Sunday, February 17, 2013

Wall Street Journal feature on Teddy Tahu Rhodes' Workout Regimen

The Wall Street Journal recently ran a piece by Sarah Rose about barihunk Teddy Tahu Rhodes with the headline "Opera Singer Builds Up Stamina for 'Carmen.'" Here are some photos and the text.

Teddy Tahu Rhodes running (Photo: James Horan-Wall Street Journal)
When you sing for your supper, it's hard to keep weight on, says Teddy Tahu Rhodes, who takes a star turn as the bullfighter, Escamillo, in the Metropolitan Opera's production of Bizet's "Carmen" starting Saturday in New York. "I don't want to compare myself to an athlete, but it takes a lot of energy to perform for three hours," says the New Zealand-born bass-baritone.

At the Met, Mr. Rhodes's performance will include the showstopping aria in which he dances a mock bullfight with his cape and seduces the gypsy Carmen. "If you don't nail it then your night is really over," he says. "It's a very challenging role, vocally and physically."

Teddy Tahu Rhodes doing push-ups (Photo: James Horan-Wall Street Journal)

At 6-feet-4, the 46-year-old Mr. Rhodes isn't concerned about losing weight but rather keeping it on, and maintaining his stamina requires a 50-minute workout with a personal trainer three times a week.

He trained to be an opera singer at London's Guildhall School of Music & Drama in the early 1990s, but after a year, he returned to New Zealand to be an accountant. Fifteen years ago, he was also singing with a local opera company when he got a call to substitute for a singer at the Sydney Opera House. With three weeks to prepare, he gave up accounting and followed his dream to sing.

He has been in many productions in Australia, Europe and the U.S. He has sung Escamillo in "Carmen" before, most notably in 2010, when he was called to fill in for a singer three hours before a global broadcast of a Metropolitan Opera performance. Among his recent roles are Emile de Becque in the Lincoln Center revival of "South Pacific" that recently toured Australia (a role that has been played by opera singers), and Stanley Kowalski in the coming modern-opera production of "A Streetcar Named Desire" at Chicago's Lyric Opera and New York's Carnegie Hall in March.

As a finance professional, he played rugby, tennis and cricket, but when he became an opera singer, his workouts changed radically, he says. "I made a conscious effort to hone my fitness as a way of presenting myself as a character on stage."

Teddy Tahu Rhodes working out (Photo: James Horan-Wall Street Journal)
The Workout
To play heartthrob leads, Mr. Rhodes works out with a Sydney-based personal trainer and bodybuilder, Steve Curran. His sessions focus on what bodybuilders call "large compound movements," exercises that use more than one joint or muscle group at the same time. Every major muscle group—legs, arms, back and shoulders—gets one day of devoted training per week. So on day one, Mr. Rhodes might work on his chest and triceps, doing bench presses and dips to the point of exhaustion.

For the second workout of the week, he might exercise his legs with lunges and squats. His third weekly workout could involve rows and chin-ups for his back, biceps and shoulders. When he is on the road, he checks out his hotel or apartment's gym upon arrival.

Mr. Rhodes avoids abdominal exercises out of concern they would interfere with his voice and breath control. "It's really important as a singer not to be tight in your core, to have flexibility around your diaphragm."

To prepare for the famous "Toreador Song," the first aria in the second act of "Carmen," Mr. Rhodes turned to his singing coach in Sydney, Sharolyn Kimmorley. Ms. Kimmorley helps him make physical adjustments to his technique by observing his breath or his posture to make sure the sound is resonating correctly. "It's like training any muscle, your voice gets used to a routine and if you let it slip for a while, it can get a bit lazy," he says.

The Gear
Sessions with his trainer and
vocal coach run about $100 each. He wears Asics running shoes during his workout, which typically cost him from $100 to $250. And rather than hitting the gym in running shorts or gym clothes, he prefers to wear board shorts by Billabong, which can range from $45 to $99.

The Diet
Mr. Rhodes is frequently on the road and puts in odd hours, which makes for an awkward diet, he says. "When performances don't finish until midnight, it's so late I don't want to eat and often go to bed not having had a meal," he says. He tries to keep snacks handy, like peanut butter on white or wheat toast.

For breakfast, he has toast, normally sourdough, with peanut butter or jam and butter, accompanied by a skinny latte. For lunch, he usually has a sandwich. Dinner is typically chicken or fish: He eats little red meat and very few carbs. He enjoys cheese as a starter and a glass of red wine.

Many singers avoid dairy products, which some believe can increase phlegm and damage the voice. Mr. Rhodes, who worked on a family farm as a child, says he drinks a great deal of milk at any time of day.

The Playlist
Mr. Rhodes doesn't listen to music while he works out. "Theater work is so collaborative, one of the things I love about exercise is the time to think, alone, by myself."

Teddy Tahu Rhodes as Escamillo at the Met (Marty Sohl/Metropolitan Opera)
For Singing and Exercise, Breathing Better Can Help
The breath-control exercises that benefit opera singers also can help athletes, who need to consume more oxygen when they work out, says Bradford Chase, a high-school chorus teacher in Wellington, Fla., who trained in the New England Conservatory and has been teaching for 15 years. "Singers and athletes are the people who need to get the most out of every breath," he says.

Mr. Chase taught breathing exercises to the Wellington Wolverines high school football team in the 2012 season to help increase their stamina. The Wolverines' record improved to 4 wins in 10 games for the season, up from 1 win in 2011. To raise awareness of the mechanics of breathing, he uses a technique called "body mapping," which can increase how efficiently a person uses the oxygen he or she takes in. Here are some exercises:

Stand with your hands on your shoulders and breathe slowly. Focus on using your diaphragm, beneath the rib cage, to draw air into the lungs while keeping your shoulders still.
Place a hand over your rib cage as if you were saying the Pledge of Allegiance. As you breathe, notice the rib cage expand to make room for your lungs.

With hands just below the rib cage, feel your diaphragm expand to draw air in and contract to force air out. If you bend at the waist, you should feel the diaphragm expand and contract on your back too.


  1. Escamillo is hardly a 3 hour role ----- and he didn't sing it anyway.

  2. damn those bloody new zealanders passing themselves off as Ozzies, and matadors! stealing our parts and women !!!

  3. Amazing pictures! I love push-ups and also do this exercise regularly at home. And I have a healthy and smart body.

  4. teddy tahu rhodes is pretty hot, watching him on stage almost gives me a literal orgasm.