Category Archives: tenors

toi, toi, toi, @james_valenti!

James Valenti

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Filed under 21st Century Opera, tenors, verismo opera

most popular posts on Operatoonity…

What posts have people come to Operatoonity.com to read most? Since Operatoonity.com just passed its four-year anniversary, I thought it was time to trot out some sexy stats for y’all.

In the last four years, I’ve created 388 posts and logged more than 3.4 million visitors on this site! Not too shabby, eh?

Since I use WordPress, I can also corroborate the most popular posts using my analytics plugin and a nifty report that WordPress sends me each year.

One of the world's best tenors

Roberto Alagna, one of the world’s best tenors

#1 best opera singers in the world today – male persuasion 42 COMMENTS
#2 best opera singers in the world today – female persuasion 45 COMMENTS
#3 today’s top tenors 48 COMMENTS
#4 100 greatest operas . . . really? 7 COMMENTS
#5 Puccini’s best opera? 21 COMMENTS

(Funny thing about the “Best Opera Singers” lists. I created them because I couldn’t find any up-to-date lists online to blog about.)

A goal for 2015 is to update some of my “Best Singers” lists, taking into account all the suggestions in readers’ comments. A lot can change in five years, even in the opera world though I can say, categorically, Roberto Alagna belonged on my original list.

Not convinced? Then you need to watch this aria:

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Tenor James Valenti returns to Met Opera stage in April

James Valenti

American tenor James Valenti will sing the role of Pinkerton in Met Opera’s ‘Madama Butterfly’ | photo by Dario Acosta

When Operatoonity.com last spoke with American tenor James Valenti, he was learning the tango for The Dream of Valentino, a new production for Minnesota Opera.

James Valenti as Valentino, courtesy of Minnesota Opera | photo 2014 © Michal Daniel

James Valenti as Valentino, courtesy of Minnesota Opera | photo 2014 © Michal Daniel

Now, fresh from portraying the silent film star and marquee idol Rudolph Valentino, James enthusiastically reports that he has mastered the dance that Argentina put on the map. (Let’s hope Valentino comes east soon, so that we, too, can witness his ballroom dancing prowess. If like me, curiosity has gotten the better of you, you can watch James tangoing in this YouTube clip.)

In less than two weeks, he opens in the Metropolitan Opera’s production of Madama Butterfly, which seemed like an ideal opportunity to catch up with him.

Welcome back to Operatoonity.com, James. You’re back in NYC to prepare for singing Lt. Pinkerton for four productions on April 4, 9. 12 & 15.
It’s always exciting being close to home. I get to see a lot of my old friends–my high school friends–and of course my family.

How are you preparing for your imminent Met appearance?
I’ve seen the Minghella production, and I just sang the role for Lyric Opera in Chicago this past fall. In fact I’ve sung the role many times. Of course, every theater has a different way they operate. Sometimes withe European companies, you don’t even get an orchestra rehearsal. I feel as though I have sufficient preparation time prior to that April 4 opening at the Met.

James Valenti in Madama Butterfly, courtesy of Lyric Opera of Chicago | photo by Dan Rest

James Valenti in Madama Butterfly, courtesy of Lyric Opera of Chicago | photo by Dan Rest

How are you different from the young artist who sang Pinkerton in 2008, when you won New York City Opera’s Debut Artist of the Year award?
I certainly feel differently. I have been working on a new dramatic repertoire, singing more lyric-spinto. My voice now takes on new colors. I got to sing Don Carlo and Valentino–Valentino was a milestone in my career, and I really grew a lot. So I am excited to bring my new technique to the role. I have a new way of singing, and I hope that I have a huge success and get invited back for the next ten years.

You sing a great deal of classic opera. Do you prefer more traditional versions or lean toward experimental interpretations?
Definitely more of a traditionalist. However, Anthony Minghella’s production is rather modern, and it works. The little boy character is actually a puppet. Puppeteers wearing black will be onstage manipulating him. This choice was controversial when Minghella first introduced it. But I have to say, it’s a stunning interpretation.

Will you have much down time while you’re in New York?
Certainly, I’ll have enough time to see other performances at the Met when I am not rehearsing or performing. I definitely want to see Werther and Andrea Chénier.

Any other fun things you plan on doing while you’re in the Big Apple?
There’s so much going on here. Great restaurants. I’ll do things in Central Park once it gets a little warmer. I love going to those nice hotel spas. I like to let loose a little, too.

James Valenti casualBesides a good tango, how do you kick up your heels?
My high school friends and I  head to Koreatown for a little karaoke. I like singing stuff from the 80s, like “Living on a Prayer” by Bon Jovi and a lot of Journey hits like “Don’t Stop Believing.” I sing a lot of Billy Joel, too. I love all his music, dating back to his earliest album Cold Spring Harbor.

According to the the performance schedule on your website, you are getting a little break this summer. Any special plans?
I’m taking  a little time off to record my first CD. All Italian and French music that will probably be available around August 1. You’ll definitely be hearing more about that project. But this is the beauty of my life. I’m not married. I don’t have children. I don’t have anything tying me down that keeps me from picking up and going to Europe. I still get to fly by the seat of my pants.

(And, to conclude, an Operatoonity Q&A staple) The Lightning Round

Cheesesteak or Cheesecake? Cheesecake (with ricotta, the Italian way)
Jeans or khakis? Jeans
Sweater or sweatshirt? Sweater
Dogs or cats? Dogs
Spaghetti or lasagne? Lasagne
House of Pizza or House of Cards? House of Cards

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You can  follow James on Twitter @James_Valenti or become his Facebook fan at https://www.facebook.com/jamesvalentitenor, where he regularly posts content and photos from around the world.

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Filed under Golden Operatoonity, Heartstoppers, Interviews, Italian opera, Q&A, tenors

up close and personal with American tenor James Valenti

James Valenti, American tenor

James Valenti opens in ‘Madama Butterfly’ at Lyric Opera in Chicago on October 15 | photo by Dario Acosta

He loves ballroom dancing. He’s a talented athlete in multiple sports. He was a lifeguard, a chorister, and even a baritone at the very start of his musical journey.

He’s learning to tango. He wants to learn to ride a horse so that he can play polo.

He’s East Coast. He’s Chicago. He’s Palm Beach. He’s Milan. He’s Sydney. He’s Zurich and Munich.

His Tweets often include snippets of his worldview from his (well) considered vantage point, condensed within 140 characters: “If your dreams don’t scare you, they aren’t big enough,” he tweeted on October 4. And once he’s befriended you, it seems you’re his friend for life.

Who is this multi-talented, multi-faceted, loyal, hardworking, world-traveling, philosophical, lifelong-learning, all-American, Type-A, 6’5″ Jersey boy who also happens to be an internationally acclaimed tenor?

None other than the opera star James Valenti. And he’s opening in a new-to-Chicago production of Madama Butterfly on October 15, a coproduction of Lyric Opera of Chicago, Houston Grand Opera, and Grand Théâtre de Genève.

I spoke with James on a sunny afternoon during a bit of free time from rehearsing the role of Lieutenant Pinkerton. I asked him every question I could think of, all of which he graciously answered for your edification, dear readers.

Welcome to Operatoonity, James! It’s a pleasure to talk with you today. You’re a tenor, but your voice has the resonance of a baritone’s. Can you describe your voice for my readers?
It has a warm, Italianate color–sonorous, it’s been called. It sounds like a full baritonal voice in the lower and middle registers. I call myself a lyric spinto tenor. It’s not really something I cultivated in my voice. It has always leant itself to being like that. When I started formally studying at 18 or 19, I actually sang baritone. It takes time for all the muscles, used properly, to develop. Sometime in my early twenties, I found my tenor register.

Franco Corelli headshot

The late great Franco Corelli, the Prince of Tenors, is someone Valenti’s often compared to because he also cuts a tall, handsome figure on the stage.

You’ve been compared to Franco Corelli. Yes, not just because of the voice. Also, the height and the looks.

Now that we’ve stumbled onto the topic of your appearance, how do you process all the attention that’s paid to your looks? A recent review in the Chicago Reader called you a ‘heartthrob.’  I’d be foolish to not sort of use what I’ve been given. I look nice. I work hard to look nice. It makes my performances more believable. I look the way a leading man is supposed to look. That being said, I don’t want people just to focus on the looks. I don’t want people to be distracted by that. I want them to hear me. If you go to my website–I have a new website–before you even see what I look like, you hear me singing.

How do you mentally prepare to sing a role like Pinkerton?  In some ways, Pinkerton is a man of his time. Do you bring a modern sensibility to the role? I’ve sung the role many times–I like to say I’ve been booed all over the world. I try to get into his head. He’s a young guy in a strange culture. He doesn’t really understand the significance of what he does to Butterfly. When he returns to Japan with his new family, he does feel genuine remorse once he realizes what he’s done. He does care for Butterly. I try to convey that.

James Valenti as Pinkerton

James Valenti starring in City Opera’s ‘Madama Butterfly’

You sang this role for New York City Opera in 2008 and won City Opera’s Debut Artist of the Year. How do you feel about their current woes and likely demise?  They were a great company that offered a great platform for debut artists. They had such a wonderful reputation. In fact, I just saw Anna Nicole–fantastic production. It makes me sad to think about it.

When did you know you wanted to do this? I started singing in high school. I did show choir and musical theater. When I went to hear The Three Tenors, something flipped a switch. It was incredible. It really affected me. So I began listening to a lot more opera. I also have to say how important my teachers were in encouraging me, in high school and college. I’m still close to my high school teachers–they are responsible for helping me become what I am. I do know that had I not had their encouragement, had I not seen The Three Tenors perform, I would have found this life, eventually. This is my calling.

Do you have a favorite house to sing in? Coming back to the Met is always a joy. My family actually gets to see me sing when I’m in New York. They can’t come hear me when I’m performing in Europe. But there’s a lot of pressure that comes with singing at the Met, too. I like the slightly smaller companies like Minnesota Opera and Palm Beach Opera (where I live). I feel as though I do great work there because I am more relaxed.

James Valenti

James Valenti was born in Summit, New Jersey and comes from a “big, amazing Italian family.” He’s a graduate of the Academy of Vocal Arts in Philadelphia | photo by Dario Acosta

Now that you’ve mentioned Minnesota Opera, tell us about The Dream of Valentino, the new opera based on Rudolph Valentino, opening in March of next year. Valentino had a very tragic life. He died at age 29. He was the first really big victim of Hollywood. Discovered and destroyed by Hollywood. [Valentino was a dancer in a Broadway dance palace at the start of his career.] I’m taking tango lessons, and I love it. I have a good instructor who said I’m a natural.

James, learning the tango  for Dream of Valentino

James, learning the tango for ‘The Dream of Valentino,’ in which he’s playing the title role

So you like trying new things? There’s a big polo equestrian scene in Palm Beach where I live. I have a friend who’s really into it. I’m going to learn how to ride a horse, so I can play.

How do you like the itinerant life? It has its advantages. Wherever I go, I actually do try to make the most of what this lifestyle has to offer. If  I am performing in a strange city for two months, I really try to get plugged into it, to get a feel for that city. Of course, I always worry about getting enough rest, but there is something great about having the opportunity to share my talent with the world.

How do you stay healthy? It’s hard to have a routine when you travel as much as I do–two-thirds of the year I’m traveling. But I stay active. I do yoga. If the hotel has a pool, I swim. I play beach volleyball when I’m at home. Here in Chicago, I’m going bike riding on Lake Shore Drive. The day of the show I lay low; I sleep in. I suck on raw ginger which is good for the immune system. I guess it boils down to hydration and sleep. I have to get enough of both of those to perform.

When one visits your website, you can’t help noticing that you are devoting a significant amount of your life energy to charities you believe in.  I became a sponsor for Children International back in 2006 and am now an ambassador. I’m happy to be part of it and really passionate about it. I’m in a point in my career where I can get more involved. I’m anxious to give my time as I can, and through my career and my travels, I want to raise awareness of what they do.

James Valenti

James Valenti won the Richard Tucker Prize in 2010, awarded annually to an American singer poised on the edge of a major national and international career.

Ready for the lightning round of questions? I’ll give you a prompt and you answer in a couple words, okay?

Favorite opera: La bohème; Werther
Favorite role: Don Carlos (recently); Rodolfo
Favorite leading lady(ies):  Angela Gheorghiu and Anna Netrebko
Dream role: Andrea Chénier
Massenet or Mozart: Massenet
Beef or chicken: Beef
Mountains or beach: Beach
Guilty pleasure: Swiss chocolate, dark chocolate; hazelnut and pistachio gelato
Bacon or tofu: Bacon
Football or basketball: Basketball (though there’s a lot of big football fans in my family)
London or Paris: Paris

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If you are an East Coaster like me, you’ll be delighted to know that James is singing Madama Butterfly at the Met on April 4, 9, 12, 15, 2014. You can also follow James on Twitter @James_Valenti or become his Facebook fan at https://www.facebook.com/jamesvalentitenor, where he regularly posts content and photos from around the world.

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Filed under 21st Century Opera, artists, Classic Opera, Italian opera, North American Opera, Richard Tucker prize winners, tenors

on Carmen’s anniversary, a sing-off to celebrate

Bizet’s Carmen

Editor’s note: This is a Golden Operatoonity post.

Today, March 3, marks the anniversary of Bizet’s Carmen, which premiered on this day in Paris in 1875.

With one work, Bizet ushers in the verismo opera movement.

Carmen is hardly my favorite opera. As a storyteller, it’s damned hard for me to like Carmen as the central figure in this opera. She’s hard, calculating, cruel and fatalistic. Modern mores sometimes prevent other operagoers from engaging with Carmen as well, as evidenced  in comments such as, “Why is everyone smoking on stage? That’s ridiculous for a bunch of singers” or “A cigarette factory is a goofy setting for an opera.”

Whatever you think about Carmen or the setting or the preposterousness of the storyline, however much you might scratch your head or downright ache for Don Jose’s complete meltdown over a woman not worthy of him, it is Bizet’s soaring, riveting music that lifts the opera into the realm of exceptional works.

Today, in celebration of Carmen, rather than trot out the expected treatments of Habanera, etc., I’d like to offer you Don Jose’s “Flower” aria, “La fleur que tu m’avais jetee” as sung by various artists.

First we have a clip of  Jonas Kaufmann. Truly, this is one of the most exquisitely complete performances of this aria available on YouTube. He sings and acts the HELL out of it, and for me, I have to have more than a pretty sound to really relish opera performance. I think Kaufmann is the most complete male performer today. You will love this, that is, if you have no moral objections to a tenor voice with a unique baritone quality to it.

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Next we have Roberto Alagna’s “La fleur que tu m’avais jetee” which sounds exquisite, but he doesn’t exude that tortured spirit,the inner demons, that is so essential to the portrayal of Don Jose.

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Next is José Carreras from a 1987 Metropolitan Opera production. He certainly sings the dickens out of this. Truly, a world class tenor. His gestures, his posture are more gallant than tortured.  It’s amazing that Carmen (Agnes Baltsa) sits still as a statue and is unmoved by that performance. Also worth noting is how much the style of opera performance has changed in one generation, from Carreras to Kaufmann.

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While Carreras vocally is the strongest, Kaufmann’s is the best total performance, followed by Carreras, then Alagna. What say you, opera devotees?

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Filed under anniversary, Golden Operatoonity, Premieres, tenors, verismo opera, Video