By Debbie Palmer
If it weren’t for wacky, auditions there’s no telling where David Cangelosi would be today.
“My career has been built off crazy auditions,” he admitted with a laugh.
Take the tryout that led to his singing with Placido Domingo at Kennedy Center in Washington D.C.
Cangelosi, at the time performing in Massachusetts, believed the audition was in New York and only learned at the last minute it was in Washington.
Unable to get a flight, he jumped in the car at 5 a.m. and drove to the capital.
“Talk about going the extra mile, I literally went hundreds of miles,” he said.
Once there, he changed clothes in the parking garage at Kennedy Center, ran in, warmed up and auditioned.
“I got back in the car and drove all the way back to Massachusetts.”
It was worth it – he got the job – a production of “Il Pagliacci” that starred Domingo and aired on PBS stations throughout the country in December.
It is one of many achievements since Cangelosi, a 1981 graduate of Normandy High School, left Seven Hills for a career in opera. He has sung at the Metropolitan Opera and Carnegie Hall, and next year will travel to Paris to appear in “La Traviata.”
On Saturday, the setting may not be as glamorous, but the performance meaningful nonetheless. Cangelosi will return to his hometown – for only the second time in his career – to sing with the Cleveland Orchestra at Blossom Music Center.
He will perform a role in “Carmen,” conducted by Leonard Slatkin.
“One of the great highlights of my career was performing in Cleveland, and I’m looking forward to it again,” he said.
Cangelosi, who previously performed with the Opera Theatre of St. Louis and the Metropolitan Opera in New York, is now based in Chicago, where he performs regularly with the Lyric Opera of Chicago.
Next spring, he will sing with the Paris Opera, follow that with a summer in San Francisco and then return to Washington to perform again with the company for which Domingo is artistic director.
His previous Cleveland performance came in April, when he sang in the opera “L’Heure Espagnole” with the Cleveland Orchestra at the Allen Theater.
That experience also brought the most emotional moment of his career. After the first performance, he was surprised by almost every English teacher he had in junior and senior high school, who came backstage together.
When they walked out of the elevator en masse you could have knocked me over with a feather,” he said. “I couldn’t believe they remembered me that well, that they would all come at once. It was very emotional, and it brought back a flood of memories.”
Also a highlight was his performance with Domingo in Washington. Family members attended the show and got to meet the superstar.
“They were excited to meet him, and at the same time, Placido was telling them what a thrill it was to meet David’s parents,” Cangelosi said. “He is so gracious, just an incredibly kind person.”
He credits support from his parents with boosting his career, which started in Cleveland-area showplaces like Greenbrier Theater and the Kenley Players – he acted with stars like Alan Alda, Morgan Fairchild and Martha Rae during his summer there – and advanced to nightclub singing before he turned to opera.
“When you’re in school and want to scare your parents, tell them you want to be in show business,” Cangelosi said. “But they have always been very supportive of my career.”
Cangelosi, who graduated from Baldwin-Wallace College in Berea in 1985, isn’t kidding when he talks about off-the-wall auditions – he got his first big break in opera that way. In New York on other business in 1994, he literally walked in off the street to try out for the Metropolitan Opera.
Standing among hundreds of other hopefuls from all over the country, he was there without his regular music or any preparation and was one of a handful invited to perform with the prestigious company.
And it was at yet another unusual audition that Cangelosi, who had always sung baritone, learned he was actually a tenor.
“As the voice matures, it’s not uncommon for high-lyric baritones to transition to tenor in their 30s,” he said.
But he believed he may have been miscategorized from the start. He decided to test that theory at an audition in Chicago, although the director was less than thrilled.
Still, Cangelosi tried an aria for tenors.
“His jaw kind of dropped. He took off his glasses and just stared,” Cangelosi recalled. “When I was done, he said there was no mistake – I should have been singing tenor.”
The transition – it took him less than a year to finish a process that usually takes two to three years and has meant a wider variety of roles available to Cangelosi, who typically aims at “personality parts” – roles that have a greater depth, comedic angle or even some acrobatic ability.
He has stayed busy. You can hear him on a CD released last fall that is the first complete recording of Menotti’s “The Consul,” in which he sings the role of the magician.
He also works with youth, introducing audiences from elementary school to college about opera.
“The idea is to expose them early and give them options other than what they’re bombarded with on TV,” he said.
His future plans are to keep doing what he’s doing.
“I hope to be singing better at age 60 than I am now,” he said.
That’s entirely possible – 45 to 60 are the best singing years for men.
“In a world where youth seems to reign, it’s nice to know there’s an industry where I haven’t even begun to reach my peak,” he said.
Meanwhile, he will “keep working, keep challenging myself,” he said. He said he is not pursuing fame and fortune, but in the opera world, hard work is generally rewarded.
“If you work hard, someone will notice, and things like money and fame will be the byproduct of your success,” he said.