I first saw Ryan Speedo Green at Wolf Trap last year. I first noticed him for the name (yes, Speedo is after the bathing suit), and then for his voice. The Barns at Wolf Trap is small, intimate stage: Green stands 6’5”, with a resounding bass voice to match. “Fully ready for a big career,” I wrote in my review. I saw him again a few months later, singing in a benefit gala for the foundation of one of his mentors, Martina Arroyo. And if you watched the Kennedy Center Honors, you saw him too, one of the singers in an operatic excerpt sung in tribute to Arroyo as she collected one of the honors.
Now, it’s Green’s turn for an award. Today, he’s been announced as one of the 2014 grant recipients of the Leonore Annenberg Fund, receiving $50,000 a year for the next two years to further his training.
People with large amounts of money to give to the arts often wonder whether it is best to reward achievement (like the Birgit Nilsson Prize) or encourage it (like the Richard Tucker Music Foundation award). The Annenberg grants certainly represent a generous boost. Green is one of seven awardees this year, including actors, a dancer, a visual artist, and two other musicians: Tessa Lark and Francesca dePasquale, both violinists and composers. In Green’s case, the money will be used to further an already burgeoning career; he’ll use it to help ease the move to Vienna, where he is joining the ensemble of the Staatsoper next season.
Green’s rags-to-riches story will be a hook for journalists throughout his career. He spent part of his childhood in a trailer park in Virginia, and other parts living in low-income housing, surrounded by drug dealers and gunshots. When he was 12, he went to juvenile detention for violent behavior toward family members. When he was 14, he saw “Carmen” at the Met, with Denyce Graves and Placido Domingo, and was hooked for life. Still not yet 30, he is finishing up a stay at the Met’s Lindemann program for young artists and preparing to sing in his own “Carmen,” at Wolf Trap’s Filene Center this coming summer. Then it’s on to the original Vienna where he can now afford to keep paying for vocal training as he works on a range of small bread-and-butter bass roles — including the Commendatore in Don Giovanni. The character is a statue come to life; Green is one singer large enough, in every sense, convincingly to embody it.
Green can be seen at Wolf Trap in Carmen in July and in Milhaud’s Le pauvre matelot in August.