April 1, 2016
With an historic ‘Der Ring des Nibelungen‘ just one month from opening at the prestigious Washington National Opera, I am both tired and excited. Rehearsals have been intense, compressed, and thrilling. Immediately post ‘Ring’ performances here in our nation’s Capital; I will head to Boston with two of my D.C. colleagues to perform Act 1 of Siegfried for the Boston Wagner Society. I was very pleased to provide an in-depth interview for the BWS in anticipation of our May 28, 2016 concert. Below is the interview in its entirety:
Interview with Tenor David Cangelosi
- We anticipate with great pleasure your upcoming role as Mime at our May 28 concert of Act 1 of Siegfried. You have sung the role of Mime numerous times, at the Metropolitan Opera, in San Francisco, and many other places. And now you are about to sing it again for Washington National Opera in the spring. Is there anything about this role that attracts you both as a singer and an actor?
The role of Mime (Siegfried) is one of the most towering in all of opera. The answer to your question is actually IN your question! This role allows for the singer to ‘act’, and the actor to ‘sing’. This is an unusual two-way street that is fulfilling in each direction. I have worked for 20 years to knit these two elements into a cohesive whole. I hope it comes through as such!
- You are an excellent comedian and very dynamic on the stage. Do you prefer comic roles? Or are you comfortable with both comedy and tragedy?
I actually prefer the darker, more sinister roles of them all. My mind wanders to a production of Boris Godunov when I sang the role of Shuisky…he is a King-maker to be sure; but he undermines Boris every step of the way. (Delicious stuff!) Comedy is fun, Romance is sweet, but Sinister is eternal. It’s effective theatrically, and leaves a deep (if non-sympathetic) imprint. I love to darken and deaden my eyes…probably because that is the exact opposite of my real-life persona.
- How do you prepare yourself emotionally to convey the comic or tragic elements of a role?
In truth, I sit quietly before any given performance for a few crucial minutes and say to myself: “What is it you want to do tonight? Who is it that you want to be??” Then I just step into the painting/mural that I have created in my own mind, but always with the audience’s fulfillment in mind.
- You have sung a huge number of roles all over the world, which is quite remarkable. As a “character singer,” most of these have been secondary roles, though definitely not less important. Do you feel that, with Wagner especially, your Fach garners less attention than, say, a Heldentenor or a Heldenbariton?
Of course there is less attention to my Fach…which is all the more reason to redefine my Fach to all of my esteemed singing colleagues, directors, and producers. Every fan wants a piece of a Heldentenor/Heldenbariton. Every performer wants some of the ‘fairy-dust’ that falls from their framework. But if you can garner attention as a character singer/character actor, then you have not only strengthened your own standing, but you have likely strengthened the same for the primary characters with whom you interact. I used to teach very young acting students in college to earn extra money; and I used to tell them that their #1 job was “to make the other ‘guy’ look good”. (I’ve been trying to do the same thing for my colleagues for the last 35 years!)
- Speaking of Wagner, do you find that you have to have a concentration, voice, and tessitura that is different from, say, Italian opera?
Wagner is the most all-encompassing composer in the history of humankind. It takes every fiber of your talent to execute his music and libretti with distinction. I work non-stop to imbue every word, every line, even every REST with deeper intent. When I finish with a performance, or even a rehearsal of Mime (Siegfried) for example; I am usually exhausted both physically and mentally…and I should be! Truly great artists, such as Hildegard Behrens, were able to dispatch both great ‘Wagnerian Opera’, and great–but more general–‘Italian Opera’ with equal prominence. I only wish someone could say that about me someday. That would make me very happy.
- With Mime, do you sing in a more nasal and whiny tone to get into character, as opposed to singing Loge or Zorn, for instance?
Absolutely not! That is one of the ways I have set myself apart from many of my counterparts historically. Some producers actually want a whiny singer in an effort to fulfill their very simplistic conception of a character. The dirty little secret, however, is that they actually want their primary principal artists to sound better by comparison. None of them will admit this, but you asked; and now you’ve gotten more of an answer than you expected. The plain fact of the matter is that I did this once, for something very high profile. I did myself no favors, and have regretted it ever since. I was trying to play “Please the teacher”…and I reversed course immediately and tried to never do it again once I heard it. I sing like myself…and I try to sing beautifully, or I prefer to not sing at all. That does not mean I sing without character…but ‘character’ doesn’t mean constantly whining, barking, or providing nasality. Those sounds have their dramatic place; but in my world, they had better be the exception and not the rule!
- Unlike most singers, you have a wonderful blog on your web site (davidcangelosi.com). I really enjoy reading it. You are funny and informative. Why don’t more singers take the step you have taken, which would be so valuable to opera lovers?
My website represents the organized musings of an opera professional. I write to express myself, or to get things off of my chest. I sometimes write reviews of performances I have seen, I tell an anecdote from my childhood, or follow a particular thought process from a production that I am working on. It’s my hope that someday there will be enough blog-entries for a book. I am only sorry that I started so late in life. I have been given journals to write in over the years, but I hate doing it by hand; that is why I started so late. When my website was upgraded a few years ago, I decided to hop on the ‘blogging-bandwagon’ since it was easy to write via laptop and post to my own site. To be fair, a lot of my colleagues do the same…I just happen to do it better!! (ha ha)
- Can you name five of your all-time favorite roles in opera?
That’s an easy one, but I will not include the aforementioned ‘Mime’; and will in fact open the question to roles—most of which—I don’t even sing, except for one below.
- Salome (Salome)
- Parsifal (Parsifal)
- Ping (Turandot)
- Prunier (La Rondine)
- Grand Inquisitor (Don Carlos)
- It is great to see you come back to Boston, since this is where you studied music and sung with the Boston Lyric Opera and the Boston Symphony Orchestra. Do you have any fondness for the city, and what places will you visit while you are here for the May 28 concert?
Since the once legendary Locke-Ober restaurant at Winter Place closed a few years ago, I guess I will have to find a new place for lunch! I used to love its elder-world, historic, old-school feel. After being around for some 130 + years, I never really envisioned that it would somehow disappear. I thought that there would always exist a clientele that wanted to step back in time, eat classic French cuisine, take a peek at John F. Kennedy’s private booth, marvel at their reflection in polished silver, and have gracious waiters tend to their dining experience. So, if you have any suggestions… I am all ears!!