Tag Archives: Talented Tenors

what makes a great tenor?

Rolando Villazón

No matter how much you know about opera or about tenors for that matter, you’ll love this seven-part series “What Makes a Great Tenor?” produced by the BBC and hosted by tenor legend Rolando Villazón.

Villazón is an intelligent, gracious host. He is generous with his praise of other world-renowned tenors of his generation–Juan Diego Flórez, Plácido Domingo, Jonas Kauffman. And shares his instrument on cue–a real pro!

He is a most charming teacher and guide. And the perfect choice to lead us through this series. When he says, “They have all [tenors] received deafening applause,” that’s an experience he himself can claim, rightly so.  Later when he says, “Being a tenor takes dedication and a lot of hard work”  observations on his profession like this and others are delievered with credence and conviction.

This is a truly delightful series that enlightens and entertains. You’ll hear Roberto Alagna speaking in French about how significant it was that the tenor voice became a virile-sounding vocal part in the 1830s, which has certainly been a large measure of his superstar appeal and countless others.

There are wonderful contemporary and historic snippets of the great ones singing the great arias. Even interviews with the divas of today regarding the signficance and the challenges of the tenor role.

Here is the first part (1/7) of “What Makes A Great Tenor?”  All seven parts are available on YouTube. It is not to be missed. Do let me know what you think of it.

 YouTube Preview Image

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the anniversary of an opera that launched legendary tenor’s career

Plácido Domingo as Don Rodrigo in his US premiere at NYC Opera, 1966

Today (July 24) in 1964 marks the premiere of composer Alberto Ginastera’s Don Rodrigo, in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

Don Rodrigo, a three-act opera based on the last Visigothic king of Spain, was Ginastera’s first. It was a 12-tone opera, a method of composing devised by Schoenberg that gives all 12 tones in the chromatic scale (more or less) equal importance thereby avoiding a key.

The NY Times called Don Rodrigo brilliant in the 1964 review of its premiere though it was considered unsuccessful in Argentina, despite being commissioned by Municipality of the City of Buenos Aires.

Less than two years later, on February 22, 1966, Plácido Domingo had his international breakthrough by singing the (difficult) title role of this opera at the US premiere of the work by New York City Opera, which coincidentally marked NYC Opera’s inaugural performance at New York State Theater at Lincoln Center (now the David H. Koch Theater).

Because of this Lincoln Center premiere of Don Rodrigo, a 25-year-old Spanish tenor became a household name.

The YouTube clip below has interviews with Domingo and Julius Rudel, General Director and Principal Conductor at NYC Opera from 1957 to 1979.

The excitement Rudel shares about his company moving to Lincoln Center and the sheer joy that Domingo conveys about premiering at Lincoln Center are palpable.

YouTube Preview Image

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Filed under 20th Century Opera, Modern opera, opera firsts, Premieres, tenors

did you know the tenor was the ‘holding’ voice?

As a word person, I’m forever curious about the origin of words. (I really should have taken Latin instead of German classes in high school. Latin would have been a stronger springboard to support my lifelong interest in etymology.)

Since we are featuring tenors all month on Operatoonity, I simply had to find out where the word came from.

Did you know “tenor” derives from the Latin word tenere, which means “to hold”? Like so many other words now in use, it came to mean something quite different over the centuries.

Apparently, between about 1250 and 1500, during the time of medieval polyphony (music with two or more independent lines), the tenor was the structurally fundamental (or holding) voice–vocal or instrumental. All other voices were normally calculated in relation to the tenor.

Until the late 15th century, the tenor was usually the lowest voice, in order to provide a harmonic foundation. It was also in the 15th century that “tenor” came to signify the male voice that sang such parts. For earlier repertoire, a line marked ‘tenor’ indicated the part’s role and not the required voice type. Indeed, even as late as the eighteenth century, partbooks for ‘tenor’ might contain parts for a range of voice types.

So when did the word tenor as we know it come to mean the highest male vocal part or one who sings that part?

According to Yale Press’s “The Prehistory of the Voice,” the notion of the modern tenor voice “accelerated rapidly from the eighteenth century onward” until it became the voice part we know it as today–the voice of princes and dukes, of lovers and their beloved, of martyrs and heroes.

Bravi, tenori!

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meet @mitchthetenor: sings internationally; loves American song

Mitchell Sturgess, tenor

Tenor Mitchell Sturges hails from Salt Lake City, Utah.  Currently, he lives in Tucson, Arizona, where he is under the tutelage of Dr. Kristin Dauphinais at the University of Arizona.

But in a manner of speaking, he’s like VISA. Mitch is everywhere you want him to be.

That’s because he’s really plugged into social media (he was one of the early adopters, judging from his huge friend and follower base), which is how I met him, and how I arranged for Mitch to be one of this month’s Talented Tenors.

Some of his past performances include leading roles in Gianni Schicchi, Il barbiere di Siviglia and Amahl and the Night Visitors, collaborating with the University of Utah Opera Theatre, Paradigm Chamber Orchestra, & Salt Lake Symphony.

In the summer of 2007, he sang the role of Gherardo in Puccini’s Gianni Schicchi & the Sergeant in Donizetti’s Rita in Pesaro, Italy, at international music festival La Musica Lirica. He has been a featured soloist throughout Salt Lake performing J.S. Bach’s St. Matthew Passion, P.D.Q. Bach’s Oedipus Tex, Britten’s Rejoice in the Lamb, Dvořák’s Requiem & Händel’s Messiah. In spring 2010, he was a featured soloist with Utopia Early Music, performing music from 17th century England.

No wonder his Twitter username is @mitchthetenor. Being a tenor is his life and his livelihood!

Welcome to Operatoonity, Mitch!

Where did you grow up and how did it affect your life choices?
I grew up in Salt Lake City, and this definitely affected my life choices. When I was in high school, we were known for our music, specifically the choral arts, with approximately 500 students in the choir department.The arts here are supported very well, with lots of different performing organizations performing all 52 weeks of the year. In addition to the professional groups, there are quite a few community performing groups that offer solo performance opportunities to the young and rising talent of Salt Lake, giving the opportunity to perform with an orchestra and/or chorus. Beyond those groups, there are lots of community venues (churches, colleges, etc.) that have concert series that mostly feature local talent. This is one of the greatest things, as finding a venue is usually the hardest part of putting together a performance. Had I not grown up in a place where the arts are not as strongly supported, I could have gone in a completely different career.

Performing in MacBeth

Do you believe that being an opera/classically trained singer is your destiny?
Short answer: Yes. I feel, that wherever my career path takes me, I will always sing. I have a couple different interests in the classical music industry (in no particular order): being a professional singer, being an artistic director of a company or concert series, a faculty member at a college or university, or music director for a church. The nice part about some of these options is that, in some cases, more than one could occur. I think, as of right now, my career is lining up more toward being on faculty somewhere. While being on faculty, I could (and would) still have professional engagements around the world, and this is definitely an option during the summer. Even if I don’t end up at an educational institution, I have a strong love of performing and recitals, and would perform constantly, whatever my position is.
How would you describe your voice?
I would maybe say that it is like (read: heading towards) Rockwell Blake’s sound. I sing mostly Rossini & Mozart, but have a little more heft than the standard leggerio. That said, I have had my voice described as being ‘transparently clean’ and that I sing ‘honestly and with clarity.’

Singing in 'Betly'

What single experience has been the most meaningful in your operatic pursuits thus far?
The most meaningful operatic experience so far was when I went to Italy in 2007, and had the opportunity to sing in a production of Gianni Schicchi & Donizetti’s Betly in a young artist program. It was five weeks of pure bliss. During that time, in addition to our musical training, we were in 20 hours of Italian class each week.

Although not really operatic, the most meaningful experience for me in my classical training was this past summer when I was presented in recital at St. Martin-in-the-Fields in London. It was an amazing experience, and one I hope to repeat in the coming years.

Favorite composer? Favorite opera? Favorite role?  Favorite venue?
Picking a favorite composer is kind of like picking a favorite child. But, if pressed, it would be a tie between Rossini & Mozart. They wrote such beautiful timeless music. My favorite opera would have to be Barber of Seville–the music is so great and the characters are wonderful. My favorite role is usually whatever I’m working on, but Nika Magadoff in The Consul is quite a delight to sing. My favorite operatic venue is the Met, no question. Favorite concert venue is Disney Hall in LA. Favorite recital venue is St. Martin-in-the-Fields in London–the acoustics there simply divine.

What would you like to be doing in five years? Ten years?
In five years, I will be working on my DMA in performance. In ten, I would hope to be working professionally in some capacity in this industry. Ideally, I’d like to have a few years of real performing experience before I theoretically ‘settle down’ in a faculty position.

When did you embrace social media and how has it impacted your career or visibility. Or has it?
I started on Twitter mid-2008 on a whim and didn’t really use it to communicate with others until 2009. I don’t know if I could say that it has impacted my career . . . yet. My visibility has gone up though. What it has really done is put me in contact with people or groups that I would love to work with in the future.

What is something most people don’t know about you, something not on your resume?
I am an avid crocheter. I enjoy making afgans for my friends and family. This was actually something that was incorporated into an opera once…

a photo from his new website

Where can we see you in 2011-12?
In November of this year, I will be performing in The Consul with University of Arizona Opera Theatre. I have two recitals in March of 2012, one in Tucson, at St. Philip’s-in-the-Hills, and one at the Los Angeles City College. This recital is exciting as it is a test run of a recital I plan on taking to London and various parts of the US in the 2012-2013 season. Also, it features music that is a strong passion of mine: American song.

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You can find out more about Mitchell Sturges at his website. Or follow him Twitter @mitchthetenor or become his Facebook friend–where he is approaching godlike status with 2,292 friends (but would just love to have a few hundred more).

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Filed under Interviews, Performers, profiles, tenors

lend me a tenor?

all month on Operatoonity

I’d love to, but you’ll have to be more specific. That’s like a surgeon saying, “Lend me an instrument” when he needs a scalpel.

Since it’s Talented Tenors month, I thought I’d talk about the categories of tenors determined by the range, weight, and color of their voices. Within the operasphere, not only is there ample discussion about all the different vocal types, opera lovers also argue about which singers should be where, which I suppose boils down to which roles do they sing best.

One thing is for certain–tenors know what roles they can sing. They know their categories (their Fach, as its known in German) and so do the opera houses who hire them. Below is one popular categorization of tenors. Where possible I included an opera singer I’ve seen who has been associated with the category.

Juan Diego Flórez, 'Rossini' tenor

Light-lyric tenor–depending on the repertoire, these voices are often called leggiero tenors or “Rossini” tenors. Juan Diego Flórez is one tenor I’ve seen  in the Met’s Le Comte Ory whose name comes up frequently in this category. On his website he refers to himself as a bel canto tenor or one who is ideal for Rossini, Donizetti, and Bellini operas. His website says that he has distinguished himself for his  “fluid, expressive singing and dazzling virtuosity.” Now that I’ve heard him in person, I can’t agree more.

Lyric tenor–with not quite the high register of the light-lyric tenor, this voice category is well represented by many beloved roles in opera such as:

Rodolfo, La bohème (Puccini)
Ferrando, Così fan tutte (Mozart)
Elvino, La sonnambula (Bellini)
Ramiro, La Cenerentola (Rossini)
Nemorino, L’elisir d’amore (Donizetti)

David Lomeli

Mexico City native and Operalia winner David Lomeli sings lyric tenor roles. He has garnered critical acclaim for his Rodolfo, which he’s currently singing at the Sante Fe Opera Festival. I saw him sing Nemorino for New York City opera last March, for which he earned rave reviews, including mine.

Lyric-dramatic tenor–while still lyric in nature, this category of singer demands a certain brightness or dramatic color to soar over the orchestra. Light dramatic tenors are often sought for these roles:

Cavaradossi, Tosca (Puccini)
Don José, Carmen (Bizet)
Florestan, Fidelio (Beethoven)
Canio, Pagliacci (Leoncavallo)
Max, Der Freischütz  (von Weber)

Marcelo Àlvarez

Some consider Marcelo Àlvarez a lyric tenor though the weight and color of his voice was ideally suited to singing the role of the artist Cavaradossi at the Met this past winter.

Dramatic tenor–also called tenore di forza in Italian. Dramatic tenor roles that require a spinto quality–an ability to push the voice–so that it sails over heavily-textured orchestral passages. Sometimes this is also called a robusto tenor. Depending on how they are cast, roles can include:

Andrea Chénier in Giordano’s opera of the same name
Don Alvaro, La forza del destino (Verdi)
Otello in Verdi’s opera of the same name

The title role in Verdi’s Ernani and Manrico (Il trovatore, Verdi) were originally considered part of the robusto tenor tradition even though these roles aren’t often cast that way these days.

Salvatore Licitra, tenore di forza

Tenor Salvatore Licitra is commonly identified as a tenore di forza among opera cognoscenti. I had the great pleasure of seeing him sing the role of King Gustav in “A Masked Ball” at Washington National Opera‘s “Opera in the Outfield” a simulcast of the Kennedy Center production in Nationals Park. Besides wowing the crowd with his singing, he proudly donned a Nationals cap at curtain call and will forever be adored by WNO fans who are also Nationals fans.

Stuart Skelton, heldentenor

Heldentenor–this is the dramatic tenor voice of the German repertoire that demands a distinctive ‘ring’ and weight for roles such as:

Siegfried, Der Ring des Nibelungen (Wagner)
Parsifal, Parsifal (Wagner)
Tristan, Tristan und Isolde ( Wagner)
Walther von Stolzing, Die Meistersinger ( Wagner)

Stuart Skelton is widely considered one of the pre-eminent heldentenors of his generation. Though I didn’t see Skelton in ENO’s Parsifal, David Karlin at Bachtrack.com did and said his singing nearly blew the roof off the London Coliseum. See David’s review here.

What about you, Operatoonity readers? Whom have you observed who define this classification? Any delights or surprises? Do you have a favorite type of tenor voice?

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