10 Questions with Stephen Powell

San Diego Opera Audiences have gotten to know baritone Stephen Powell pretty well over the last two decades (made his SDO debut in 1997) and practically needs no introduction. With that being said, it's great to have him back, even better as the title role in Rigoletto! Stephen was kind enough to answer some casual questions during his time in between rehearsals.

1. What was your last gig before coming to San Diego?

I sang the role of Oliver Jordan in the European premiere of William Bolcom's new opera DINNER AT EIGHT this past fall at the Wexford Festival in Wexford, Ireland. I debuted the same role in the world premiere in March of 2016 with Minnesota Opera.

2. How do you relate to/feel about your character, Rigoletto?

As a father of two sons, I relate very personally to Rigoletto's need to protect his child from the real dangers of the outside world. In his world away from home, he leads a fragile existence under the protection of the Duke. He knows the precarious position he holds as the court jester, and uses his wiles to maintain his position at the court where he knows he doesn't belong and isn't welcome, save for the Duke's interest in him. In his world at home, all he has is his daughter. Having lost his wife, he lives only for his daughter, to ensure her safety and well-being. It's a tall and stressful task. My life isn't quite as dangerous as Rigoletto's, but I understand the fears and pressures of caring for a child in an increasingly uncertain world. I also understand the desire, or even need, to avenge the crimes committed against his daughter, especially since he feels responsible for it. 

3. Are there any dream roles that you would love to sing and why? And since we're dreaming it doesn't even need to be in your fach.

WOTAN would be great fun and challenging. I still have a few Verdi roles left I want to perform in NABUCCO, LA FORZA, BALLO, AIDA, ERNANI. I'd like to sing the baritone roles in DON CARLO, FALSTAFF (title role), TROVATORE, MACBETH (title), OTELLO and LUISA MILLER more often. I also have fantasies about singing many of the classic Musical Theatre roles in SOUTH PACIFIC, CAMELOT, MAN OF LA MANCHA, THE SOUND OF MUSIC, CAROUSEL, etc. I'm already doing SWEENEY TODD a lot, which I love. The next incarnation of that role will be fall of 2019 with Michigan Opera Theatre.

4. What was your introduction to opera and how did you decide this was the path you wanted to pursue?

My mother was a great lover of opera, as was her father. I didn't experience it much as a child, but when I entered Northwestern University as a piano major for my bachelor's degree, I began to accompany singers on a regular basis. This introduced me to the operatic and art song repertoire. One of the teachers for whom I played, Norman Gulbrandsen, heard from students that I also sang, and I started to take lessons with him. He became my mentor and convinced me to pursue singing as a vocation. I sang a lot growing up in choirs, rock bands, and musicals, but never considered pursuing an operatic career until Mr. Gulbrandsen took me under his wing.

5. Name a singer you loved working with in the last year.

In my last production of Rigoletto I sang with the Scottish tenor Barry Banks for the first time. We both have the same irreverent sense of humor, so we became fast friends.

6. What are your hobbies that keep you busy outside of music?

I enjoy reading, sports, hiking, working on my property, nature, and spending time at home with my family.

7. Fill in the blank: "If I was not an opera singer, I would be ____.”

A History Professor.

8. If you could trade lives with one person for an entire day who would it be and why?

J.S. Bach. I'd give anything to know what it felt like to have the musical brain and skills he possessed.

9. Name three artists, bands, or composers on a current playlist that aren't opera related.

Billy Joel, The Beatles, Oscar Peterson.

10. What are you most looking forward to doing in San Diego while you’re in town?

Enjoying being outside every day near the ocean.

(Bonus) 11.What’s next for you after your gig in San Diego?

Britten War Requiem with the University Musical Society in Ann Arbor, Michigan.


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