March 15, 2016
The last time I wrote on this page, I began by saying that it had been two years since I had updated it and that that was a new record for me. Because of a host of circumstances, including upgrading my computer and web-design software, the lack of what I felt would be interesting new material but most of all, pure laziness, it has now been five years since I updated this page, let alone the whole website. I am now trying to rectify that.
Some of you may have seen on my Appearances page that I have been cast as Siegfried in Wagner's Opera Siegfried, the third opera in his Ring Cycle. This may seem odd to some of you as the role of Siegfried is much heavier than previous roles I have sung and more over because I have actually never "performed" any Wagner (though I did cover Erik in Fliegende Hollander a number years back). Why would I jump into such a demanding role after having performed more standard lyric opera repertoire? The answer is that I'm getting older and that my voice has been going in this direction for several years.
Like any performer in theater and film, opera singers try to stay young forever. Because of this, I have continued to audition with much of the youthful repertoire I have already performed. Unfortuanately for me, companies often hired younger tenors who better fit their picture of role. But really, why should an opera company hire a slighty overweight, middle-age, now balding tenor to play the young romantic leading role. I've tried to stay youthful by working out, loosing weight, running a sprint-triathlon and skiing (so much that I can now ski pretty much any double-black diamond ski run...I'm talking about the ones that the pro's race on at Beaver Creek and that the generation-x skiers hike to and ski, most over 13,000 feet high). But while all this physical exercise has been beneficial to my health, it hasn't stopped the aging process, both physically and vocally.
After a recent audition, the head of the company asked me if I had ever thought of auditioning for Otello. I told him, "sure, I've thought of auditioning for Otello." Privately, most singers think, "maybe I'll try singing this or that role when I get older." Well, now I'm older...which I'm starting to realize isn't a bad thing. After studying some of Otello, Fidelio and various Wagner arias, I showed some of this heavier repertoire to some former teachers and friends in the business and they all have said, why not? It sounds good in your voice...Go for it! So, when an audition for a Siegfried came up, I went for it. Realigning my voice toward this repertoire has actually had the benefit of my voice filling out and relaxing from top to bottom. It's a bigger, fuller sound, but more of the real me.
Life has also been hinting at this change for quite some time. Besides my voice giving me signs which I wasn't listening too, comments people have made through the years have hinted at this future. When I was a student at Indiana University, Klara Barlow, one of the voice teachers who had sung a lot of Wagner professionally, told me I should look at Max in Die Freischutz. Also while I was a student, my teacher, esteemed bass Giorgio Tozzi, told me that I should take some lessons with James King, America's most famous Wagnerian tenor, which I did. When I was in the Pittsburgh Opera Center, Evelyn Lear and her husband, Wagnerian bass-baritone Thomas Stewart wondered aloud if I was a Junglische Heldentenor (This was 20 years ago). One review I had while I was singing in Germany stated that in the famous sections of Il trovatore, I had "the ring of a Heldentenor." When I was in NYC for an audition, after telling a tenor who was auditioning for Otello that "I'd rather be singing what you are singing." His replay was, "You will!" Even the mother in the family I have grown close to in Germany told me that my voice reminded her of Wolfgang Windgassen's, the famous German Heldentenor who she often heard while she was growing up in Stuttgart. The nail in the coffin occured several years back when two weeks before he died, Giorgio Tozzi told me I should look at Die Meistersinger von Nuernberg. He should know, as he sang the role of Hans Sachs in the famous film of Die Meistersinger von Nuernberg in Germany in 1970.
The opera Siegfried is a mammoth work and I have really been enjoying working the role into my voice. It is quite well constructed from the standpoint of giving the tenor the optimal amount of time off during the four hour opera so he can get through the performance. The more I get into the music, I am amazed at the beauty of Wagner's ability to spin a vocal line. Singing the large scale German song works including Beethoven's An die ferne Geliebte, Schubert's Die Schoene Muellerin and Winterreise and Schumann's Dichterliebe have helped prepare me for this, the biggest challange of any opera I have yet sung. But I have always been up for a challange! Much of my life has been preparing me for this. I conclude with the fact that I have even unknowingly been preparing to converse with the bird in acts two and three, having had the privilege of owning two pet cockatiels during the last four years. Rehearsals start in October!
Jonathan and his niece and nephew at the Denver Broncos Superbowl Parade!
Jonathan skiing at Breckenridge!