Category Archives: Singer Sunday

Jessye Norman’s ‘Stand Up Straight and Sing!’ {book review} book review: Stand Up Straight and Sing!
A memoir by Soprano Jessye Norman
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (2014)
316 pages with index
4.5 stars

four and a half stars



Stand up Straight and Sing
Author Event/National Author Tour: The Free Library of Philadelphia
; Tuesday, May 27; 7:30 pm

From the publisher: Born and raised in Augusta, Georgia, a descendant of many generations of hardworking slave and free ancestors, she grew up amid the challenges of Jim Crow racism with the civil rights movement just beginning to awaken. Nurtured by a close family and tight-knit community centered on the local church, Jessye sang songs and spirituals constantly, never dreaming that it might lead to a career. Only when she watched a documentary about the legendary Marian Anderson did she first realize that singing could be a profession. Decades later, after a meteoric rise at the Berlin Opera, a long-delayed debut at the Metropolitan Opera, and forays into spirituals, blues, jazz, and other roots music, she has become one of America’s cultural treasures. Stand Up Straight and Sing! is an inspiring woman’s account of an astonishing life.

My review:
If human beings can be born to greatness, then Jessye Norman was, without a doubt, born to be a great person. Despite growing up in the Deep South in the 1950s, when African Americans were judged by the color of their skin and not by the content of their character, Norman would not allow racial prejudice (or any other type of discrimination) deter her from her ambition to let her God-given gifts carry her as far as they would take her.

She grew up in a loving, well-ordered family with parents who were neither too strict nor indulgent. They were devoted servants to their church and their community, and Norman witnessed the example of selfless service the entire time she was growing up, which undoubtedly informs the person she is today. The name of her memoir is taken from her mother’s admonition to “Stand Up Straight” whenever she performed in public, and because Norman knew she wanted to make more out of her life, even from a very early age, she seized every chance she could to let her light shine.

If you have seen Jessye Norman perform on stage, you might expect that her writing would be grand and gracious, and it is. She writes with elegance and care, whether she is describing being cheated out of a deserving wage as a young woman performing in Europe or being discriminated against in a Bavarian Radio International Music Competition, presumably because she was a black woman trying to make her mark in a field during a time where the performers were predominantly white.

She tells a few tales out of school, like when she was insulted by a hotel security guard only a few years ago, who saw her swimming in the hotel pool and demanded to know if she was a registered guest. That tale is from a chapter aptly entitled “Racism as It Lives and Breathes.”

But this is no gritty expose of the hardships and injustices she *surely* suffered en route to a glittering career as an international opera star.  But make no mistake, she has suffered almost as much as she has been feted. For instance, perhaps because of her heritage, she has been asked to sing “Amazing Grace,” many times and at some very high profile events, even though, she explains, the song was written by a British man who made his fortune in the slave trade, who might even have lifted the tune from the African slaves packed into the hull of his ship.

Stand Up Straight and Sing! is equal parts reflection and inspiration, as if to say, I have made something of myself in a world replete with flaws but also one that is laden with opportunity, and surely you can, too. Besides, how many of us will be fortunate enough to have an introduction written by Metropolitan Opera conductor of renown James Levine, who is so full of praise and adoration for Norman that he uses more exclamation points than most family holiday letters do.

Throughout the book, Norman does drop a number of names. She’s sung at Jackie Onassis’s funeral, and also at Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall’s. Yet, she’s earned that privilege. She endured oppression as a person of color and another level of discrimination which she herself realized she’d been forced to suffer again as a woman striving for independence.

Sexism is still very much a part of our culture, to say nothing of sexual and domestic violence against women and the current backlash against long-fought-for and hard-won civil liberties for women. Oh, yes, a great deal has been accomplished, but much work remains.” –Jessye Norman, Stand Up Straight and Sing!

As a rule, I am not a great fan of memoir because it’s remarkably difficult to strip your life bare and be completely candid as the one chronicling your own story.  While Norman’s life experiences and talents have accorded her some fantastic experiences, this memoir suffers a bit from the overarching feeling that everything is just a bit too rosy all the time. Perhaps I have misinterpreted her uncanny ability to detach herself from some very painful episodes or perhaps it is that selfsame ability to detach that has enabled her to endure and persevere in a demanding profession.

Also, organization is a challenge in memoir too. Though the organization is somewhat chronological, it is not purely so. While that may be realistic, i.e., while you are remembering your childhood, your mind drifts to a performance at one of the world’s greatest and most prestigious venues, it does contribute to a less than seamless quality to the writing.

Jessye Norman need not have written her memoir in order to take her rightful place in the pantheon of opera greats. Just listen to her singing “Ave Maria,” in German, a language she also speaks (because she doesn’t sing in any language she can’t speak):

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And yet, she somehow looms even greater for writing and daring to share her own story. You can almost hear her parents saying, ” Well, Jessye, if you can write this book, then you should write it. Do everything you are able to do.”

Brave, Jessye Norman. You are a marvelous writer, a remarkable singer, and a truly great human being.

Editor’s note: A copy of this memoir was given to me by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.


Filed under memoir, Performers, Reviews, Singer Sunday, sopranos

Singer Sunday: an operatic family on a Germanic quest

Opera family: Ross, Jenny and kids

Tenor Ross David Crutchlow is a 6’2” red-headed baritone turned Heldentenor with a booming voice, an infectious laugh, and a huge presence.  Soprano Jenny Millsap is his graceful, demure wife, who is anything but demure when popping off high Fs in her dramatic coloratura roles.

Ross and Jenny have worked in opera, operetta, and musical theater in New York and across the United States.  They have two children – a very active two year old and a perpetually happy eight  month old.

Not every American family would cross the Atlantic to German-speaking Europe to sing there. But then Ross and Jenny aren’t your typical American family.  They are highly enterprising, too, and are using the very popular Kickstarter to fund-raise for their audition trip.

That’s why I’ve invited Ross and Jenny to stop in at Operatoonity today: to tell you more about their dreams and inspire you to support their project. Welcome Ross and Jenny!

How did you meet?

Jenny: We were doing Gilbert & Sullivan in NYC together.  I had been in the company for a couple of years and already knew everyone.  Ross was new.  I wanted to make him feel comfortable, so I made a point of being friendly and talkative with him.  It didn’t hurt that he was easy on the eyes!

Ross: Yeah, she kept following me around, so I figured I’d ask her out.

Jenny: And the fairy tale began!

Is it hard being married to another opera singer?

Jenny: In some ways yes, in some no.  The financial instability is hard.  But that’s true for any freelancer in the United States, really.  It’s an entrepreneurial way of living, which of course is a lot tougher in the arts than probably any other business.  We’ve been lucky enough to be able to work together from time to time, but we’ve also been separated due to gigs.  That’s always hard.

Ross: What’s really great about being married to another singer, though, is the support we give each other.  She knows my voice inside and out and I know hers.  We can say to each other, hey – that phrase sounded a little off, try this.  And it’s better.  We also get what the other one is going through as far as the psychological demands of auditioning and performing.  We can help each other in ways in which non-singers just wouldn’t be able to.

What’s it like having kids while being professional singers?

Soprano Jenny Millsap

Jenny:  Ha!  Well, there’s not much sleep, that’s for sure!  I remember that I used to make a point of getting a lot of sleep before big performances or auditions in my pre-kids days.  Now I just make sure I get a lot of coffee!

Ross: I think I worry a lot more.  Before Jenny and I became parents, I didn’t think about the future so much or the long-term implications of my decisions professionally.  Now I do.  I have to.

Jenny: But the kids are really great.  We used to take Ewan (our two year old) with us to our rehearsals and coachings.  He would crawl around on the floor, watching and listening.  His first time in a green room at a performance was when he was five months old!  He still loves to hear us practice, and sometimes he conducts us!  Nathaniel (our baby) is not as big a fan of opera as Ewan is.  He cries when we sing loudly, so we try to practice when he’s sleeping!

Ross: It’s a lot to juggle, honestly, but both our singing and are kids are vital parts of our lives.  I can’t imagine life without both.

Germany seems like a big step.  What made you decide to head to Europe?

Heldontenor Ross David Crutchlow

Ross: Partly, it’s the repertoire we sing.  I sing primarily Wagner.  Jenny sings mainly Mozart.  We both feel if we want to really do justice to this music, we need to immerse ourselves in the language and culture that made it.  I don’t think we’ll ever feel like we truly understand these two composers as long as we are on this side of the ocean.  We really need to be in Germany.

Jenny: And part of it is very practical – it’s easier for two singing parents to sing and still raise a family over there than here.  It’s a smaller geographical area with a lot more productions –

Ross: And a lot more Wagner!

Jenny: Yeah, no kidding.  About 300 performances to the 30 that are done in the US.  And the German culture is just a lot more artist- and family-friendly.

So, you would stay over there?

Jenny: Initially, yes.  If one or both of us are fortunate enough to get a contract, we’d stay for 5-10 years.  We want a long enough stay to really feel like we soaked up as much as we can musically.

Ross: Long-term, we would like to come back to the US and use what we learn from the Germans about how they program, promote and perform opera to help revitalize interest in the art form here – particularly German opera.

Jenny: Mozart has always been seen as accessible even for people who don’t speak German or Italian.  But Wagner – well, unless you’re an opera aficionado, chances are you’ve never heard or seen a Wagner opera.  We’d like to change that.

Ross: I mean, seriously – The Avengers is popular.  Wagner is not that far away!

Jenny as Kathie in "The Student Prince"

What do you do when you’re not onstage or wrangling your two boys?

Jenny: I cook.  For me, it’s a no pressure artistic pursuit that ends in eating.  What could be a better hobby for a singer?

Ross: I hate to admit it, but video games.  It’s my down time and it keeps me sane.

Where can people go if they want to contribute to your Kickstarter campaign?

Jenny:  Our campaign is “Jenny & Ross: To Sing in Germany”.  Just click!  We’ve got some nice rewards for our backers, and we’re open to suggestions for new rewards, too.

Ross as the Pirate King in "The Pirates of Penzance"

Ross:  If you want to find out more about us as singers, Jenny has a website, and so do I.

Jenny:  We also have Facebook fan pages, if you want the latest updates about our singing:  Here’s mine.  And here’s Ross’s.

Ross: And if you can’t contribute financially, we would still very much appreciate everyone spreading the word!

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So there you have it. With a point and click, you can help this talented family immerse themselves in the artistic field they love and in which they were born to succeed. But you better hurry. Their Kickstarter deadline is June 28.

Good luck, Jenny and Ross! We look forward to an update someday from across the pond.


Filed under 21st Century Opera, Best of Operatoonity, fund-raising in opera, profiles, Q&A, Singer Sunday, sopranos, tenors, Uncategorized

Singer Sunday with Jonathan Estabrooks, vlogging virtuoso

Baritone Jonathan Estabrooks

The official line on baritone Jonathan Estabrooks is that he is an emerging, classically trained artist based in NYC, originally from Ottawa, Canada.

Unofficially, he is a captivating singer/entertainer across disciplines, a compelling host, a gifted actor, a director, and visionary who speaks both English and French, and whose joie de vivre is, well, infectious.

He is also an avid opera vlogger, make that a vlogging virtuoso, of his show “A Singer’s Life”– a delightful series. Each episode is a pastiche of mini-interviews, backstage banter, and rehearsal and performance clips from numerous locations edited and underscored for maximum impact.

While his vlogs showcase all the artists around him, they also reveal a multi-talented, versatile artist who is as much a keen observer of his environment as he is an entertainer.

Here’s a show he filmed at the International Vocal Arts Institute Final Concert Gala in Virginia that *I’m certain* you will enjoy watching:

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If a behind-the-scenes world of a performer trained in the classical arts interests you,   there are many, many other wonderful episodes of “A Singer’s Life” on Jonathan’s YouTube channel.

Can you tell me a little about your childhood? How did you grow up and how did it affect your decision to sing opera?
I guess I could say that my childhood was pretty normal, aside from how busy I was. Both my brother and I were very active  both in terms of activities (gymnastics, skiing, track and field, swimming) but even more so in the arts. From the age of 8, I was a member of a local boys choir affiliated with Opera Lyra Ottawa, and soon joined a thriving musical theatre company called the Company of Musical Theatre. We also spend hundreds of hours each year performing at various charity and fundraising events known then as the Estabrooks Brothers. I learnt so much about collaboration but more importantly, how to interact and communicate with an audience. Through simply doing, I that realized what it took to step out in front of any audience, large or small and communicate a message through music. I guess it was sort of a natural progression to study music, and classical voice seems like the strongest base to allow for healthy singing in any genre.

A map, in case, like me, you're wondering where is Ottawa anyway?

When did you decide to relocate to New York and why?
After completing my Bachelor of music at the University of Toronto, I applied to a number of schools not knowing where I would be accepted. I was open to a new city and a new adventure. When I was accepted into Juilliard, I took the leap and moved to the Big Apple.

What has been the greatest thrill in your career thus far? Greatest challenge?
It’s hard to choose just one thrill because if I wasn’t constantly thrilled and challenged, I would find another career. I would say that there have been a few. Singing for then President Bill Clinton (1999) was certainly one, and my debut with The National Arts Centre Orchestra in Ottawa under the baton of Pinchas Zukerman. Then there are the less showy moments like having the chance to touch someone through music. Perhaps thrilling is too big a word, but bringing meaning to a special moment for even one audience member has to be up there. We are privileged with the ability to share great art and with that comes great responsibility. Not to sound cliche, but without a doubt, it remains a thrill and an honor to connect with and touch someone even for a moment.

The challenges are ever present from the constant turning wheel of auditioning, performing, learning new music and PR, but there is never a dull moment that’s for sure. Sometimes the traveling can be tough, but then I think about how blessed I am to work with such incredible artists and travel the world. It sure beats the 9-5; for me at least.

Jonathan in performance | The Elixir of Love

Do you have any favorites? Composer? Opera? Baritone role(s)? Venue?
I would say that among my favorites are Rossini and Mozart roles (Figaro, Papageno The Count, Guglielmo), though Pelleas was also a thrilling role to perform, because of its high tessitura and the fact that for once, the baritone was the romantic lead! I will be making my Carnegie Hall Stern Auditorium debut in November, so I am extremely excited to perform in that venue.

Do you miss Ottawa? Any desire or need to go abroad to sing?
I do miss Ottawa but surprisingly, I have returned quite a bit in the last few years to perform so I get my fix. My parents live outside of the city, so I enjoy seeing them, but most of my friends are in Toronto, Montreal, New York or abroad. It is a global world we live in, but thanks to Facebook and the Internet, it makes staying in touch a whole lot easier.

(Here is a fun little clip all about Jonathan produced by a TV show in  Ottawa prior to his opening in Pagliacci:)

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Why and when did you start vlogging?
I have always had an interest in video production and how the camera can capture moments, whether performances or short films. There is something very intriguing about the power of the editor to share and shape how a  viewer experiences an event. This lead to a hobby in video making at a young age and has remained with me. It seemed like a natural move to use my interest and skill with video to share my life as a singer and the many intriguing people I continue to work with. ‘A Singer’s Life” on YouTube has certainly been a labor of love.

sitting by the Hudson River with the Brooklyn Bridge in the background

What do you think of the increasing numbers of big-screen Simulcast operas around the world produced by the Met and others?
You know the discussion of Opera in movie theaters has come up a great deal in recent years and even weeks. It is a two-edged sword. I think there is no denying that these broadcasts are bringing a new audience to the art form and hopefully peaking their curiosity enough to attend a live performance, but I worry that when they do see a live performance that there will be a let down because they don’t have the luxury of a close up, a wide shot and a sweeping camera crane shot at that most dramatic musical moment. My hope is that they will attend the live performance and continue coming.

The other challenge is on the performers because singing and acting for the stage vs camera are very different. It is certainly a balancing act but certainly more positive than negative.

Where would you like to be in five years? In ten years?
In 5 years I would like to be booked 3 years in advance performing world wide in a variety of traditional Opera roles, new works, concerts, pops concerts and even film/music collaborations. I am open to interdisciplinary art, making and breaking down the boundaries between genres. It is so hard to plan so I say bring it on! I am excited to see where my artistic life will take me!

What is something most people don’t know about you, something not on your professional bio?
Well, like most singers, I love food and cooking when I get the chance. My favorites are my mom’s recipes often involving some sort of comfort food, be it Shepherd’s Pie or her signature-ish honey/dijon/curry chicken and rice. And how can I forget apple pie! All this talk of food. I think I need a snack!

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Jonathan has some great upcoming gigs at Carnegie Hall with the Oratorio Society of NY this November and with Toronto Symphony and pops conductor Steven Reineke in October. For more of his wonderful “A Singer’s Life” vlogs, visit his YouTube channel.  Though his website is currently under construction, you can like his Fan Page on Facebook. You can also follow him on Twitter @estarp.


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Filed under Baritones, Careers in opera, Interviews, Opera and food, Opera and humor, opera and technology, opera challenges, Opera vlogging, Performers, Q&A, Singer Sunday

catching up with soprano Julia Katherine Walsh on Singer Sunday

Soprano Julia Katherine Walsh

Soprano Julia Katherine Walsh grew up in Berks County, Pennsylvania, where I was also born and raised. In fact, the first time I met Julia, she had come home to Reading to sing at historic Trinity Church last summer, a program I reviewed here.

She sings Richard Strauss as if she was born to it. She is also known for her interpretations of Mozart and Rossini, which showcase her characterization and her voice. This young singer is bubbling over with talent and personality.

Once you connect with Julia, she’ll reach across the globe to stay in touch, as she has with me. She graciously offered to provide a singing review of my opera-themed backstage comedy DON JUAN IN HANKEY, PA, which you can view here.

So, it is a great pleasure for me personally, to welcome Julia back to, and find out how she is faring, transplanted halfway around the world in Dortmund, Nordrhein-Westfalen, Germany.

Can you tell me a little about your childhood? How did you grow up and how did it affect your decision to sing opera?
As a child I was always singing, my Mother tells me.  Even when I was a year to two years of age, apparently I could already sing children’s songs that she sang to me (maybe not with perfect words but . . . ) that all to say- my Mom noticed that I had a musical talent.  I actually decided to sing opera, funnily enough, without first knowing what it really was.  I was in third grade and in spelling class and my teacher kept yelling at me for humming.  Eventually it got to the point where she had to call my Mom about it, because every time she yelled at me, I wasn’t aware I was doing it, so I just started up again and the problem persisted.  Well, from this phone call my Mom realized that 1) I was bored or else I wouldn’t be unconsciously humming only in spelling class, and 2) my musical talent needed to be nurtured in a more structured way.

So, it was my mom who discovered the Berks Classical Children’s Chorus and its director at the time, Donald Hinkle, and got me to audition for participation in the choir and also for his church’s children’s choir at Trinity Lutheran Church in downtown Reading.  She also was instrumental in getting the school district to find and supply a tutor for me during spelling class, so that I could work on harder words while the rest of the class learned the normal spelling words.  So, I actually decided I wanted to be an ‘opera singer’ after hearing someone say it once when we were (with BCCC) performing the St. Matthew Passion with the Bach Choir of Bethlehem, and I thought, “Being paid to sing for the rest of my life? Sounds like the job for me!” So, that was pretty much how I decided. Only once I was in my junior year of high school and preparing for my upcoming college auditions, did it really dawn on me how much work and how much MONEY it took to actually become an opera singer.  (Money actually more than work, sometimes- much to my dismay and frustration.)

Dortmund, Germany, where Julia now lives

Have you liked being in Germany? How long will you stay in Germany? Why did you relocate there?
I like Germany a lot.  I plan on staying here indefinitely until I receive my next engagement, and then, I’ll go where that happens to be.  At this point, I still have to remain very flexible and not ‘settle down’ too much anywhere really, because I never know where I’ll be for the next year, few months, and even the coming week, sometimes.  I actually decided to make Germany my home base for a while now because I am at a transitional point in my life (my formal education is finished, I worked and lived in New York for a while, my boyfriend lives here) and I thought simply, “This might be the best time to do something like this, and if nothing else, at least I’ll be fluent in German and have experienced a totally different way of living than what I was used to in the USA, and that can never be a bad thing.”

Julia Katherine

Any updates on new roles/achievements that have you excited?
I am excited to be singing this July the role of Konstanze with Oper Schloss Laubach in Mozart’s Die Entfuehrung aus dem Serail.  It will be my first time singing the role, my second professional engagement in Germany, and the people who direct the program and with whom I get to work have thus far been really lovely and have extraordinary credentials musically speaking, so I am really excited to work on the role with them this summer!

What has been the greatest thrill in your career thus far? Greatest challenge?
The biggest thrill thus far for me actually happened last summer when I realized that my career as an opera singer is finally something that I believe can really happen- 100%, and that I am ready for the challenges it presents and that I am capable enough to overcome them and be successful in this field.  That feeling was simply amazing and I actually experienced it through my participation in Joan Dornemann’s IVAI in Virginia and through singing my first leading role as Rosine in Der Barbier von Sevilla in Bad Orb, Germany.  Those two experiences were the greatest thrills thus far, and also the greatest challenges.  They required so much of me physically, mentally and personally, but in the end those were the most rewarding things that I could have given to make both experiences as successful as they were.

Do you have any favorites? Composer? Opera? Role? Venue?
My favorite composer- ha!  Hard to choose between so many good ones.  I’ll give you the short list: of the composers whose works I have sung, I like Mozart and Strauss best, and of the composers whose works I haven’t yet sung I like Janacek, Rachmaninoff and Britten best.  Since I’m a huge opera fan as well as singer, I love so many operas- off the top of my head my favorites I’ve seen are: Ariadne auf Naxos (actually that’s my VERY favorite one of all-time), Peter Grimes, Die Zauberfloete, Die Entfuehrung aus dem Serail, Susannah, Vanessa, Jenufa, Simon Boccanegra, Il Barbiere di Siviglia (especially the new Bart Sher production at the Met with the orange trees!), Lucia di Lammermoor, From the House of the Dead, War and Peace and Thais.

Do you miss the US? When are you coming back to States?
I do miss the USA, but perhaps because I miss the people there more than anything. I’ll be coming back to the States in the middle of May of this year and staying until the end of June.

Julia as Rosine

Are you *now*  fluent in German? What’s your favorite repertoire?
I am now fluent in German- yay!  My favorite German repertoire- definitely everything Strauss, Richard and Johann- both are wonderful.  Also Schubert is simply superb. And who can forget the Bach cantatas and Mozart’s art songs? They are also wonderful, in addition to his great German Singspiel pieces- Magic Flute and Entfuehrung.

Where would you like to be in five years? In ten years?
In five years I’d like to be married and singing at major opera houses.  In ten years I’d like to have children, some pets, still be singing internationally, have written some books, started a television network and done something to bring back the world focus to how important the arts are to everyone, and not just for those who can ‘afford’ them.

What is something most people don’t know about you, something not on your professional bio?
Hmm….that’s a tough one.  I love all animals, especially dogs and frogs, and if I weren’t an opera singer I think I’d open my own zoo, or simply have a ton of pets.  I also love to write, but if you read my blog, you could have already guessed that one!

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Julia blogs at Opera Singing in Germany and Other Adventures. You can follow her on Twitter @operadventuress or friend her on Facebook. More information about Julia is available at her website.

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Filed under 21st Century Opera, Performers, profiles, Q&A, Singer Sunday, sopranos

on Singer Sunday, get to know Aussie baritone . . . Findo!

Australian baritone Andrew Finden

Australian baritone Andrew Finden is an accomplished young performer– a Samling Scholar, Britten-Pears Young Artist, and an alumni of the International Vocal Arts Institute’s Tel Aviv Summer Opera Programme.

He recently obtained a Master of Music with Distinction on the Opera Course at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, where he was awarded the Harold Rosenthal Prize.

He’s also an Australian expatriate–since the beginning of the 2011/12 season Andrew has been a member of the ensemble of the Badisches Staatstheater Karlsruhe, where his roles include Marullo (Verdi’s Rigoletto), Count Oscar (Offenbach’s Barbe-Bleu), Masetto Mozart’s Don Giovanni) and Clito (Handel’s Alessandro).

He’s also an opera blogger, which I believe is how I found him. And he has red hair, like two of my siblings, so I always notice that–it’s a family of origin thing.

He has a compelling and brave story about pushing himself to master his craft, living far away from his beloved homeland.

Welcome to Operatoonity, Andrew! (Or should I say, Wilkommen?)

Can you tell me a little about your childhood? How did you grow up and how did it affect your decision to sing opera?
I grew up in regional Queensland and went through the public school system – had a great music programme. I learnt violin for most of my school years. Being part of a local church where youngsters were encouraged to participate in the music of the services, I had lots of chances to sing and play. When I was around 12 y.o. I entered a local Eisteddfod and the adjudicator was the head of the music department at the University of Southern Queensland, and he encouraged me to get lessons, which I did, and subsequently took the part of 3rd Boy in the USQ production of The Magic Flute the next year. That sold me.

Andrew with Dame Joan Sutherland, a few years back (photo by Paul Gosney)

Have you liked performing in Karlsruhe this season? How long will you stay in Germany?
I’ve very happy here in Karlsruhe. It’s a great theater, great orchestra, and an exciting ensemble to be in right now. I’m hoping to stay in German for the foreseeable future, as it is still the biggest market for opera.

What has been the greatest thrill in your career thus far? Greatest challenge?
I’m still an ‘anfänger’ (beginner) in this system, and only just starting to take on bigger roles – which is how it should be, btw, one learns so much from the smaller roles! – and oddly enough most of my larger parts have been in operette, which is both fun and scary, particularly speaking German dialogue for Germans. One of my best experiences so far was a summer programme I did in Tel Aviv (IVAI) where I played the role of Mr. Brook in Mark Adamo’s opera Little Women. It was perhaps the combination of the time and place and the piece itself, but we all began to really feel a bit like the March family. Mark also came over and worked with us – to be working personally with the composer of one of the most performed contemporary operas was fantastic.

Do you have any favorites? Composer? Opera? Role? Venue?
I did a performance of Le nozze di Figaro in Montepulciano, with the Nuremberg Music Hochschule. The little theater there is, I’m told, a miniature La Scala, and still has a lot of old stage equipment, and the old-style unpainted boards. It was perfect for Figaro, which is probably my favourite opera, if I’m forced to pick one. I’m also a very big Britten fan, and it’s no secret that I would love to sing Billy Budd down the track a little.

As Dr Falke in Fledermaus in Nuremberg (photo by Jutta Missbach)

Do you miss Australia? Any desire to come to the States?
Yes and yes. I do miss Australia, my family and friends.  . . . the weather! I’d also love to go the States to sing and look around.

Are you *now* fluent in German? What’s your favorite repertoire?
I’m conversational. I hesitate to say ‘fluent’ because I still mess up most of the grammar, and just guess the articles, but I can hold conversations and understand mostly what people are saying. I have very patient and helpful colleagues in that regard! I am interested in German repertoire, though being a lyric baritone, there’s actually not that much of it. Karlsruhe has a strong Wagner tradition and focus, and so I’m slowly getting exposed to that whole world, even if I can’t sing any of it. There are few lyric Strauss roles I’d be up for, but for now it’s mainly  Mozart, Rossini, Donizetti and, of course, Britten.

Where would you like to be in five years? In ten years?
Singing good repertoire with good colleagues at a good level.

Andrew with his friend Tim, who runs Findo's Cafe in Toowoomba QLD, named after him

What is something most people don’t know about you, something not on your professional bio?
My friends know this – I’m a coffee snob. In fact, a good mate of mine named his cafe after me (Findo’s Cafe in Toowoomba, QLD), as I’m apparently to blame for his own love affair with the good bean.

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For more information about Andrew, visit his website.  He blogs at Andrew Finden // Baritone. You can also follow him on Twitter at @Findo!

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