Age Appropriate

In any opera career, one always hopes to sing repertoire that is age appropriate. As a young singer, finding repertoire that is fitting for someone just starting out that is not too taxing, that the singer can relate to on an emotional level, and that allows one to identify with the character, can be a difficult prospect. We are constantly warned not to take on repertoire that is too heavy and that can damage the instrument before it’s had a chance to mature. Throwing a young singer into leading Wagner roles would be like throwing a junior high basketball player into the NBA. On the other hand, a singer has to find challenges that helps them to grow and develop as a singer. An artist should never simply coast.

In addition, it is very difficult to find roles that are “age appropriate”. As a young bass-baritone, I was constantly playing characters that were much older than I. It just came with the territory. I occasionally got to sing a role like Colline in “La Boheme” or Angelotti in “Tosca” which were closer to my own age. However, many of the roles required me to sing without the experience of life that might have been beneficial. I had to rely on acting skills and a lot of observation to pull them off.

I’ve noticed, in the past few years, that I’ve reached a wonderful stage in my career where the “appropriate age” has been reached. Wotan, The Flying Dutchman, Amfortas, Hans Sachs, and many other of my roles, are meeting me right where I live. A singer needs maturity, life experience (and vocal development) to be able to pull these roles off well. I pour a lot of myself into my roles in order to make them as human as possible.

I think I’ve thought about this even more as of late when singing Captain Balstrode in “Peter Grimes” here in Toronto. We had an incredible opening night this past Saturday. In my last journal entry, I reflected a bit on all the times I’ve sung this role. The first time I sang it, I was only in my mid-30s. I was, perhaps, a bit young chronologically to sing the role. I jumped into a run of the opera at The Metropolitan Opera for a singer who had become ill--a singer who was an opera hero of mine--and who was nearly twice my age. He was more the age of what one would expect out of a Captain Balstrode. One does not need to be all that old to sing the role and the role doesn’t need to be played as an “elderly” gentleman. However, now that I am a little more “seasoned”, I find how much more I can relate to this “old salt”. I can slip into his shoes a little more easily. They seem to fit very well.

In addition, vocally, the role fits me better than ever. And when that happens, a singer finds that he can invest more of himself dramatically into the role as well. I’ve absolutely felt that on my more recent performances of Wagner and Strauss. I’ll never regret taking on some of these roles early in life. But, I’m very happy (and fortunate) that they are still with me in my more stable days.

Finally, an artist has to realize that there comes a time to say good-bye to a few roles as well. I started doing just that a few years back. As much as I loved some of those roles, it became obvious that I couldn’t pull off the youthful swag and some of the other guys that visited my repertoire. Casting has changed (some of that is good---some of it is very bad). I found, with one of my most performed roles, a role that really is ageless, that I was in casts where most everyone in the cast was 10, 15, and even over 20 years younger than me. I certainly didn’t feel “threatened” by that and knew that I was still bringing a lot to the performance. However, something just didn’t “look right” and I had a lot of other roles that I thought I could bring more to. In order to be fully adhered to Wagner’s “Gesamtkunstwerk” (which I fully buy into), one has to be mindful of just what his experiences, talents, and abilities can bring to the table.

So, once again, I thank my roles for teaching me something. I think I’ve learned a lot from these characters---and, I think I’ve given a lot of myself to them.