Crossovers: At some point (usually fairly early) in the careers of many opera singers, the difference between being a tenor or a baritone, a soprano or a mezzo, is a matter of almost arbitrary decision. If you have a borderline voice, you can choose the kind of roles you want to sing, work extra-hard on developing the few top or bottom notes that differentiate one vocal category, or "fach," from another and hope for the best.
The usual tendency is to push the fach upward, because for unfathomable reasons, high voices are considered more glamorous than low voices. The tenor usually ends up going off into the sunset with the leading lady, while the baritone (type-cast as the villain) gnashes his teeth. Sopranos get the romantic roles while mezzo-sopranos are usually witches or mothers (sometimes, as in the role of Azucena in "Il Trovatore," both.) Some roles seem to be fair game for more than one fach--Musetta in "La Boheme," for example, but most often the lines are rather strictly drawn. A singer crosses these lines at significant risk to voice and career, but it can work out.
J. Patrick Raftery, a Washington-born singer, began his career as a baritone (he was Figaro in a Washington Opera production of "The Barber of Seville"), but later decided he would rather be a tenor and made the transition. Placido Domingo, a Washington singer by choice if not by birth, began his career in Mexico as a baritone before becoming one of the century's greatest tenors. For a while, he toyed with the idea of going back to baritone roles in his later years (the top notes are usually the first to go) and ending his career as Don Giovanni. But he has given up that idea--to the regret of some fans. He continues as a tenor this season (in "Pagliacci" at the Met, for example, as well as eight performances in the Washington Opera production of "Le Cid," beginning Oct. 30).
Jose Cura, who sang the role of Samson for the Washington Opera last season and will sing Verdi's "Otello" this season, has firmly established his reputation as a tenor--a heroic tenor in the Domingo tradition with a voice of tenor timbre and baritone power. But like many singers who have chosen one fach, he may be casting nostalgic glances on the other side of the fence. His new CD on the Sony label, "Verismo," has some stunning performances of tenor arias, including the big ones from "Cavalleria Rusticana" and "I Pagliacci." It's mostly standard tenor repertoire. But he opens the disc with what may be a declaration of independence from fach: the Prologue to "I Pagliacci," strictly baritone territory, in a performance so eloquent that you have to condone his poaching.
Thomas Hampson, who is clearly emerging as the leading American baritone of his generation, crosses over into tenor territory repeatedly in "Operetta," his new EMI collection of Viennese arias--most notably in "Dein ist mein ganzes Herz" ("Thine is my heart alone"), a melody indelibly imprinted on many memories in the tenor tones of Fritz Wunderlich. But again, it would be churlish to complain; he generates such tenorial lightness when needed. Hampson is crossing over in many directions these days. Other recent releases on EMI include a recording of Leonard Bernstein's "Wonderful Town" with Sir Simon Rattle conducting an all-star cast and Karol Szymanowski's mysticism-imbued opera "King Roger," also conducted by Rattle. "Wonderful Town" is, of course, a Broadway musical with a score full of slightly antiquated jazz--a genre in which questions of fach are irrelevant. The role of King Roger is unambiguously baritonal, and Hampson takes full possession of it as part of a recording that does full, long-delayed justice to a neglected operatic masterpiece.
Poverty Pays: Patrons handed over a total of $1,287,200.90 for tickets to the touring production of "Rent" that concluded the season at Wolf Trap. This rock musical about poverty-ridden young people struggling (happily, most of the time) to survive through a cold winter in an unheated loft is loosely modeled on Puccini's opera "La Boheme." It broke the record for Wolf Trap ticket sales previously pegged at $1,224,839.90, which was set by the 1997 production of Leonard Bernstein's "West Side Story," a Broadway musical loosely modeled on Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet." Who says there's no market for the classics?
Memorial: A memorial concert will be given Oct. 13 at the Kennedy Center in honor of Patrick Hayes, who was a central figure in Washington's musical life for a half-century before his death last year at age 89. Participants in the tribute will include Leon Fleisher, James and Jeanne Galway, Evelyn Lear and Thomas Stewart, Leonard Slatkin and Linda Hohenfeld, Roberta Peters and Andre Watts. Information and tickets are available from the Washington Performing Arts Society, which Hayes founded: 202-833-9800.
Master Classes: Young cellists (age 12 to 24) are invited to apply (with audition tapes) for participation in one of the master classes to be given at World Cello Congress III, May 28-June 4, 2000. A total of 38 cellists will be chosen to play in master classes given by Janos Starker, Yo-Yo Ma, Frans Helmerson and others. Application deadline is Dec. 31. For information, phone Helene Breazeale at 410-830-3451.