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Final Dress of SF Opera's Das Rheingold

Brandon Jovanovich Interview

Brandon-jovanovich This month tenor Brandon Jovanovich (pictured left, photograph by Peter Dressel) has role debuts of Froh and Siegmund in San Francisco Opera's Der Ring des Nibelungen. In August, Jovanovich sings Věc Makropulos at the Salzburg Festival. Next season he performs in Cologne, Munich, Chicago, Berlin, Houston, and Washington, DC. The Opera Tattler spoke to Jovanovich at the War Memorial before rehearsal on Tuesday.

How did you get into opera?
By accident. I sang in high school choir. I had wanted to be a football player, and I went to the University of Mary in Bismarck, North Dakota on a scholarship. The first year I was there it got to -80ºF below with the windchill factor. It was just too cold! I transferred to Northern Arizona University, but they wouldn't give me a scholarship for football without seeing me play. I ended up sending a tape of my choral singing, and was accepted into the music department.

Do you play an instrument?
Unfortunately, no. I can play enough piano to plunk out notes, and occasionally I can play a whole chord. I took about a year of piano at the age of 7 or 8. After the first 6 months I was allowed to take swimming lessons, and in another 6 I got a skateboard. And after the skateboard, well, that was it, no more piano.

How is working in opera? Is it stuffy as it is purported to be?
Since opera has to compete with other forms of entertainment, we do have to move around and act. I'm down two pairs of jeans from Ring rehearsals so far. Really, I've ripped two pairs!

You recently had a debut at the Met as Don José in Carmen (January 2010), and then returned the following season. How did that go?
It was a bit nerve-wracking, but it was great. I was covering Alagna, but it ended up that he sang 6 performances and I the other 6. I didn't get to work much with the director, Richard Eyre, until I went back to sing the role again last Fall, but it was so nice working with him.

Alagna was in the simulcast though, yes? How do you feel about the HD simulcasts?
That's right. It does bring bring opera to the masses. Especially with the HD broadcasts, they are such high quality, and that is wonderful. I am also apprehensive, as I have heard that some directors are looking at their work with an eye for the movie theater. Maybe something looks too much like stage acting for the camera, but that's where we are.

Is this your first Ring?
Yes, it is my first Wagner, in fact. I did hear Die Meistersinger in Chicago back in 1999. The first Ring operas I heard were Das Rheingold and Die Walküre in Los Angeles last year. I was there singing Die Vögel.

That's right, they had Die Vögel on that same steep rake as the Ring. How was that?
It was terrifying. The choreographer, Peggy Hickey, had us doing ankle exercises to keep us injuring ourselves.

How did you get the role of Siegmund?
That's a very good question! I have no idea! They hired me in 2008, I believe. In 2007, when I won the Richard Tucker award. I sang "Winterstürme," so maybe Greg Henkel heard that and thought that this role was in me. Or perhaps they heard it in the Pinkerton I sang here in that same year.

Is it an intimidating role?
On one hand, yes. Wagnerites definitely set the bar at a particular level, and many great singers have sung Siegmund. On the other hand, it is exhilarating. The role fits my voice like a glove.

Is Siegmund a hard role to relate to?
He is a very odd character, even setting aside the whole incest aspect. He's a vigilante who sees the world in black and white.

What are you singing next?
Let's see. I am singing in a couple of Carmen productions, of course. I also have Tenor/Bacchus in Ariadne, Don Carlos, and Samson et Dalila in the next season. I am learning roles from Lohengrin, Fidelio, and Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk. It is a lot of music to get into my wee little brain!

Your rep is varied, from Baroque to contemporary. What are the challenges of creating a role versus singing ones that everyone knows inside and out?
New works are important and rewarding to sing. You are given a blank slate and you get to create something, first and foremost with the composer, but also with the director, conductor, and your colleagues. I especially like Daniel Catán, as far as his style, his sound was his own, but people can relate to it.

Do you have favorite operas?
I should preface this with, I like everything I work on when I'm working on it, because when you are looking at the music and singing it all the time, you get to appreciate how great it is. But as for particular favorites, I love Peter Grimes and Jenůfa. From the very beginning of Jenůfa a nervousness invades your body, it just doesn't let up, and the very last five minutes are just sublime.

You've described yourself as a goofball before. Please explain.
I don't take myself too seriously, I like to make people laugh in rehearsals and to have fun.

Why don't you have a Wikipedia article?
I was wondering that too! I won't write one myself, and I don't mind not having one. I don't need to be in the limelight all the time.