Le interviste: John Osborn

Cari lettori, come avrete ormai capito questo Corriere ama moltissimo il lato “epico” dell’opera. Ci affascinano le battaglie dei grandi cantanti alle prese ora con terribili cimenti canori, ora con il desiderio di andar oltre i propri limiti vocali, ora con il confronto con qualche altro grande, talvolta addirittura in lotta… con se stessi! E’ questo il lato romantico e affascinante dell’opera e dei suoi protagonisti, che il pubblico ama proprio in forza della loro personalità.
In un presente triste, di carriere costruite a tavolino, con il bilancino da farmacia e fallaci slogan pubblicitari, John Osborn ha rinverdito il mito romantico del tenore ottocentesco, sfidando a viso aperto l’Arnold rossiniano. Un gesto davvero unico, a nostro avviso, che gli è valso ammirazione e plauso da parte di tutti, sia per la qualità del canto espresso sia, appunto, per il coraggio dimostrato nel mettersi in gioco al mille per mille, rischiando… romanticamente!
Ecco perchè, cogliendo l’occasione dell’Orphée bolognese, abbiamo voluto porgli alcune domande, nonostante sia un tenore in piena carriera e non un giovane debuttante, come sono stati sinora gli ospiti delle nostre interviste. Come già avvenuto per l’intervista a Michele Angelini, lasciamo in inglese le domande e le risposte. Qui trovate la traduzione. Enjoy!

Tell us about your beginnings as a musician. At which age and with whom did you start studying? Which singers played a role in your decision to become a tenor?

Since the age of 5, I have always loved singing. I would sing around the house, or anywhere I went. I continued to sing all the time, sometimes at church, and I continued to develop the voice naturally as I grew up. In high school, I started my stage experience through theater/acting class, and I found myself doing music theater a little bit. I kept very busy playing sports with my brothers, and also singing in any music activities as well. I loved the sport of wrestling, and I had to juggle time with wrestling and music. I loved singing in choir, show choir, and I sang in many honor choirs, always being selected for solos since I was 14 years old. When I was 16 years old, I was selected as tenor soloist in a men’s chorus of Roberta Lee while I was an All-State Music Festival Chorus member in the state of Iowa where I was born and went to school. It was already an honor to be selected to be a member of this chorus, but to be selected as a soloist was an even greater honor. The concert was televised and recorded, and from that moment, I decided I needed to pursue a career in singing. Being from rural Iowa, I had virtually no exposure to opera, and I had the same stereotypical impression of opera as many other Americans. I thought that it was all about big fat people with horned helmets and breast plates singing at the top of there lungs. I finally saw my first opera on television later in my 16th year, and it was THE BARBER OF SEVILLE. I didn’t know how to have a career singing classical music, but I enjoyed it so much, that I thought I’d give opera a try.

So, I learned “La donna e’ mobile” and sang an audition for Dr. Robert Larsen at Simpson College, who also happened to be the Artistic Director of the Des Moines Metro Opera, which also was based in Iowa. I made it into college and started studying music theory, piano, ear training, sight singing, and of course, voice.
When I first arrived at Simpson, I enjoyed singing chorus in my first opera ever, and it was SUSANNAH by Carlisle Floyd, an American composer. I chose to go to Simpson College because they had undergraduate opera, and we performed a fully staged opera two times a year with full orchestra. It was invaluable experience for me. I learned so much about the stage, how to design and build the stage sets, to do my own make-up and wigs, and especially that opera was not only an art form, but a lot of work too. Under Robert Larsen’s guidance, I performed seven complete roles from the age of 18 to 22, including Tamino in THE MAGIC FLUTE and Alfred in DIE FLEDERMAUS. I had so much fun, and the more I learned about opera, the more I loved it! While at Simpson College, I also was a member of The Simpson Madirigal Singers, where I learned to sing in many in different languages, also under the direction of Robert Larsen. My college voice teacher was Anne Larson. She helped me learn to use other facets of my voice besides just loud and high.

In my senior year of college, I was only twenty-one years old when I won the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions. I was the only tenor to win that year, singing “Ah! mes amis… Pour mon ame” from LA FILLE DU REGIMENT. Singing on the Met stage with the Met Orchestra was such an amazing experience!

I was invited to be in the Met Young Artist Development Program later that year in 1994. I was still only twenty-two years old, and I was hearing and seeing the best singers in the world on the Met stage. I was able to see Domingo, Pavarotti, Lopardo, Vargas, Alagna, and Giordani, Freni, Fleming, Swenson, Dessay, von Stade, and Milnes, so many times. It was like a dream come true, and I was like a sponge. I learned how I wanted to act, and how I did not want to act around my colleagues and in a professional setting. The most amazing night was Halloween night, 31 October, 1996: Pavarotti was singing Mario Cavaradossi in TOSCA that night. When he finished singing E lucevan le stelle… the audience applauded so much that he had to sing it again. I had never seen that happen before, even at the Met! I was so impressed how it was just as fresh as the first time he sang it. It was truly outstanding! Three years in the program, working with all of the Met coaches; masterclasses with great artists such as Hermann Prey, Eduardo Mueller, Barbara Bonney, Sherrill Milnes, Regine Crespin, and Regina Resnik, to name only a few, were invaluable years of experiences that live with me still today.

I was given the privilege of two voice lessons a week with the late Edward Zambara. I studied with him for a total of eleven years, and I attribute all of my singing technique to these years of working with him. He unfortunately passed away only a couple of months ago. I miss his expertise already.

You are a real “tenore contraltino”. with a strong high register and brilliant coloratura. Are these qualities natural for your voice, or did you obtain them by studying?

I truly began as a boy alto until I was about twelve years old. Then, the voice just matured into a tenor voice with a very easy top. It is truly a gift from God that I can sing so easily in the passaggio and high register. This has grown as I grow and mature, although I think the top has always been pretty powerful.

The coloratura, I never really thought about it that much until my second year in the Met program. I was studying IL VIAGGIO A REIMS with Warren Jones. He is one of the most gifted pianists, accompanists, vocal coaches I’ve ever known. I simply didn’t know how to sing coloratura, as I had always sung lyrically, hoping to sing all of the lyric tenor roles. In one session, he taught me to sing coloratura using the speed of my natural vibrato to determine the speed of my coloratura. I had a big success singing Conte di Libenskof at the Wolf Trap Festival in 1996, and I’ve applied that to all of the coloratura parts I’ve prepared since then.

Which do you think are your qualities and your defects as a singer?

I believe that God gave me the gift of a high and beautiful voice. I have learned to use my breath to control different colors and vocal affects in different registers of the voice. I think I have some pretty exciting high notes. I love to sing high c’s d’s and e flats in performance. I think it is a rare ability to consistently be able to sing those notes with good tone quality and strength. I have learned to not sing just loud all the time, and to save the big voice for special select moments throughout a performance. It takes a lot of experience to learn and understand how your voice works and how it responds to different styles and languages. I like to maintain a sense of freedom and flexibility when I sing. That way, I feel the voice will stay healthy and will last a long time.

I suppose if you need to know a defect I have as a singer, I can tell you that sometimes I get a bit over excited when I’m singing something very exciting and high. Sometimes, I have a tendency to overshoot a note. But, I prefer to do that than to ever sing flat.

How would you describe your routine day as a singer?

On the day of a performance, I love to wake up late, without the alarm clock, as to wake up nice and calmly. The first think I crave when I wake up is lunch food. I don’t really care for breakfast too much. Then, I shave, and I love to take a nice and long, hot and steamy shower. I love to begin singing and warming up the voice in the hot steam. Then, I get ready to face the world, and I love to go for a good walk. It is very physical what we do, and I feel it is necessary to get the blood pumping a bit in order to have the right energy for singing. I love to arrive at the theater one hour before a performance begins. If I arrive too soon, I can waste too much energy before I go out onto the stage, thus some of the performance could be lost before I even enter the stage. So, I arrive one hour before, get my make-up and hair done, get my costume, say hello to my colleagues and wish them a great performance. Then, I am nice and calm before I go out there and perform. I think there is nothing worse that to be running late and to be agitated before a performance.

Do you listen to opera recordings for study purposes and/or in your spare time? Which are the contraltino tenors that you prefer?

I normally listen to opera recordings when I am working on a new opera I’ve never performed. It helps me get adapted to the sound of the orchestra with the different voices. But, I don’t listen to too much opera in my spare time. I suppose I listen more to Frank Sinatra and Harry Connick Jr.. Lately, however, I have been listening a lot to two cds that will be coming out soon, featuring my wife, Lynette Tapia, and myself singing Italian Donizetti arias and duets, and the second featuring the two of us singing French arias and duets.

Tenors I like to listen to who sing with this “tenore contraltino” quality would definitely be Kraus, Gedda, Schipa, and Gigli.

Which tenor is for you the most impressive from a technical point of view?

Although I could say some great things about several other tenors, I have to say that I admire Nicolai Gedda’s singing the most. In my opinion, he really has mastered the operatic languages, and has the technical ability to always be understood. He never mumbles or modifies vowels to a point of incoherency. His technique and pronunciation is always perfect to the point of sounding many times better than the native speakers of any given language. I have to admit that I truly try to emulate this in my own singing. Unfortunately, I was apparently too young to have heard him sing live. I still dream of one day meeting him, just to talk with him about how he was able to do some of the things he did in the height of his career. I have heard from many that he was a wonderful person as well. Thank you Maestro Gedda for all of your contributions to opera.

You have sung several times in Italy (Napoli, Torino, Genova, Roma, and now Bologna). Do you like it? Do Italian audiences react in a stronger way, as many singers say, or is it just the same thing in every country?

I have sung mostly Rossini in Italy, France, Germany, Switzerland, Monaco, Portugal, United States, Canada, Chile, Argentina, Japan and China. Although there is a love for great singing everywhere, I have to say most certainly that Italian audiences tend to understand and appreciate the different bel canto traits that are necessary in order to give a great performance. It makes sense. It is in your blood, it is your tradition, it is your language. However, I think there is great competition with the Japanese. They have such a great appreciation for opera. When I have sung in Japan, the fans were amazing! They will line up in a very long line, and they will wait a long time, just to meet you and tell you what a wonderful performance you have given. They cheer like crazy at the end of the performance. They want your autograph, and they really want to know you. You really feel like a rock star! Luckily for me, there is a continuous and growing appreciation for bel canto opera all over the world. It is being performed well, and more and more conductors are willing to take on the task of doing a bel canto opera the way it was meant to be done.

You sang GUILLAUME TELL in Roma (I think it was your debut as Arnold). Why did you accept this role, and are you going to sing it again?

I was actually quite excited about the possibility to sing Arnold for the first time. I knew it would be quite an undertaking, but I really felt it would be an opportunity to share my true abilities. I found that as I studied the part, that it really fit me like a glove, and I grew to love the music. I felt very good about my performances, and would love to sing it again soon.

You are currently singing ORPHEE in Bologna in a newly adapted version, which is in our opinion too low for your voice. Did you know they were going to do this new version when you accepted to sing the title? Do you plan to sing the original Paris version in the future?

Actually, I want to say first of all, that this experience singing this production with the Alagna’s has been a wonderful experience. They are a very talented group of guys, who obviously have great imagination, and great aspirations for doing new and innovative projects in the world of opera.

Honestly, I did not know what to expect when I accepted to do Gluck’s ORPHEE in French. I never before would have thought of myself singing Gluck, let alone any other Baroque style operas. I did know of Mr. Roberto Alagna, and that any opportunity to work with someone who has made such a great contribution to opera would be a high-profile and worthwhile experience. So, coming off of one of my most difficult and challenging roles ever, to something like Gluck was a refreshing change of pace. I honestly find the adaptation easy to sing. I never have to think twice about singing high notes, because in my case, there really aren’t any. The top note is a B flat. So, it has actually been a very nice and relaxing experience. I didn’t even have to sing the very challenging aria “L’espoir renait dans mon ame” or the last trio. Much of the role in this adaptation is in my middle and even lower register, which unfortunately doesn’t really allow the tenor voice to shine. So, I used many different colors and shadings to allow for contrast in order to keep it interesting; and I saved my big voice for the few A flats and the couple of B flats that I had to sing. The Paris version normally would have the tenor sitting pretty high all night, touching up on high C’s and even a D on one occasion. As you can tell from the rest of this interview, I would welcome the opportunity to do this opera again in the traditional tenor version. I really like the character of Orphée, and would love to get another crack at it.

What can you tell us about your future engagements? How do you think your voice is going to evolve?

I am very excited about my near future. I will be singing a RIGOLETTO at Opera New Jersey right after this, followed by L’ELISIR D’AMORE at Palm Beach Opera. Then, I am scheduled to sing I PURITANI in Seattle, again in Menorca this summer, and I will do my first ROMEO opposite Netrebko this summer in Salzburg. I have projects to sing my first Edgardo in LUCIA DI LAMMERMOOR in Bruxelles in 2009, and I will continue to sing Rossini, as I have BARBIERE DI SIVIGLIA, LA CENERENTOLA and L’ITALIANA IN ALGERI scheduled in the next few years.

Since singing LA JUIVE in Paris, the GUILLAUME TELL in Roma, and this ORPHEE here in Bologna, I see myself moving into French repertoire such as Hoffmann, Raoul in HUGUENOTS, Faust, Des Grieux, Werther, Romeo and Robert le Diable.

Ringraziamo John Osborn per la disponibilità e ci auguriamo di risentirlo presto in Italia!
Per saperne di più su di lui, visitate il suo sito ufficiale: http://web.mac.com/lynettetapia.

John Osborn

Bellini – La sonnambula Prendi l’anel ti dono (con Sumi Jo – Versione Rubini)
Bellini – La sonnambula Tutto è sciolto…Ah! perchè non posso odiarti (con Natalie Dessay)
Donizetti – La fille du régiment Ah! mes amis, quel jour de fête!
Donizetti – La fille du régiment Quoi! Vous m’aimez… (con Chen Reiss)
Donizetti – La fille du régiment Pour me rapprocher de Marie
Rossini – Guillaume Tell Ne m’abandonne point…Asile héréditaire

4 pensieri su “Le interviste: John Osborn

  1. Incuriosito dal tono encomiastico dell’articolo dedicato al tenore Osborn, dubitavo che si trattasse solo di un omonimo di quel poveretto che il 28 novembre scorso, in una diretta radiofonica di un’esecuzione del Tell data in forma di concerto a Roma, fece una figura barbina nella celebre cabaletta di Arnoldo, producendosi in una efficace imitazione di una sirena d’ambulanza.
    Poi ho ascoltato lo stesso brano da voi proposto e… ma è lo stesso tenore?? Per la parrucca di Rossini, si dovesse giudicare un cantante sulla base di una sola scena, direri che questo è oggi il primo tenore del mondo! Reggere in quel modo le vette della terribile tessitura di Arnoldo, scritta per essere cantanta in falsettone, è impresa degna del miglior Merritt; e senza, dell’illustre predecessore, le note incertezze d’emissione e l’intonazione qua e là periclitante. Certo, se vi foste presi la briga di indicare la data di questa ripresa dal vivo, il giudizio avrebbe potuto poggiarsi su più solide basi. Mi spiego: se la registrazione è antecendente a quella disgraziata serata romana, si può pensare a un giovane dotato in natura, ma sulla strada dell’autodemolizione per aver affrontato cose più grandi di lui; se invede è successiva, quella romana era solo una serata disgraziata, e il Nostro ha di fronte una luminosa carriera. Quelcuno può offrimi llumi?
    Come che sia, rimane il fatto che il Tell è una brutta bestia, e non conosco tenore che sia passato indenne dall’affrontare la parte di Arnoldo.

    Lele (Gabriele) Brunini, Venezia
    NB Ne ho passati in rassegna, di siti e blog sull’opera… ma questo è una cannonata! L’unico dove si possono leggere vere recensioni attente prima di tutto al fatto vocale, come quelle che comparivano sui quotidiani fino a 15-20 anni fa!

  2. SI Lele, è lo stesso tenore.
    E la serata prposta è la prima credo, che circola in internet da quella sera stessa del debutto.
    Credo che il fanciullo sia stato poco accorto ( e con lui chi organizzò le recite ) nell’accettare 3 recite in 5 giorni e ad andare per radio la terza sera. Sfiancato dalla fatica, che già aveva detto di aver avvertito alla seconda sera, ci è rimasto in mezzo ma…….cielo, tenori come Lauri Volpi o Raimondi mettevano 5 – 6 giorni tra una recita e l’altra.
    Si, il tenore è in gamba, e ci sono numerosi audio sul suo sito.
    Canta bene anche di agilità, anche se non sempre precississimo in tutti gli audio.
    So che farà LUcia di LAmmermoor con Elena Mosuc a La Monnaie di Bruxelles la prossima stagione…il suo Edgardo credo sia una vera attrattiva.
    Speriamo…….di questi tempi non si sa mai che dire o cosa credere….speriamo!

  3. Grazie della precisazione Madame Giulia! Spero davvero che queste recite romane del Tell non avranno a pesare sulla preziosa ugola del nostro tenore, perchè sarebbe un vero peccato perderlo. Ho ascoltato nel frattempo gli altri brani; non mancano qua e là incertezze e diseguaglianze, ma è indubbio che il nostro uomo è un vero talento, e – rarissima avis – sa persino cantare piano, talora con autentiche mezzevoci che nulla hanno a che fare col falsetto. Notevoli i brani da Sonnambula e splendida per varietà di colori quella dalla Fille, con l’acuto che precede la conclusione emesso su un mezzoforte che ben più si adatta allo spirito e dell’opera e dell’aria specifica. In generale, mi pare un artista forse meno rifinito in qualche dettaglio tecnico, ma più vario e singolare del tanto celebrato Florez; e, a differenza di questo, con le possibilità di spaziare su un repertorio assai più vasto (lasciando perdere possibilmente il Tell!).
    Lele (Gabriele) Brunini, Venezia

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