2015 Best Male Performer in an Opera: Mark Williams as George Gibbs in Boston Opera Collaborative's "Our Town"

Before we announce our 2015 ArtsImpulse Award Winners, we are proud to present our 2015 ArtsImpulse Nominee Interview Series. 

NOTE: If you were nominated for a 2015 ArtsImpulse Theatre Award, and you would like to participate in our 2015 ArtsImpulse Nominee Interview Series, please email us at brian@artsimpulse.com

Photo Credit: Kate Lemmon

Photo Credit: Kate Lemmon

Mark Williams touched our heart with his earnest and tender portrayal of the "boy next door" as George Gibbs in the Boston Opera Collaborative's Our Town. Mark's bright and nuanced tenor voice, combined with his emotional acting, made this opera stand as a testament to the enduring power of Thornton Wilder's original play.  In his Interview, Mark tells us about his George Gibbs, his favorite opera roles, and some of his guilty pleasures. 

Hi, Mark, and thank you for joining us for an Interview.  Can you start by telling our readers a bit more about yourself?

It’s a true pleasure to be in such good company! I’m a tenor who lives here in Boston. I moved to Beantown four years ago to attend New England Conservatory for my Masters degree, and now I’ve been working full-time for the NPR radio show, From the Top, now as a producer. In addition to singing opera, I really like to read, watch basketball and soccer, and enjoy good food in good company.

Talk to us about how you choose to pursue opera.  What is your training or background?  How did you become an opera performer?  Have you tried musical theatre or plays?

Maybe it’s strange, but I’m not sure there was one moment when I “chose” to pursue opera. It was more of a gradual shift for me, maybe. I started out singing in choral groups, and I was quickly pushed into musical theater in high school. I guess there weren’t many guys doing that where I went to school, so there was a low bar! I did A Chorus Line and The Music Man in high school, and I loved the stage. I had a great voice teacher in college who pushed me to try more opera arias (I was still interested in musical theater as well, and I performed some, but mostly for fun), but I must say I wasn’t all that serious about it until my junior year of college, probably.

Through college (at the University of Virginia), I sang in some wonderful choirs, and I was super involved in my a cappella group, but I really wasn’t doing all that much classical solo singing. I reached a point where I’d been receiving enough encouragement to make me want to give it a try, though, and so I applied to a few conservatories in my year off after graduation. I had no idea what I wanted to do, or what I was in for!

Who is George Gibbs in this opera of Thornton Wilder’s Our Town?  How is he similar or different from you?  What did you discover about him?

George starts out as an exceptionally confident, popular teenager, despite not being the sharpest tool in the shed. He’s really an all-American boy. He’s class president, the son of a doctor, and a knockout baseball player. However, it’s Emily, his girlfriend, who knocks him back to earth – he decides his achievements are less important to him than what Emily ultimately means to him. He decides to forgo agricultural school to get married to her, possibly at the expense of more long-term security.

I definitely feel a connection to George’s youthful spirit and reluctance to growing up. I think I discovered that George is a crucial character in the story because he highlights the central theme of Our Town: humans don’t appreciate life while we live it. Unfortunately, he’s a classic example of this kind of living in the dark, and it’s not until (spoiler alert!) Emily dies that he fully grasps the transience of life.

What have been some of your favorite roles?  Why?  Which would you perform again?  Why?

My favorite role so far was Peter Quint in Britten’s Turn of the Screw. It was the first time I was given the opportunity to be a villain on stage, and I loved the challenges that came with being a ghost who came back to emotionally manipulate a child. It sounds terrifically creepy, and well, that’s because it is. But I learned a lot about what it means to be a villain. They have real thoughts and feelings and motivations. You can’t just say, “I’m going to act like a villain.” That doesn’t work.

The cast of Boston Opera Collaborative's  Our Town  (Photo Credit:  Dan Busler ). 

The cast of Boston Opera Collaborative's Our Town (Photo Credit: Dan Busler). 

In a completely different realm, another thrilling experience was performing in Steven Stucky’s opera The Classical Style in Aspen, Colorado, last summer. I played a character called Henry Snibblesworth, who was a PhD student in Musicology. The whole opera was a farce on Musicology. Amazing! I’ve never gotten to be such a super-nerd on stage, and I had one scene that was a reworked version of the “catalogue aria” from Don Giovanni, except instead of a long list of women, I gave a full account of the state of affairs of classical music. I would definitely do that again, if only for the hilarity.

What is one thing that you wish that your friends and family understood about opera?

Opera is about universal human experiences. It might seem larger than life, and of course it is – the stories can be absurdly dramatic, with murders and affairs and love triangles galore – but ultimately every expression is about feelings or moments in time that all humans are capable of living. It tells simple truths in complex ways.

What are some of your guilty pleasures?

I must admit that I’m a huge fan of nature documentaries. I watch them like other people watch their reality television. What can I say? I can’t get enough of the drama, the intrigue, the wonder! There’s so much in nature that’s stranger than we can imagine . . . Okay, so now that that’s out there, I can also admit that I love The Walking Dead, The Office, and New Girl. And Breaking Bad. And my favorite podcast is Radiolab. It’s addictive.

If you could go on a road trip to anywhere (accessible by a car), where would you go?  What would you drive?  Who would go with you?

I would probably take a tour of the National Parks in America. I’d take Babe the Blue Ox, otherwise known as my trusty Subaru. And I’m guessing my girlfriend Danielle would tag along.

Tell us a little bit about your hometown.  What are some of your fondest memories?

I’m from Durham, North Carolina, which is now a vastly different town than the one I grew up in. (It’s revitalized and hip!) But I still have fond memories of soccer tournaments, chorus concerts, bowling nights, Duke basketball watching, and lots of video games. You know, like a pretty typical childhood.

Why do you think Thornton Wilder’s Our Town is a classic and timeless story?  How did you relate?

Our Town really is about how we’re never aware of the sweetness of life as we live it. It’s about finding gratitude. I’m always looking for ways to ground myself in gratitude and live in the present. Art is one way I aim to do that by celebrating the miracle that is human experience – through reflection, through awareness, through intention.

Do you have any upcoming projects?

In late March 2015, I’ll play Basil in a revival of an American operetta called Evangeline, taking place with the Longfellow Chorus in Portland, Maine. Then, in June 2016, I’ll be taking on Idomeneo in Boston Opera Collaborative’s Idomeneo. This summer 2016, I head to Austria to take part in the American Institute of Musical Studies program.

Do you have anything else to share with our ArtsImpulse readers?

Thank you bunches!

2015 Best Music Director of an Opera Nominee: Jean Anderson Collier for Boston Opera Collaborative's "Our Town"

Before we announce our 2015 ArtsImpulse Award Winners, we are proud to present our 2015 ArtsImpulse Nominee Interview Series. 

NOTE: If you were nominated for an ArtsImpulse Theatre Award, and you would like to participate in our 2015 ArtsImpulse Nominee Interview Series, please email us at brian@artsimpulse.com.

Photo Credit: Linda Holt

Photo Credit: Linda Holt

Jean Anderson Collier impressed us with her masterful precision and understanding for the deceptively difficult Ned Rorem's Our Town, performed by the Boston Opera Collaborative. With few performances and even fewer recordings, Jean made her mark on the opera and music scene by expertly crafting Rorem's adaptation of the classic Thornton Wilder play.

In her Interview, Jean tells us about the process to bring Our Town to Boston, the differences and distinctions between the opera and play, a bit about her own hometown, and one of her favorite memories.

Jean, thank you so much for participating in our 2015 ArtsImpulse Nominee Interview Series.  Can you start by telling us about yourself and your work?

I am a vocal coach and pianist, and I work at New England Conservatory, where I teach courses in diction and art song repertoire and work as a recital and opera coach and at The Boston Conservatory, as principal opera coach and private coach for recital and operatic repertoire.  I also work as organist/choir director at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Scituate, Massachusetts.

How did you become involved in Boston Opera Collaborative’s (“BOC”) Our Town?   Was this a typical process for you?

I have known and worked with Greg Smucker and Trish Weinmann for years, since they were colleagues of mine at New England Conservatory. When they took over leadership of BOC in 2014, they asked me to serve as music director for their upcoming production of Werther, then asked me to music-direct Our Town.

I have had a close relationship with BOC for years, doing audition master classes for them and playing at their fundraising events.  The process was typical for me in the sense that its rehearsal process was smooth and organized, due to the outstanding organizational skills of Greg Smucker.   What was atypical was the difficulty of the orchestral part. Being responsible for the singers while simultaneously playing that orchestral reduction was quite a challenge.

The Final Act of Ned Rorem's  Our Town  presented by the Boston Opera Collaborative (Photo Credit:   Dan Busler Photography  ).

The Final Act of Ned Rorem's Our Town presented by the Boston Opera Collaborative (Photo Credit: Dan Busler Photography).

Tell us about this opera and its composer.  What should we know as a viewer and listener? What should we listen for?

Ned Rorem is primarily known as a song composer, having written hundreds of songs. He does not consider himself an opera composer but a song composer, and his decision to create Our Town was something of a departure for him.   He is a cerebral composer, and his music is dense in material and often dissonant, making it sometimes challenging for the ordinary opera-goer.  However, since Our Town is such a well-known, well-loved play, the musical challenges seem easier to tolerate — the familiarity of the story seems to mitigate the strangeness and newness of some of the music.  Also, Rorem managed to create a score that remains faithful to his musical style and still capture the world of Grover’s Corners, the boys playing baseball, Emily’s adolescent worries about whether she is pretty, the marital relationships of Emily and George’s parents, and the world of the dead in Act 3.   

I find the choral writing in this opera especially haunting, particularly in Act 3, which is a bit unusual considering that often opera chorus music is more functional than gripping.  I would say that audiences should listen for this music in particular, as well as the quirky, playful music in George and Emily’s scenes in Act 1, the ethereal Act 1 duet between George’s parents, and Mrs. Soames’ hilarious interruptions in the wedding in Act 2.

How was this production different or similar to other productions of Our Town (the opera, not the play)?  How is it different or similar to Thornton Wilder’s play?

I am not really familiar with other productions of the opera except in recording. I had access to two recordings of the piece, and both chose a more musical-theater approach than the one that we chose in our production. While we wanted to maintain Wilder’s evocation of the ordinary, casual world, we felt that his music, so full of counterpoint and nuance, called for voices that truly sounded operatic. The opera was quite faithful to Thornton Wilder’s play, and the librettist, J. D. McClatchy did a masterful job of transferring the play to the operatic genre.

Tell us about your hometown.  Do you return?  How does it feel? What are some of your favorite places to go, or what are your favorite things to do?

What an interesting question!  I grew up in Hampton, Virginia, which is on the coast, just across Hampton Roads waterway from Norfolk.  I have not been back to Hampton for many years since I do not have any family there anymore, but, last summer, I did visit friends near Williamsburg, Virginia, about 45 minutes away.  Having lived as an adult in the Midwest for many years and in the Northeast for the past sixteen years, I have a strange ambivalence when I return to Virginia. Its landscape, the people that I knew there, and my childhood memories wrestle with my grown-up perceptions of the racism that existed when I was growing up, as well as the general intolerance of anyone who made choices different than the norm.

I was supposed to get married young and stay in Virginia, and I did not do either of those.  It took me a while to get go of the frustration that I felt about the tunnel vision that permeated people’s thinking.

And yet I have such fond memories of going to Virginia Beach, Bill’s Barbecue, which was a dive near my grandmother’s house; the tire swing over the creek near our house; fishing off of Red’s Pier on the James River (and never catching anything); my Aunt Shirley’s biscuits and my mother’s corn pudding.  When Emily says goodbye to the world after her death, those are the very types of things she mentions — coffee, hollyhocks, starched dresses.

What is one opera that you would love to music direct?  What is one opera that you would never want to music direct? Why?

George Gibbs (Mark Williams) and Emily Webb (Laura DellaFera) in Boston Opera Collaborative's  Our Town  (Photo Credit:   Dan Busler Photography  ).

George Gibbs (Mark Williams) and Emily Webb (Laura DellaFera) in Boston Opera Collaborative's Our Town (Photo Credit: Dan Busler Photography).

I love Benjamin Britten, and any of his operas would be dream projects for me — especially Albert Herring, The Turn of the Screw, or Billy Budd. Mozart’s Don Giovanni would also be wonderful, although I am not ready for a score like that yet. Also, Jonathan Dove’s Flight, which we just did last fall at The Boston Conservatory.

As for pieces I would not want to music direct — well, to be perfectly honest, I would not have chosen Our Town. But it turned out to be a great project. As is so often the case, pieces that I thought I did not like often turn out to be simply pieces that I did not understand.  One of the beauties of being a musician is that often someone else chooses the music for you, and, if you want to work, you do a piece even if you do not like it, and then you discover that you do like it, and it broadens you. So while there are pieces I might say I do not like and would not be interested in, there is probably not that much that I would not try to tackle if I were asked to.

What is one of your favorite memories?  What colors or sounds would you describe as part of this memory?

I think it would be a day-trip that I made with my then-boyfriend, now husband, to Block Island on July 25, 1998.  I still remember the date.  We took the ferry from the Rhode Island coast, and smelling the salt (I had only been back on the east coast for a short time then) felt like coming home. We got to the island, rented a mini-bike, and traveled around the island, which was all country roads and honeysuckle. The smell of that honeysuckle!  I planted honeysuckle after that.

Two little girls had set up a lemonade stand, and we stopped and bought lemonade. Then we went to the beach and had a picnic and swam. In the evening we had dinner, then took the ferry back across the water at sunset.

Not to mention that it was that day that I realized that I was in love.  It was a magical day, filled with the smell of the sea and the honeysuckle, the sounds of the waves, and the indescribable colors of the sunset.

Beach or mountain? Why?

Well, I love both — I love to hike in the White Mountains.  But I guess I would have to say I am a beach girl.  I grew up by the beach, and I still feel the most grounded when I have sand between my toes and messy hair.

For someone with an emerging appreciation and interest in seeing (and reviewing) opera, what resources would you recommend?  What should we learn to listen for or see?  What operas or kinds of operas would you recommend seeing?

There are so many small local opera companies in Boston, and many of them are doing things that are easy for the emerging opera enthusiast. One of the most interesting I have seen lately was Boston Opera Collaborative’s Opera Bites in November 2015, which featured eight (I think) ten-minute operas, all in English, and the audience sat at tables and had wine and snacks.

There were many people there who had never been to an opera before, and they loved the accessibility of these short pieces in their own language. It stripped away the snobbery and pomposity often associated with opera and made it a living, breathing art form for these people.

I know that so many local opera organizations — Opera on Tap, for example — are coloring outside the lines and coming up with new and fresh ways of presenting opera. I would recommend that the person interested in experiencing opera for the first time go online and find some of these events.

Do you have any upcoming projects?

I am currently coaching La traviata and Le nozzle di Figaro for The Boston Conservatory, and I will be doing musical preparation for Boston Opera Collaborative’s production of Idomeneo in May and June 2016, as well as playing several art song recitals and opera scenes programs.

Do you have anything else to share with our ArtsImpulse readers?

I guess just a heartfelt thank you to the entire community who support the arts.  I know that my musical colleagues share my gratitude for all those who continue to come and share with us in creating art. The audience, in my opinion, is part of the artistic creation, and every performance is different because of that. We are so blessed to be co-creators in making the world a more meaningful and beautiful place through music and drama.

2015 Best Female Performer in an Opera Nominee: Sophie Michaux as Rinaldo in Boston Opera Collaborative's "Rinaldo"

Before we announce our 2015 ArtsImpulse Award Winners, we are proud to present our 2015 ArtsImpulse Nominee Interview Series.

NOTE: If you were nominated for a 2015 ArtsImpulse Theatre Award, and you would like to participate in our 2015 ArtsImpulse Nominee Interview Series, please email us at brian@artsimpulse.com

Photo Credit:  Anastasia Cazabon

Photo Credit: Anastasia Cazabon

Sophie Michaux swept us away with her Rinaldo in the Handel opera Rinaldo by the Boston Opera Collaborative and performed at the Benjamin Franklin Institute of Technology in Boston, Massachusetts. Sophie's diction and clarity in the complicated and challenging role of Rinaldo made the story come alive for us, and her transformation in the heroic warrior was stunning. 

In her Interview, Sophie describes working on Rinaldo, the challenges for the "pants role," some bucket list roles to play, and the high demands on a performer's time (it's not just singing arias!). 

Hi, Sophie, and welcome to our 2015 ArtsImpulse Nominee Interview Series.  Can you start by telling us a little bit about yourself? 

I was born in London, but grew up in the French Alps. I studied in Switzerland, where I started by specializing in Early Music, and then studied in Vicenza, close to Venice, for a semester to learn Italian. I came over to Boston for a change that I felt I needed, both in repertoire and environment, and I loved it!

That was a little over 5 years from now. I love to sing all kinds of styles, from Opera to Bulgarian polyphony, as well as church music, and I have a special love for Madrigals. I also just recently started playing accordion . . . we’ll see where that brings me!

How did you become involved in Boston Opera Collaborative?  How did you become involved in Rinaldo?

I saw BOC’s production of Dead Man Walking, and I appreciated the strong impact that it had on me. I thought: “This is an Opera company I WANT to be part of!” So I auditioned, and Chelsea Lewis and Lindsay Conrad gave me a chance, and I am very grateful that they did.

I was on tour with a group that sings polyphony from various countries around the world, when they were casting for Rinaldo. I sent in a recording of me singing a Handel aria in a church in the middle of Wales. Patricia Weinmann and Greg Smucker, the Artistic Directors, must have liked it because they cast me as Rinaldo. I suspect the view of the old Welsh church had its effect!

Can you tell us more about Rinaldo, your character, and the style of the opera?  What did Boston Opera Collaborative do differently?  How did this change the production?

Rinaldo was Handel’s first Italian opera written for the English stage. He wanted to make a strong impression by having many special effects in the performance, like a storm machine, and thousands and thousands of live doves flying in the theatre. It probably was really spectacular! 

Rinaldo (Sophie Michaux) in the Boston Opera Collaborative's  Rinaldo  (Photo Credit:   Dan Busler Photography  ).

Rinaldo (Sophie Michaux) in the Boston Opera Collaborative's Rinaldo (Photo Credit: Dan Busler Photography).

The role of Rinaldo was written for a Castrato, a male singer that was castrated before his voice changed, and kept a very high and flexible voice. They were well known for having the ability to sing a very fast succession of notes, and singing for 30-seconds to a minute without breathing. That might tell you a little bit about the way that Handel wrote the music for this role: Countless fast runs, with little time to take breaths. It was a challenging role in that way. But also very fun!!

BOC did a production that made this three-and-a-half-hour opera into about ninety minutes, which I think is MUCH more appropriate way of experiencing opera today. In the 1711, people would go to the opera to socialize, eat, drink, court, and do many other things rather than attentively listening to the opera itself. In today’s format, when audience members are expected to listen and pay attention, an hour and a half was the perfect length to appreciate Handel’s beautiful and exciting music, and the plot of the Opera. 

We worked with a FANTASTIC baroque orchestra, New Vintage Baroque, from New York, led by Michael Sakir, and that very exciting.

How often have you played a male role or “pants role”?  What does this require for the performer?  What do you do differently?  What is similar to other roles?

This was my first “pants role.” It requires paying attention to the physical differences and habits of men and women. I observed and imitated a lot of men and I had to keep catching myself when I inevitably held myself in a feminine stance, or had a feminine gesture. Learning to fight with a fake sword was also very exciting. And that’s not something many female roles get to do!

What do you enjoy doing in your spare time? What do you wish that you had more time to do?

I enjoy making live music in my home and with friends, sight-reading through madrigals, or shape note tunes, or hosting a group-muse. I also enjoy hiking, and I wish I had more time to do that too.  I would love to have more time to practice the accordion that I picked up in August!

What is your biggest challenge as a performer?  As a person?

To keep my head in the actual art of music, away from all the things that distract me from it: Taking care of one’s appearance, keeping one’s website updated, applying for grants, or traveling for auditions, answering emails, meeting the right people . . . Sometimes, I wonder how a performer’s life would be if his or her only job was the actual music-making and acting part of it. It would be fantastic! There is so much wonderful music out there ready to be made!

Do you have any roles that you would love to play?  Do you have any roles that you would love to play again?

I would love to sing the role of Lucretia again, in Britten’s The Rape of Lucretia. That role was a cathartic experience for me, and I would love to do it again. One day I would love to be Carmen! One of my dream roles is about to come true though: I have always dreamt of singing Cenerentola, in Rossini’s Opera La Cenerentola, and I am thrilled that I will have this opportunity with NEMPAC in the summer 2016! 

Rinaldo (Sophie Michaux) in the Boston Opera Collaborative's  Rinaldo  (Photo Credit:   Dan Busler Photography  ).

Rinaldo (Sophie Michaux) in the Boston Opera Collaborative's Rinaldo (Photo Credit: Dan Busler Photography).

Do you have any upcoming projects?

I will sing the role of Anne in Jake Heggie’s To Hell and Back with BOC (as part of their "Family Feuds" production) in March 2016 and that will be very exciting. Then, La Cenerentola with NEMPAC in June, and taking time to develop my Madrigalist ensemble, The Cherry Street Singers . . . more about that soon!

Do you have anything else to share with our ArtsImpulse readers?

Go witness art and MAKE art! As much as possible! With all the uncertainties of this world, we can find a real meaning to life through the artistic process, as audiences but even more as actors. I would encourage all readers to take time to practice their instrument, be it voice, piano, accordion, acting, painting, and anything that makes may apply!

2014 Best Supporting Actor in a Musical or Opera: Jonathan Nussman as Sid in Boston Opera Collaborative's "Albert Herring"

Photo by Pro-Fusion Photography

Photo by Pro-Fusion Photography

Before we announce the winners of the 2014 ArtsImpulse Theatre Awards, we are proud to present our Nominee Interviews. 

NOTE: If you or your production was nominated for a 2014 ArtsImpulse Theatre Award, and you would like to participate in a Nominee Interview, please email us here.

Jonathan Nussman is an emerging talent who has captivated audiences on the East Coast before continuing his education and experiences by joining the doctoral program in experimental music and vocal performance at UC San Diego. While we are sorry to lose Jonathan's fresh presence and impressive musicality, we are delighted to see him sharing his gifts with others. In his Interview, Jonathan shares his experience as a young opera singer, his love for new and contemporary works, and a particularly funny blooper in a school play.

Hi, Sid! Can you introduce yourself to our readers, and tell us a little bit about your performing background and history?

Hello! My name is Jonathan Nussman and I am a singer and actor from North Carolina. Up until very recently I have been living and working in the New England area. I am a trained opera singer, and I mostly specialize in music from the 20th and 21st centuries. This past fall, I left Boston after eight happy years, and moved to Southern California. I am now singing and teaching at UC San Diego while I work on a doctoral degree in experimental music and vocal performance.

What drew you to performing opera over, say, musical theatre or other forms of theatre?  When did you know that you wanted to perform opera?

For me, performing opera just happened. I never expected it. When I first started studying music, I actually wanted to be a composer. I had imagined a career for myself writing film scores and choral music. But when I entered college, I started taking voice lessons as my primary instrument, and it quickly became apparent that my talents and passions were better suited performing the music of others than in composing my own. I developed a real love for singing newly composed works by my peers and other living composers, and I became increasingly interested in contemporary theater and opera. I moved to Boston in 2006 to attend a masters program at the Boston Conservatory, and after receiving some solid training in more traditional operatic repertoire, I decided to try my hand at freelancing in the New England area. I’ve done quite a bit of traditional opera since graduating from the Conservatory, but my passion and specialty has always been music from the 20th and 21st centuries.

What has been your favorite role in an opera?  Do you have a favorite opera?  Do you have roles on your “bucket list”?

Well, Sid in Albert Herring was one of those “bucket list” roles for me. Albert Herring was the first or second opera I ever saw as teenager, and I immediately fell in love with it. The music is both artistically deep and genuinely funny, and I had been wanting to perform the role for over a decade before I finally got the opportunity. As far as my favorite role I have ever played, it is probably Papageno in The Magic Flute. I have sung it in three different productions, plus in a handful of outreach settings, and it is a character with which I feel genuinely connected. Plus, he’s always the audience’s favorite! I have a lot of favorite operas, but I think my top three would be Nozze di Figaro, Wozzeck and maybe Nixon in China. Wozzeck is probably on the top of my list of dream roles.

Who is Albert Herring?  Who was your character, Sid?  How did you prepare to play this role?  What was the most fun part of this production?

Albert Herring is the story of a young man, Albert, and his two friends, Sid and Nancy. They are all in their late teens, or maybe a little older. They live in a small town in England which is dominated by a cast of cartoonishly awful adults. Albert is shy and sheltered, whereas Sid and Nancy are outgoing and rebellious. Sid is charismatic, adventurous, confident with girls and unafraid to defy the outdated sensibilities of the adults in town; he is basically everything that Albert is not. Under Sid and Nancy’s influence, and with the help of some rum, Albert comes out of his shell and eventually stands up to his overbearing mother and the rest of the conservative townsfolk.

Preparing for this role was daunting at first, mostly because the music itself is intricate and vocally challenging. However, once I got the music under my belt, developing the character happened naturally and organically, because he is written so well. What I love about the opera is that three young characters seem like completely real people. The fact that they are so relatable and likable makes a fantastic contrast with all the other characters, who are humorously horrible people. The real joy of this production was working with my fellow actors to bring these characters to life. Zac Engle and Heather Gallagher (who played Albert and Nancy) were two of the best scene partners I have ever had. They are both fantastic singers, and I learned a lot by getting to make music with them every night. We were given a lot of creative freedom to develop our characters together, and I know for a fact that the strength of my own performance, whatever it may have been, was a direct result of my collaboration with Zac and Heather!

How do you pick your projects? How would you describe your voice? What opera roles best suit your voice?  Do you have a favorite piece or song to sing?

Well, of course the nature of the business is that most of the time your projects pick you, and you are happy to have them! I am personally drawn to projects that are creatively and musically rich and challenging. I have always loved singing new music, because there is something liberating about performing a role that no one has ever sung before. When you tackle a role like The Count in Nozze di Figaro (certainly a rich and challenging character in an opera which I love) you are joining a lineage of more than two centuries of performances by some of the greatest singers of their respective times. The pressure is tremendous, and I have a really hard time not comparing myself and subconsciously trying to sound like singers I admire—and that includes my baritone peers as well as singers of the past. But when I have the opportunity to create a new role, especially a role that has been written specifically for me, with my unique sound and talents in mind, there is nothing like it. It’s completely freeing. You don’t have to worry about performance history or what your audience may be expecting, and you can focus on creating a genuine character and making music to the best of your capabilities.

I’ve never had a huge voice. I’m mostly comfortable in the operatic roles of Mozart, in Baroque music, and in 20th and 21st century repertoire. Benjamin Britten (who wrote Albert Herring) has always been a good fit for me. He writes really well for baritones, even though all his best roles are usually tenors! Years ago I made peace with the fact that there are many, many roles that I will simply never be able to sing. I am lucky that I have been able to find a niche in singing contemporary music, and it seems to fit my sensibilities as a performer. I enjoy making non-traditional sounds and employing extended vocal techniques, and I don’t shy away from scores that are dauntingly complex or feature nontraditional notation or electronic elements. For me, the challenge is always part of the adventure.

My favorite things to sing that are not opera: probably Schumann’s Dichterliebe, Kurtág’s Hölderlin Gesänge, and almost anything by Simon and Garfunkel.

Photo by Dan Busler ( Albert herring , Heather Gallagher and Jonathan Nussman)

Photo by Dan Busler (Albert herring, Heather Gallagher and Jonathan Nussman)

What advice would you give to young opera singers?  To reviewers?  To audience members?

Actually, I’ll give the same advice to all three: Keep your mind open, think for yourself, figure out what art you absolutely love, and when you don’t love something, ask yourself why. Be brave, be adventurous, and support each other along the way, as we are all trying to create something meaningful out of life.

Tell us an embarrassing audition or performance story.

This one has become a family legend: When I was in fourth grade, I was cast as Santa Claus in a holiday musical at a children’s theater in downtown Charlotte. My costume was a little too big for me, and during one of the performances, as I was singing my big solo number, I suddenly became aware of the fact that my pants were around my ankles! I was horrified, but I just kept singing and pulled them back up. I managed to stay composed until my scene ended, but I must admit, I cried a lot as soon as I was backstage. It definitely wasn’t funny at the time!

If you could be any superhero, which would you be?  Why?

I used to want to be one of the Planeteers, or maybe a Ninja Turtle.

Do you have any upcoming projects or productions?

Just this week I wrapped up a production of Kurt Weil’s Threepenny Opera in San Diego. I have a series of world premier concerts coming up at UC San Diego and Stanford in the next year, as well as a new opera called Noon at Dusk by my friend and colleague Stephen Lewis.

Do you have anything else to share with our ArtsImpulse readers?

I am absolutely honored to have been nominated for this award, and to be in such humbling company amongst my fellow nominees. I’m especially in awe of the fact that I am the only opera singer in the category. There are so many fantastic singers working in the Boston area, and to be singled out in this way came as a tremendous surprise. Thank you so much to Arts Impulse for the recognition! Thank you to the cast, crew, orchestra, and creative team behind Albert Herring for making the entire experience such a positive and artistically fruitful endeavor. Thank you Andrew Altenbach for casting me and coaching me through the role. Thanks to my teachers, mentors, friends, family, and Meg for supporting me through many, many other projects, and for those to come!