Shifting into High Gear
Five Questions with Brian Jagde
Brian Jagde is a tenor and third year Adler Fellow at San Francisco Opera. He will make his mainstage leading role debut as Cavaradossi in Puccini’s Tosca on Friday, November 16, 2012 – you can catch him for 5 more performances on November 20, 24, 27, 29 and December 2. Brian made his SFO Debut in 2010 as Joe in Puccini’s La Fanciulla del West and has been seen since in roles in Aida (Messenger), The Makropulos Case (Janek), and Lucrezia Borgia (Vitellozzo) and he has covered the leading roles of Pinkerton in Madama Butterfly, Christian in Cyrano de Bergerac, and Don José in Carmen. He was seen as Don José in the 2011 presentation of Carmen for Families – an abridged 2-hour version in English presented on the War Memorial Opera House stage with other members of the Adler Fellowship Program.
You are singing the role of Cavaradossi in Puccini’s Tosca as a member of our Adler Fellowship Program. The role is perhaps one of the most well-known in the operatic repertoire – when did you learn that you would take on this task and what was your immediate reaction upon learning of the assignment?
Cavaradossi is and has been a dream role for me since I switched to tenor four years ago. I learned I’d officially be singing the role here last December after some rigorous auditions both with Maestro Nicola Luisotti, our Music Director, and John Churchwell, our Head of Music Staff. I was then invited to audition on the Main Stage in front of General Director David Gockley and the Director of Artistic Administration, Gregory Henkel, who is responsible for casting at the company. After thorough consideration Greg invited me to his office to tell me the amazing news! I was thrilled. It was much more than I had thought would ever happen to me in my time here and it is a testament to the work of this training program that I am able to fulfill this dream in such a way.
Your first Cavaradossi was to have been here in San Francisco but that all changed this past summer in Santa Fe when you made your debut as a last-minute replacement – how much notice did you have and how did you prepare for your role debut?
Yes. My first was to be here in San Francisco, but I had always been charged with the duty to cover in Santa Fe. And when a colleague was forced to remove himself from the role I was asked to step in. I was prepared to sing the role, but had never seen the staging at that point having just arrived, and had never done the role before so within one week I had to step up. Luckily, it all worked out and I got an incredible amount of experience that I have been able to apply here in San Francisco.
Is it true that you began singing as a baritone? When did you make the transition to tenor and how did you discover that? Is there anything you miss about being a baritone?
Yes. I was a baritone for 10 years before switching to tenor. I had my four year anniversary as a tenor this past October. When I first started studying voice in college I had never before trained in any way to sing. So, I had no idea what to expect. I originally thought I’d be a tenor and was accepted to school as one, but because of the type of vocal training and the naturally warm color of my voice people thought I should try being a baritone. I tried, and tried but eventually had no bottom and a budding top. I decided to meet a teacher known for tenor switching named Michael Paul. He didn’t hear a note before he said I was a tenor. From then on it proved a challenge to stay in the tessitura of a tenor and then to find my identity as a tenor. I feel I have made the adjustment in the last couple of years. I love learning how to make the voice work, and I’m learning more about myself along the way.
You recently participated as a headliner in our first annual Community Open House on Saturday, November 10th where you gave us a short preview of what to expect tonight – but you also were featured in the role of Don Jose in our Carmen For Families film screening as part of our San Francisco Opera Education Program – you’re a big advocate for music education especially in early childhood development and in addition to your in-school work through the Adler Fellowship Program, you’ve also participated in a number of other activities dealing with music education on your own time – why do you think this work is so important for our industry and in a broader sense humanity as a whole?
That event was a blast and so nice to see so many young ones in attendance – good job parents! There is no more important a subject than arts education in the United States to me right now. Since the beginning, music and appreciation of the arts has been a fundamental instrument to building not just musicians, but a better society of well-rounded individuals who make a difference. Stripping our children of this extremely human quality could have severely detrimental effects on the future and our livelihood down the road. The government, in an effort to cut costs by thinking that testing is more important than learning, is trimming well beyond the fat and we are all weaker because of it. This short term thinking is not going to solve problems. An analogy I like to use is this –and I’m saying this as a life-long Yankees fan — we all know they have enough money and can buy players old and young, and every year they do very well, almost always making the post-season; having lost more World Series than any other team has ever done in let alone their 27 rings. But, why not spend that money and train your own players? Why not build them up from the beginning and have a solid, more winning team than ever and have the respect that is deserved of such a feat? There would be a lot less angry New Yorkers if that were the case instead of spending 200 Million dollars on players who never hit in the post-season (Just sayin’ lol!) Anyway… My idea: let’s build our home team, i.e. our children, from the beginning with a full range of skills at the plate and in the field.
You’re in your 3rd Year as an Adler Fellow and will graduate from the program after your final performance of Tosca on December 2nd. You’ve had quite a few stage opportunities throughout these three years – what are some of your fondest memories of your time in the program both on and off stage?
It’s been a memorable three years as an Adler and I am extremely grateful. There are so many things I’ve learned by being here about how to and how not to be a great singer. Some of the best moments are sure to come in the next few weeks but, one experience in particular: I was talking to a very famous (like super-famous) soprano during a rehearsal and she treated me like I was just like her. We talked for at least 20 minutes about how we felt on the stage: how she was feeling anxious, or awkward at times, and I was just sitting there thinking how is it possible that SHE feels this after so many years of being up there? And I realized that we are all just trying to do our best up there, and that every night our best is all we can give, but the next day.. we can give more!