Q: You grew up in Henry County, Kentucky, which is a pretty small community about an hour outside of downtown Louisville. As a young man growing up in this sleepy environment, what experiences drew you to singing and the stage?
A: Talk about your small towns! I grew up in Eminence, Kentucky, which is just between La Grange and Shelbyville. As a kid, I started out singing in church and in school — we had a chorus in school — and I’ve always played the piano by ear. There was a piano in my house, and as soon as I could reach it, really, I started playing it. I would come home from nursery school and start playing the songs we’d learned that day. I guess I’ve just got a musical aptitude, especially for the piano. When I tried learning the guitar it was really difficult for me because I just conceive music as being laid out on a keyboard. A Middle C on the piano is just a Middle C, but on a string instrument there are lots of variations, so I guess I just find the piano to be simpler.
Q: What was your early musical education like? Did you have teachers and mentors who supported your talents?
A: I was really fortunate to have a great couple of piano and chorus teachers at my little Eminence school, which is actually for grades K-12. I only had 33 kids in my graduating class, and that’s a public school! Then, in my sophomore year, I was all hyped up to audition for the Governor’s School for the Arts. It was the very first year they were doing it, and even though I’d never had a voice lesson outside of chorus, I decided to audition. When I got in, it was shocking for all of us. That’s when I met David Brown, who ran the voice department at Youth Performing Arts School for many years, and he ended up being my voice teacher.
After high school I went to Centre College in Danville, where I majored in music and minored in German, so I studied a lot of language. That’s something I figured out: if you’re going to sing classical music, then you have to work a lot on language. I discovered that I also have an aptitude for that — it’s like the language and the music are related in my mind — and I can pick up languages with very little accent very quickly. It’s helpful because, you know, if you put together musical ability and an understanding of language, then you have opera.
A: I think it was 2008 — the last or second-to-last year that the Kentucky Opera performed in Whitney Hall instead of the Brown. I performed the role of Albert, in Jules Massenet’s Werther.
Q: I heard that your family came out in force for your last Kentucky appearance — what does it mean to you to have your family come see you perform?
A: Oh, it’s great. For me, it’s really wonderful to be able to come back and see all my friends and family from my small college and my small town. As far as they’re concerned, it’s a really big deal — you’d think I’d won American Idol or something. And it’s interesting, but I’m actually much more nervous when they’re around. I guess, you know, it’s one thing to perform for a room full of people you don’t know, but when it’s people you really care about … it’s interesting how that affects your performing. Even though you know they’re all sitting there wanting you to do your very best. They clap and say “Bravo,” even if you made a fool of yourself, but you still want their responses to be honest.
Q: A quick look over your future engagements tells us that you’re in high demand now, with roles in St. Louis, Boston, Pittsburgh, and Jacksonville. Does this mean that you’re meeting your professional goals, or do you have more that you’d like to accomplish?
A: Right now, you know, for me, I’m just really happy to be working. It’s a competitive industry, so I’m happy to have work at all. There are many who don’t have enough work to keep them going. I consider myself very lucky that I’m doing well. I’m really thankful for that for sure. As far as goals for me, more than anything it’s about my wish list. As I move on in my years, there are certain things that I would really like to do — a lot of young baritones shy away from Verdi, for example, so I’m very excited to be maturing into some of those roles.
A: My goals are more repertory-oriented than role-oriented, really. I’d love to add some new things to my repertoire.
Q: Your performances have been praised by The Boston Globe, The Kansas City Star, and The Opera Critic just to name a few, and it must feel wonderful to have your hard work recognized. Are there any write ups of which you’re particularly proud? Any reviews that you had to cut out and send to your family?
A: Reviews are funny things. You know, if they’re good and you can use them, then they’re great. Otherwise, as a performer, you have to minimize them in your mind. You can’t change your performance based on one person’s reaction — it’s an entire process of interpretation that you go through with your director. As the singer, you get reviewed because you’re the person who goes up on stage and sells those choices, but the truth is that the next time you sing that role, you may make a whole different set of choices.
But, to answer your original question, I guess the reviews I’m most proud of are the ones from my Covent Garden debut. They were good and that debut was a pretty big deal for me.