1. Most singers dream of moving to New York to study and have careers, but you grew up in Manhattan. Tell us a little about your upbringing. What music did you listen to growing up.
As with every New Yorker it seems, I have a love-hate relationship with the City. It has completely spoiled me, so living elsewhere for more than a few months is difficult. On the other hand, it has given me a cultural education one cannot receive elsewhere. My parents are restauranteurs (Back Forty and previously Savoy), so my culinary experiences have shaped a lot of what I love about the city.
In terms of music, It all started with the Beatles. Then add Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Rolling Stones, and David Bowie and you essentially have my musical upbringing. Now that I think about it, Bob Dylan isn't such a vast departure from Schubert. There was zero classical music entering my ears until I got to LaGuardia High School, where I was turned on to art song, oratorio, and opera. The rest is history.
2. Tell us about your time at Julliard. What was your favorite performance there? Any coaches or teachers who were a particular influence?
My time at Juilliard has been an incredibly rich one, and it's not over yet! A couple favorites come to mind. I made my role debut as the Count this year in a beautifully unique production of Nozze by rising-star director John Giampietro. I always thought this was a role that I wouldn't play until I was much older, but in the Beaumarchais play, Almaviva is probably around the same age I am. Playing the role, I realized a lot about myself. It was extremely cathartic. Also this year, I performed Songs and Proverbs of William Blake with Brain Zeger, the artistic director of Juilliard Vocal Arts and one of my mentors, which was a foray into some of the coolest poetry I've ever had the pleasure of communicating.
3. You're currently doing some work at the Opera Theatre of St. Louis. What is that experience like and how is it furthering your artistic growth?
I auditioned for OTSL when I was 19, expecting nothing. I sang an art song in my audition, for pity's sake. A week after my audition I received that email which sort of changed my life. Through the years, they have fostered some incredible talent through their Gerdine Young Artist program and have a beautiful community of people who make opera happen every summer. I turned 20 when I was there last summer, and I'll tell you, having 30 superb young artists singing "Happy Birthday" to me was one of the highlights of my life. I met some of my best friends in that program. I'm headed back this summer to cover Papageno and sing Thierry in Dialogues of the Carmelites. I hope to work with them for many years to come.
Steve and I are kindred spirits in so many ways. We started working together basically the week I got to Juilliard and have barely missed a week since. We work on everything from Monteverdi to Britten to Noël Coward and Marc Blitzstein. I made my New York Festival of Song debut this past December and will be performing with them at Caramoor and New York in March.
One always hears advice to seek out a team of mentors who you trust, who you can share your craziest ideas with, and who truly have your best interests at heart. With so many different agendas flying everywhere, many singers get really confused about what they're supposed to be doing. I am lucky to have Steve as one of these important mentors, along with my teacher Sanford Sylvan.
5. Do you have any dream roles? Favorite composers?
It's always been my dream to play Sid in Albert Herring (partially because I have a thing for mezzos). The musical language of Benjamin Britten has always resonated with me incredibly acutely. If I could sing a role outside my fach, I'd choose Octavian in Der Rosenkavalier. Strauss is another favorite. I'm always excited by new works, and I'm waiting for someone to turn The Hobbit into an opera so that I can play Bilbo Baggins.
6. How did you first find out that you were on Barihunks and what was your reaction?
When I saw the post, I was extremely grateful to be a part of such a talented bunch of singers. Some of my favorite singers and colleagues are featured on the site. John Brancy, Matt Worth, Christopher Maltman, and Stephane Degout (to name just a few) are all artists I have vast respect for, and I love hearing about what they're up to.
7. Do you think singers should be as concerned about their bodies as their voices? Do you have a workout routine?
Singers have to stay in shape. We are athletes. Being a body-builder, however, is arguably not fantastic for the voice, more specifically, for muscular tension. I am an incredibly skinny man, so my task is actually keeping the weight up rather than loosing any. When New York thaws, I'm looking forward to getting back to my long bike rides up and down the west side of Manhattan. I feel my breath and my soul in the right place after one of my rides.
8. Some singers like Furruccio Furlanetto are refusing to work with directors who have gotten particularly outrageous in their conceptualizations. Are there productions or director requests that would turn you off?
There is not too much I wouldn't play on stage, as long as it serves the text and the original intention of the composer. I have my limits, though. When a guy gets completely naked onstage, the conversation immediately deviates from the action of the opera to how hung they are (for better or for worse). I think it's a waste of the audience's attention, as are many "concepts."
"I remember the first time someone told me I was a baritone. It was like finding the warmest, softest blanket to cuddle up in. - Theo HoffmanWe also have a couple of reader questions for you:
9. How do we make opera more relevant to today's audiences while still respecting the art?
We need to educate our children early! Parents, take your kids to the opera and treat it like you're reading them a bedtime story. These are fairy tales brought to life, so why not embrace them as such? I wish the proliferation of new works was more readily supported by big houses like the Met, not just one or two per season, but more like four or five, so that the repertoire is always growing and changing.
10. Did you initially sing as another voice type before becoming a baritone? How did you discover that you're really a baritone?1
I was always a baritone. I remember the first time someone told me I was a baritone. It was like finding the warmest, softest blanket to cuddle up in. I quickly fell in love with the repertoire, and I wouldn't have it any other way.