The Highest of Compliments

It is sometimes hard to know–in a full sense–what kind of impact you make as an artist on your audiences and critics; and while feedback from one’s colleagues is often immediate…and generous…sometimes you are blown away by learning (several years later) just how you may have inspired a rising star.

Case in point: In a recent Opera News interview with the magnificent Christian Van Horn (Bass-Baritone) as its subject, and hosted by legendary opera-journalist and Opera News Editor-in-Chief, F. Paul Driscoll, I learned what kind of influence and/or inspiration one can have on a colleague without ever really knowing it.

I had been performing every season at the Lyric Opera of Chicago for about a decade when I first met Mr. Van Horn somewhere around 2004/2005. He was a fine and polite young man, with a beautifully silken bass-baritone voice who was then a new member of the famed Ryan Opera Center (formerly LOCAA) shortly after winning the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions. I was, myself, part of this major (and rather coveted) Young Artist Program in the mid-1990’s. Mr. Van Horn eventually completed his assignment in the Opera Center, enjoyed a few accelerated contract opportunities in Chicago, and then packed up and went off to Europe. He participated in some Festival (Fest) contracts for a series of years, and we caught up once again in Toronto a handful of years later (2012) as we performed together with Canadian Opera Company (COC).

A rapid six years later, Mr. Van Horn became the recipient of the Richard Tucker Award (2018), and his already fine career was simply (meteorically) sent into the upper atmosphere with performances at every major opera house and concert hall in the world. The bass/bass-baritone voice takes a bit of time to develop, and Mr. Van Horn was philosophical and pragmatic about why such an accolade didn’t come sooner. As once mentioned in an interview, he acknowledged that it takes *TIME* for a voice such as his (in his Fach) to grow, begin to mature, pick up nuance/gravitas, and then move on to greater things. So he was perfectly satisfied with the developmental period from 2003 to 2018. Yes, 15 years sounds right to me too.

In the recent interview with Opera News referenced above, you can only but imagine my shock when my agent/manager of 27 years (John Such) texted me from his seat on an airline flight. He was reading the article, and look at what jumped off the page when Mr. Van Horn was asked what it was like to return to Chicago now that he is a star. It reads, in part:

“I learned a lot here just by paying attention. I remember watching David Cangelosi sing Spoletta [in Tosca in 2005]. And Spoletta is not some grand role. But every second that David wasn’t singing, I couldn’t take my eyes off him. That kind of acting away from the ball is what I’m attracted to when I watch a show. David never dropped the character but never tried to distract from the action. I found that super-engaging. He wasn’t trying to be campy or steal anything. He had determined his character’s own agenda, and it didn’t matter what other people were singing. He wasn’t just standing there, waiting to sing–and that’s a lesson I still carry with me.”

In my many years as an opera veteran (I think I can say that now without exaggeration), I don’t think I have ever been so moved by a compliment from a colleague. I wrote to Mr. Van Horn to thank him for his kind recollection and he replied with the following, in part:

I’m sure happy you saw the ON (Opera News) article. F Paul asked me what I learned at Lyric and that was the first thing out of my mouth… It was very inspiring… In this business you never know when you are inspiring someone. Thanks for that lesson- I keep it with me.

As an artist who has more years “behind him” than “in front of him” (me), it is a true honor to hear from another (superb) artist that you have somehow…and VERY UNKNOWINGLY…affected many years earlier.

Thank you Christian…and may you enjoy many more years of the success you have earned!