“I am always searching for good quality tapes, generally ‘pirates’ taped live that might be useful,” confesses American tenor Bruce Fowler from his home in Rome, Italy. “And during every production I quiz the artistic and production staff about the possibility of getting an audio tape recording in-house (always the best quality) and a video (usually archive videos and not of high artistic quality, but still sometimes useful). Tapes have really only been useful for my agents to send to someone who is considering me for a role, especially if that person is in a hurry to cast. Live performance tapes, particularly with orchestra can make a good impression. When I was first starting out I went into a studio in NY and made an aria demo tape with piano. I don’t think it garnered one job for me. Sending tapes out randomly is certainly wasteful. If a general director or agent doesn’t have a specific reason or recommendation to hear you, its very unlikely that he will listen to your tape at all.
Listening can help a singer decide to venture into some new repertoire. “Gennaro [Lucrezia Borgia] is a new kind of role for me, a bit more heroic. I’m very slowly adding some new roles to my rep to extend myself a bit more in that direction. I know I risk generalizing, but the audiences for Opera Orchestra of New York and the Caramoor Festival, for instance, have been among the best I have experienced in the world. There is a passion, a real appreciation for the art and for live performance with all its thrills and risks. I can really relate to that. Don’t get me wrong— I’m not giving up Almaviva or Ferrando, but I am singing my first Des Grieux in the Massenet Manon next year.”
TNYON asked Fowler about his recent relocation to Italy. “My career has been sort of based in Italy for the last five years and I had grown to love it so much, that I thought, ‘Why not?’ I wanted to perfect the language, work with my wonderful Maestro, Joe Giardina, and, of course, make a few business connections. I miss NY, but my computer is my lifeline and e-mail keeps me in touch. I tend to relax easier here, something I’ve come to prize. AND it’s much easier to hop a plane at the last minute to a European theater. Then there’s the food!!! I’m taking two weeks off right now to be a regular Roman in my apartment in Trastevere and go food shopping at the markets and have friends over for dinner. It’s my little patch of heaven.”
Tenor Bruce Fowler has performed extensively with major companies in Europe and the U.S. in a broad variety of leading roles. He is equally at home on the concert stage with numerous recital and oratorio solo credits. He has recorded with four labels and currently lives in Rome.
“One of the best things about live erformance is that it’s tempo ral. You do it and it’s gone! When you know you are being recorded, it’s easy to second guess ‘Is this okay? instead of just singing.” Alaskan-born mezzo-soprano Vivica Genaux made her Metropolitan Opera debut as Rosina in Il Barbiere di Siviglia in December when laryngitis forced Bulgarian singer Vesselina Kasarova to cancel. Genaux admits, “I was more nervous about the national radio broadcast than the opening night. The opening was on a Monday and the broadcast was not until Saturday. By then everyone had heard about it and had time to send flowers and say they would be listening!” Genaux is reticent to listen to her own performances, but admits “you can learn a lot. For the Met broadcast I felt the presence of the microphone, but I’d much rather listen to a performance copy than a recording that has been worked on, polished too much.”
She tells of a ‘legal’ recording of one of her performances. “I waited several months before receiving my official production tape. In the meantime, however, my mother found a “no name” illegal copy in a “Pirated Recordings” catalogue. It listed the opera, the venue, and the date of the performance, but none of the performers. For $24.95 plus shipping and handling my mom had the tape before I did!”
The presence of a microphone or camera can be no more than a momentary distraction for the singer in a live production. Genaux says, “I really want to be natural in my persona, my characterization. Its hard to pin down, but it’s so cool when it happens on stage. When I first started performing, I had very little stage experience. I didn’t even know how to ‘look’ at an audience.” Musical theater provided a bridge into her first opera, L’Italiana in Algieri. I realized that L’Italiana’s Isabella is not very different from Dolly Levi in Hello, Dolly!”
Genaux watches other singers and reads biographies. “I’m always on the lookout for stage tricks and artists signatures. Like Rocky Blake—at the end of an aria, the way he holds a high note until the world ends! Like Elton John—you know its him when you hear him. Or Pavarotti or Callas. Each one found what it is in them that can be their signature. To have a first class career you have to have an easily recognizable signature— “That’s Vivica.” It has to be natural; it comes from within. Its not just applied with a spatula to your face.”
Semi-staged productions, such as La Donna Del Lago and the upcoming Lucrezia Borgia at Caramoor are “a nice change,” says Genaux. “Working very closely and intensely with the other performers and the conductor to find the chemistry, the phrasing, and the dynamic energy of the piece feels so good. The music is definitely the focal point.”
So, how important is an opera singer’s appearance? “The voice is always number one, but for the roles I’m playing, appearance is important. You have a responsibility to learn to use what you have. Its a combination of confidence, charisma, and stage craft. If you’ve got high cheekbones and big eyes, use them. In the 1930’s opera singers like Lawrence Tibet and Kirstin Flagstadt were making movies! They had glamour and an inner elegance, not just physical beauty, that came out in the art form.”
Vivica Genaux made her professional debut in 1994 as Isabella in L’Italiana in Algeri with Florentine Opera. She made her Metropolitan Opera debut this year as Rosina in Il Barbiere di Siviglia. She will appear in a Rossini recital with Will Crutchfield on Friday, June 26 at the Caramoor Festival and again on July 18 in Lucrezia Borgia.