerglass, one being that it was my first German role with dialogue and that it took me forever to learn. In the final dress rehearsal I have a scene with a page of dialogue, well nevertheless I repeated the first line three times because I couldn't remember anything else and so I just stood up and said "Das ist kaput" and walked off stage to great laughter and applause. I found the music very enjoyable because it showed glimpses of Wagner's greatness, but it also had a lot of passages that reminded me of Rossini. I don't know if you had heard that Adolph Hitler got his hands on the score to this opera and that is how it disappeared for quite sometime. And also I've been told by A-list houses that they wouldn't mount a production of this piece because there are too many other great works of Wagner to perform and these productions are very expensive.

    OL - Hm, interesting. And yes, Das Liebesverbot does have some Rossinian traits, good observation! You did King Louis XVI in The Ghosts of Versailles with Opera Theatre of Saint Louis. Any comments on performing contemporary opera?

    KG - The role of Louis XVI was really more of an acting part for me, but I remember the cast being very good and we really had a great time working together.

    OL - I’m always curious about the opera scene in other countries. You’ve performed at the famed Teatro Colón in Buenos Aires, as well as the Teatro Teresa Carreño in Caracas, and the Teatro Municipal de Santiago. Would you please tell our readers a little about each of these three venues and your experiences singing in South America?

    KG - I am always excited to travel to other countries. My first trip south was to Costa Rica where I performed in a great production of L'Italiana in Algeri by Rossini. The country is stunning and the people are warm and friendly. The only bad part of the trip was when we experienced a 7.2 earthquake that caused a lot of structural damage, but no one was killed.

    My next trip was to Caracas, Venezuela. I sang there in 1992, The Barber of Seville, and there was a lot of political unrest in the country. What was different about this trip was the fact that everywhere we walked near the theater there were armed guards, and we were not allowed to go into the street below the opera house wearing any jewelry because the people are very poor and there is a lot of theft. One lady had her hand cut off with a machete, because she was wearing rings. Then a week after I left Chavez tried to take the government and one hundred and some people were killed right where we were staying. Otherwise it was a great show, and a beautiful theater.

    Then I sang in Santiago, Chile. The show was another Rossini opera, Cenerentola. I was able to travel outside the city and go to some very good wineries, and also go to the ocean and have some great seafood. The only bad thing about this trip was the incredible amount of pollution. There is actually an orange haze half way up the mountains, and they sell T-Shirts with the saying" Ozone Hole Capitol of the World".

    I then traveled to Buenos Aires where I sang the role of Bartolo. The Teatro Colón was one opera house that I always wanted to perform in. The theater is magnificent, although it is in disrepair. It was a great thrill to stand on the same stage that the great Caruso stood. Also if you like steak you will think you're in Heaven. The Argentinian beef is some of the best in the world.

    One thing that is fantastic about singing in these countries is the government sponsors the shows, so tickets are very inexpensive and the people know the operas, so their reactions are unbelievable.

    I also studied in Italy for eight summers and sang at the Spoleto festival with Giancarlo Menotti. I tell young singers all the time, that if you are going to have a career in opera, at some point you must go to Europe and study the languages and lifestyles of the people, because you learn mannerisms that you can never learn in school, that are invaluable to creating characters in opera.

    The city of Bilbao, Spain, had the best cuisine that I have ever experienced, and Nancy, France was a beautiful city near the German border, and the Black Forest. I have so many stories about these times in my life, but they are too many to tell here.

    OL - How did you get into classical music and operatic singing? Was it something that was in your background, family/school/church, etc.? Or did it come to you as a surprise?

    KG - I grew up in Pittsburgh, PA. We were raised Roman Catholic and I was an altar boy in my youth. I found that I had a talent to sing when I was about five. My family would ask me to sing church songs at parties. My father Dave was a union leader, and my mother Fran was a housewife. We were raised in a middle-class home, and my parents were always supportive of my aspirations of becoming an entertainer. Both of my parents had nice voices and were good humored people. When I was in high school I decided that I wanted to go to Las Vegas and sing like the Rat Pack, so I started to take voice lessons. My voice teacher is Claudia Pinza, the daughter of basso Ezio Pinza, and she told me that I should develop my voice for opera. I wasn't too keen on this idea, because I had my own plans, but she started taking me to Italy to study opera, and that is where I learned most of the shows that sing today.

    OL - How are you, as a person, with some of your likes and goals?

    I'm married to a very understanding and beautiful woman; her name is Nancy, but I like to call her "The Nanners". We have two sons and we all live in Pittsburgh. I love to golf, shoot pool, watch movies and smoke a good cigar and beverage. I also run a social club where people can come and relax, shoot pool, watch their favorite sports, and have a refreshing adult beverage.

    I have been very blessed in my life, to be able to do something that I love. If it all ended today I would have no regrets, but if I am going to continue, I hope I can be able to bring joy to people, and take them with me for a couple of hours on this journey in opera.


    Here we can see a small sample of Kevin Glavin's work in a similar bass buffo role, that of Dulcamara in L'Elisir d'Amore :


    We're thankful to these five wonderful artists, for this very interesting set of interviews, and to the staff at Piedmont Opera who facilitated the exchange, especially Mr. Frank Dickerson.

    So, dear readers, make you sure you don't miss this show that seems very promising given the high quality of the cast, not to forget that Maestro James Allbritten and Stage Director Steven LaCosse always deliver very compelling performances (while Steven is as usual helping out as much as he can, this specific production is being directed by Andrew Neinaber).

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    If you came to this page through a link from another site, please consider exploring our other exclusive interviews (Anna Netrebko's, Joyce DiDonato's, Anna Caterina Antonacci's, Luca Pisaroni's, Thomas Hampson's, Piotr Beczala's, scholar Dr. Philip Gossett's, veteran singer Sylvia Sass', and stage director Thaddeus Strassberger's are especially good, among about 70 artists), news, and articles by clicking on the Articles tab above and using our new clickable content index [here], or the Section Widget on the top left of the page; our very active discussion Forum (of course, by clicking on the Forum tab - and please notice that over there we also have an area with content in Spanish, German, French, Italian, and Portuguese).

    And then if you like what you see, consider registering as a member so that you can post your own comments (it's entirely free and will remain so) and please use our social media share buttons to "like" our site and "tweet" about it to your opera-loving friends. Thank you for visiting Opera Lively!

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    Bookmark our site and come back for more - several new and exciting interviews are always coming to Opera Lively - soon, tenor Lawrence Brownlee and mezzo Frederica von Stade (both already recorded, being transcribed), and scheduled for the next several weeks, Diana Damrau, Eva-Maria Westbroek, Maestro Marco Armiliato, Maestro Riccardo Muti, Maestro Yannick Nézét-Séguin, Natalie Dessay, and Jessica Pratt.
    Comments 1 Comment
    1. Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)'s Avatar
      Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva) -
      This set of five interviews has now been finalized. Those who read this article before we were able to complete the interviews with the last two singers, Mr. Victor Robinson and Mr. Kevin Glavin (who was able today to get to the last three questions that were left unanswered), should make sure that they don't miss these two later interviews; they are very interesting!

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