Eric Barry is setting himself apart with his distinctive sound–which is both passionate and earnest–and with his genuine facility for dramatic expression.
His performances have earned him international approval: the PBS documentary Young Opera declared him to be “the next big thing in the tenor world.”
The Spanish-American tenor has been heard throughout the US and Europe–including broadcasts on National Public Radio. Eric is a graduate of the prestigious School of Music at Yale University, where he earned both an M.M. and an A. D. in Opera Performance.
He has so many professional engagements in the coming year that they can’t can’t all be mentioned in this post. (I hope he packs as well as he sings!) Why? Because everyone wants to hear this young talent! (Including moi.)
Welcome to Operatoonity, Eric. We are very excited to learn more about you.
Where did you grow up and how did it affect your life choices?
I grew up in Sundown, Texas — population 1511. Sundown is about an hour from the closest movie theater or mall, and over three hours away from the closest opera company. My mother always listened to classical music in the house and every now and then played CD’s of ‘The Three Tenors.’ I remember hating it. “They’re just screaming,” I’d tell her. That was the most exposure I’d had to classical singing until I was 20 years old. Little did I know that a seed was being planted way back then.
Years later I found myself studying business in college and basically tripped into an offer for voice lessons. (That’s an entire story on it’s own!) I was an accomplished trumpet player but singing was relatively foreign to me. I remember thinking, “I have to read music and words??” Nevertheless, I had a pretty natural gift for singing and kept taking lessons clear into my MBA degree. I’d get a gig every now and then when my voice teacher would recommend me for something and as time passed those gigs got bigger and more exclusive. Within a couple of years of studying voice I had already sung for princes and presidents and all kinds of social VIP’s. It was quite a ride, and for being only a hobby at the time I was starting to get quite involved.
Before I completed my MBA, my voice teacher sat me down and told me that if I didn’t take the dive and study music full time I’d probably never do it. I took a trip to NYC with my teacher and my mom and sang for various people and eventually decided to move to the East Coast. From there things really started to blossom. I’ve been on the coast for four years now and now sing opera full time. If you asked me just five years ago what I’d be doing in 2011, I most certainly wouldn’t have guessed this!
When did you know that you were destined to become an opera/classically trained singer?
Ha, ha. There is a specific moment in my life when I realized my potential, but that’s a very personal story that I don’t usually share because I consider the events somewhat sacred. I can say that after I stumbled into those voice lessons, I knew that I liked singing. It was fascinating to think that a single human voice could be so penetrating that it could be heard over an orchestra in a 2,000 seat house. But, it was at least three years after my first voice lesson that I realized I had real potential.
The longer I pursued the art form, the more opportunities began to present themselves. I was offered a gig with the local symphony, and a small role in the local opera company, then lead role, etc. etc. I wasn’t even really pursuing it, but the opportunities were there. I decided to audition for a summer program and was accepted. As I mentioned earlier, everyone encouraged me to move to New York and start working as soon as I could. So, in 2007, I packed up my car and moved. During that drive I remember collecting my thoughts as to how I came to the decision to make such a drastic change in my life, and honestly, it all happened so quickly I couldn’t even connect the dots. I was nervous, but proud of myself for taking the leap of faith.
You have been called the ‘Pavarotti of the Panhandle.’ Do you agree with the comparison?
A four-star general heard me sing the national anthem at a political event in Texas and started his speech by complimenting my rendition. He said, “I never thought I’d fly from the Pentagon for this event today and hear something like that. You have your very own “Pavarotti of the Panhandle.” The event was covered by the newspaper and the title stuck from that point forward.
Let’s be honest…no one will ever replace Luciano. My talents pale in comparison, but I do think there is something engaging in my voice that is attractive to listen to. That distinct beauty is VERY present in Pavarotti’s voice. You can hear a recording of him from 500 feet away and know that it’s him within two measures. I think I have a distinct sound too, but more than anything we just look similar!
How would you describe your voice?
What a hard question to answer. I actually went onto my website to listen to a clip before answering this. My singing is very Italianate. That’s just the way I was taught – very long, legato lines with an emphasis on true Italianate vowels. I have a decent range and can comfortably sing a tenor’s low-b to high-d on stage. I love romantic music, but can move my voice surprisingly well too so I’m starting to sing a lot of Rossini and Bellini as well. As to my timbre, I think I have a unique tone that has a quality I can only describe as “honest.” I don’t really know how else to describe it.
What role/opportunity/person was the biggest single influence on your career?
So many people have played a large part in the succession of events that have put me here. Dr. Joe Ella Cansler, my first voice teacher, is responsible for convincing me to take voice lessons in college. Needless to say, I loved it, and without her I would most likely not be singing at all.
But, I’d have to say that Mary Jane Johnson has probably been the most influential person in my career. She is a dear friend of Dr. Cansler’s, was my second voice teacher, and is a small town girl from Texas who became an international star. Mary Jane nurtured me, taught me everything I know about Italianate singing, and has worked me like a dog. We have laughed and cried together over the years and I consider her family. She still advises me to this day and will always be a fixture for me.
As to influential roles, they’ve all played a part in my growth. My most memorable production up to this point was La Bohème at the Teatro Comunale di Sulmona in Italy. It was my international debut in my favorite opera . . . in Italy! It was really a dream come true.
One of the most advantageous opportunities for me was studying at Yale University. They called me in May of 2008 and asked me to audition. I nervously accepted, auditioned the next day, and ended up getting two degrees there in three years. Being there opened a lot of doors for me and I was able to learn a lot about myself during my time there.
How did the opportunity to be on the PBS “Young Opera” special come about?
I received a call from the program host asking if I’d be willing to interview for a PBS documentary on up-and-coming opera singers. I’m not sure how they had heard about me because I had only been singing full-time for less than a year at that point. Heck, I didn’t even know I was “up-and-coming.” But I did know that I couldn’t turn down the opportunity. After the interview was aired on TV and posted to the Internet, it received an overwhelming amount of attention. I’ve been fortunate to collaborate with that production team on other projects as well, but that initial interview was certainly a memorable moment in my early career.
Favorite composer? Favorite opera? Favorite role? Favorite venue?
Favorite composer: Puccini (although Wagner is creeping up the list) Favorite opera: La Bohème. Cliché? Perhaps, but I love it. Favorite role: This answer changes with the weather. On a serious day, maybe Don Carlo. On a light-hearted day, Gianni Schicchi is pretty great. Favorite venue? Who doesn’t want to sing at La Scala?
What would you like to be doing in five years? Ten years?
It’s healthy and important to review professional goals so I’m glad you asked that. I think it’s realistic to hope for very steady regional work supplemented by appearances in a few large houses in the U.S. and Europe (I am an EU citizen after all!) in five years, most likely singing Mozart, Donizetti, Bellini and some Rossini. In ten years, I’d love to be jumping between international opera houses singing all of that and Puccini. I LOVE concert work too. I’d be perfectly content singing requiems, hodies and oratorios wherever those opportunities arise too. And, since my background is in business, I think eventually I’d like to manage other singers careers!
What is something most people don’t know about you, something not on your resume?
I feel like I’m a prince of useless talent: From spinning random objects on my finger to catching marshmallows in my mouth from seven stories high. Or being a killer ping-pong player, frisbee thrower, and competition kite flyer. Odd talent is my specialty, including singing opera I suppose. I also love to cook and travel with my own kitchen knives.
Where can people see you in 2011-12?
Currently I’m singing with the Wolf Trap Opera company. We just finished a run of Wolf-Ferarri’s Le donne curiose (Washington Times review, Washington Post review,) and I’m now prepping for a recital with Steven Blier and a production of Sweeney Todd (as Anthony) with the National Symphony Orchestra. Here’s a rundown of my schedule for the rest for the 2011 (more in the works!):
- July 10, 2011 – Recital w/Steven Blier, Wolf Trap Opera Company
- July 22, 2011 – Sweeney Todd as Anthony, Wolf Trap Opera Company with National Symphony Orchestra
- October 1-2, 2011 – La Bohème as Rodolfo, Amarillo Opera
- October 14, 2011 – Symphony No. 1 by Frank Ticheli with the Yale University Concert Band
Eric will be touring the US in the Fall of 2011 performing the Mozart Requiem with the Munich Symphony:
- Oct. 26, 2011 – Richmond, KY
- Oct. 27 – Granville, OH
- Oct. 28 – Carmel, IN
- Oct. 30 – Manhattan, KS
- Nov. 1 – Fayetteville, AR
- Nov. 3 – Conway, AR
- Nov. 4 – St. Louis, MO
- Nov. 5 – Joplin, MO
- Nov. 6 – Overland Park, KS
- Nov. 7 – Lincoln, NE
- Nov. 10 – Winston-Salem, NC
- Nov. 13 – Athens, GA
- Nov. 15 – West Palm Beach, FL
- Nov. 16 – West Palm Beach, FL
- Nov. 17 – Gainesville, FL
- Nov. 18 – Daytona, FL
- Dec. 1-4, 2011, Hodie by Ralph Vaughan Williams with the Hartford Symphony Orchestra
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Anyone is interested in the rest of Eric’s season, can visit him or contact him through his website. Or you can follow him on Twitter @ebtenor where his profile reads: Tenor, but also a sophisticated Spaniard, vaudevillian veteran, ultimate consumer, instigator/enabler, certified ninja, chef and visionary.