November 1, 2016
“When you’re stepping onto the stage at San Francisco Opera, you kind of forget,” says Brian Jagde of the long line of famed tenors who have sung at War Memorial Opera House. He is set to sing his first Radamès, in Francesca Zambello’s new production of Aïda; the combination of Verdi’s masterpiece and the San Francisco Opera – a major site in the history of opera in America – holds a gravity that’s not lost on Jagde.
“So many historical tenors that have made either role debuts here, or just really left a mark in most of the minds of the fans here,” he says, referring to the likes of Mario del Monaco, Richard Tucker, and Luciano Pavarotti. Though the pedigree is impressive, pondering it is not part of Jagde’s process with Radamès, or any of the iconic tenor roles he sings. “Every one of those voices was different, and they all approached things differently,” he explains. “I try to first approach everything from ‘how would I do this?'”
“IT JUST FIT BETTER.”
San Francisco Opera is somewhat of a home company for Jagde, who is an alumni of the Merola Opera Program and the coveted Adler Fellowship Program. “They basically helped me grow up,” he says, adding that only months before auditioning for Merola, Jagde made the switch from baritone to tenor.
“In reality, I was always a tenor who was singing baritone,” he laughs, calling the baritone label a case “true case of misdiagnosis.” When Jagde pursued singing more seriously, his early mentors heard low-voice qualities in his sound. “I was forcing a colour through my cords that was a lot darker and really baritonal,” he says. Yet more and more, he received feedback at auditions, asking him if he was sure he wasn’t a tenor.
After finishing his first young artists programme at Virginia Opera – where he sang as a baritone – Jagde sought out recommended teachers who would be capable of guiding him through the tenor question. One of those teachers was New York-based Michael Paul. “I said to him, ‘I’m here to find out if I’m a tenor,’ and he said, ‘you’re a tenor.'”
“All of a sudden, things started to click,” says Jagde. “It just fit better.” He was fortunate enough to pair a successful move into tenor repertoire with good timing; “things fell into place at the right time, so I was very lucky.” His acceptance into the Merola and Adler programmes came less than a year after the switch, and by the time he found momentum as a tenor, “I was sort of past the stages of singing tenor Mozart rep.” He dove right into Cavaradossi, Pinkerton, and Don José, all roles he has performed at San Franciso Opera. “It’s funny, because while I was a baritone, all I wanted to do was sing Romantic repertoire.”
Read the entire feature, written by Jenna Douglas, via Schmopera