March Singer Spotlight: Bass-Baritone Nicholas Newton

March Singer Spotlight: Bass-Baritone Nicholas Newton

Bass-Baritone Nicholas Newton has already amassed an impressive resume with performances at the Lyric Opera of Chicago, Houston Grand Opera, the Salzburg Festival, Santa Fe Opera, and the MET. Praised for his “polished vocal technique” and “heart-tugging emotional communication,” (San Diego Story), Nicholas, an alum of the Houston Grand Opera Studio, fully embraces the varied, diverse life of an opera singer.

You’re a graduate of The Houston Grand Opera Studio. Tell us a few vital elements you learned while in the program that still serve you to this day?

The most vital element I learned during my time in the Houston Grand Opera Studio is how to act with my entire body on stage in a big theater. The studio provided a movement coach and an acting teacher, and I was able to learn how to show my dramatic intentions in a more clear and physical way through those sessions. Up until my time in the studio, I had only regularly performed in small spaces, which usually required a more naturalistic acting approach. I now have the tools to prepare my character’s movements in ways that are clear to people who are sitting at the back of a 2000 seat theater. 

Additionally, my time in the studio helped me learn how to navigate the preparation and active engagement of multiple projects simultaneously. While in school, I didn’t have as many responsibilities and focused on developing a sustainable vocal technique. The studio artist schedule aligned more closely with the schedule of a working professional, and I had to put everything I learned in school into practice in a more balanced way. My first contract as a studio artist allowed me the opportunity to cover the titular role in Handel’s Saul while I was also in rehearsals as Monterone in Verdi’s Rigoletto. I was also contracted to premiere Damien Sneed’s opera Marian’s Song, conceptualize, and perform a recital of music with my fellow studio mates, and two other assignments that involved Mozart and Strauss. These were all in addition to the engagements I had with outside performance organizations. It was helpful to work with the music staff to set preparation and memorization deadlines at the beginning of the season and have them hold me accountable throughout it. 


My bandwidth expanded even further once the pandemic began, and we pivoted to working on various virtual projects. I learned how to properly prepare my assignments in a way that helped me feel comfortable with the material far in advance and prevented the work from snowballing and consuming me. This practice of working on a plethora of overlapping projects prepared me for the work schedule that I have today, which includes opera, concert work, research, lecturing, and a bit of consulting. 

You’re labeled as a bass-baritone, but your repertoire encompasses bass, bass-baritone, and baritone rep. You also perform traditional and new opera as well as works with orchestra. Was it a conscious decision to sing such a variety of repertoire?

Yes. I have always sung a wide array of repertoire and I am grateful that I have only had voice teachers who encourage this practice. I have, however, encountered people who wanted me to find a proverbial repertoire box and stay in it, but even when I entertained that idea during those moments, it was never clear which one could work for me. The people who were most instrumental in my growth as an artist encouraged me to try as much repertoire as I wanted if it wasn’t too high or too heavy. As a result, I was given the freedom to let my voice lead the way. I amassed an extensive repertoire list and quickly realized that finding repertoire that both felt good in my voice and genuinely interested me as an artist was most important. I hope to continue to sing a variety of repertoire and challenge myself to expand it even further. I’m thankful every time I’m trusted and hired to sing repertoire that shows a different part of my depth and abilities as an artist. 

You’ve performed in some important houses in your young career. How do you prepare for those engagements? Is your preparation the same for all your engagements?

My preparation is relatively the same for every engagement. Musically, I take each element (text, rhythm, notes, language) and I work on them individually until I feel comfortable enough to put two or more of them together. I then work to have the music solid so that I don’t have to think about it much while I’m exploring the character. This usually involves some coachings and a couple of voice lessons if possible. 

Dramatically, I start with finding out what I have in common with my character and use that as my basis to make sure my portrayal comes together organically. After gathering general background information about my character, I take note of what their goals are in each scene and how they go about achieving them. In addition to paying attention to how/if my character’s text aligns with their actions (or not), I also examine the relationships that my character has with the others in the show and how power dynamics might affect said actions. I then keep all this information in mind while taking more time to coach. Once I have a few ideas of how to convey my character’s intentions musically and dramatically, I take time to physicalize those intentions in an explorative way. Ultimately, my goal is to have clear ideas of what I want to achieve in my interpretation of the character, but also be flexible with the director and other performers once rehearsals begin. 

In addition to singing, I see that you’re developing a Black Opera Database devoted to Black composers and their works. You’re also an affiliate with the Black Opera Research Network. Why are these two projects important to you?

The Black Opera Database is an in-progress resource created to archive, celebrate, and preserve the vocal compositional output of Black composers and works that chronicle the Black experience. Allison Lewis created it in the summer of 2020, and I joined her shortly after its creation. As we got deeper into our research for this project, we connected with Dr. Naomi André, and she graciously offered us positions as Affiliates with the Black Opera Research Network. It has been immensely gratifying to build upon the work of scholars who have come before us (Maud Cuney-Hare, Dr. Samuel A. Floyd, Eileen Southern, Dr. Dominique Rene de Lerma, and many others,) and it has also been a pleasure to work with many others who are currently doing the work. 


Black composers’ contributions to the operatic tradition are much more substantial than most people understand. Due to the marginalization within the classical music industry, Black composers have historically received scant opportunities to have their operas performed at major (and minor) operatic institutions up until recent years. This led many Black communities to create their own performance organizations and/or to find smaller venues such as churches to have their works performed for and by their own communities. Even so, those modest opportunities weren’t available to every Black composer, and many died without having their operas performed at all. This database is a way for us to start to do the work of restorative justice for the composers both living and passed on. Building this database has been a labor of love and a way for me to venerate and elevate musical ancestors. Although honoring them in this way has been long overdue, I’m grateful to be working on a project that seeks to encourage others to respectfully explore and intentionally program works by Black composers and about Black people.

Outside of your obvious talent, what qualities do you believe help you navigate the opera business?

The way I take care of myself when I am not working helps me navigate the opera business the most. I understand that it can be difficult to come home to yourself and work on personal trauma, self-love, growth, and discipline after spending a full day of rehearsal trying to figure out how to be someone else on stage, but it is so necessary. The way we treat others is largely a reflection of how we treat ourselves and I want to make sure that I’m doing right by myself and my community. I try my best to find ways to meet my mental, physical, spiritual, and emotional needs and most importantly- I’m in therapy as often as I can be. This has helped me to develop a greater sense of security, boundaries, and radical honesty within myself and in relation to others. Sometimes you just never know what to expect out of a rehearsal process and/or people in this business and I’ve learned that if I am centered and secure, I can better navigate the things that come my way even if they aren’t ideal or can seem challenging.

What are some dream roles you’d love to sing?

If I am to be honest, my dream roles have yet to be written. However, there is some repertoire that I’m interested in performing for the first time. I would love to sing Escamillo in Carmen, Nick Shadow in The Rake’s Progress, and Il Re di Scozia in Ariodante. In terms of concert repertoire, I am interested in singing Beethoven’s 9th Symphony, Brahms’ Requiem, and Handel’s Judas Maccabeus. 

Nicholas Newton’s 2023-2024 season includes the world premiere of Jake Hegge and Gene Sheer’s  Intelligence at Houston Grand Opera, Alidoro in Lyric Opera of Chicago’s La cenerentola, Frère Laurent in Roméo et Juliette at Lyric Opera of Kansas City and joins the MET for John Adams’ El Niño. Newton is redefining what it is to be a 21st century opera singer through his repertoire and his desire to celebrate and catalogue the works of other Black creatives in the classical music world. Learn more at

Eric McKeever

Eric McKeever is a New York-based opera singer whose 2022–23 season includes performances with Opera Columbus, On Site Opera, Opera Delaware, the Penn Square Music Festival, and the Casals Festival of Puerto Rico. He is also a passionate arts educator having worked as a teaching artist for the Met Opera Guild and served as the manager of education programs for Kentucky Opera. He holds a Master of Music degree in Vocal Performance from The Ohio State University and obtained his bachelor’s degree in Vocal Performance from Capital University.