Tenor Brian Jagde (pictured left as Pinkerton in Virginia Opera's production of Madama Butterfly, photograph by Anne M. Peterson) is currently an Adler Fellow at San Francisco Opera. He sings Vitellozzo in Lucrezia Borgia and Don José in Carmen for Families at San Francisco Opera during the 2011-2012 season, then heads to Fresno, Bozeman, Munich, Minnesota, and Santa Fe. The Opera Tattler caught up with Jagde on Wednesday.
How did you get into opera?
Last thing I'd thought I would do. I studied computer science and business for 2 years, but I sang in chorus at school at SUNY Albany. I realized that I liked playing around with computers more than programing them. I ended up auditioning for SUNY Purchase College's Department of Opera Performance. My first performance was in The Magic Flute, and I was covering roles, singing, dealing with the sets, and even the lighting. Being on stage was incredible, especially feeling the sound of the orchestra.
Was it in college you discovered you were a tenor?
Actually, I had sung tenor up until college, and when I was there, I thought I had to produce a certain sound. So I went through college as a baritone. I have always had a high speaking voice, and, actually, being a tenor came naturally to me. It was funny, I was booked as Marcello in La Bohème at Virginia Opera, but I ended up singing Rodolfo at Syracuse. I really developed as a tenor in the Adler Program though.
How has the Adler Program been? I really liked your performance in Makropulos, but I know you have been covering a lot of roles too.
It has been really great, and I have learned so much. In Makropulos, the role of Janek is more of an acting role, playing someone so virginal and with such a problem of confidence. His father does treat him very badly, obviously. It was great working with Karita Mattila, she is just otherworldly. Covering roles has been eye-opening as well. Last Summer I was covering Brandon Jovanovich as Froh, and he is just the nicest person, so down to earth, but he has a great voice for the War Memorial, which is obviously such a huge space.
Was San Francisco Opera's Ring your first?
Yes, and I am so grateful. Of course was the singing amazing, not only with Brandon, but Mark Delavan as Wotan and Nina Stemme as Brünnhilde. But the production really was fantastic. I loved how human Francesca Zambello made the characters.
Speaking of which, how has your summer been going?
Well, I started off here covering Das Rheingold, and then headed off to sing Bohème at Castleton. It really is in the middle of nowhere, there is hardly any cellular phone service or Internet out there. I had to get a phone card to even be able to make calls. But it was good to disconnect for a bit. I ended up rediscovering tennis while I was there, and it has been the best exercise. It is fun, and it is good to find physical activity that isn't a chore to do. After Castleton, I went to Italy for 10 days, and there is just such warmth there. I have been there before, but they just embrace opera singers. Rome is my favorite city in the world, so far.
Now you are back, covering Heart of A Soldier. How has that been?
That's right, I am covering Bill Burden (Daniel J. Hill) in Heart of A Soldier. The life of Rick Rescorla suits opera very well, his life involved a lot of singing! I think the biggest challenge of the opera is that a lot of time is covered, so it is up to the director (Francesca Zambello) to make those transitions make sense.
I understand you are also singing in the Stern Grove concert on your birthday this Sunday with Dolora Zajick. Are you excited?
Absolutely! I cannot think of a better way to celebrate my birthday! I am lucky that my voice and repertoire, with all the Puccini I am studying, because it affords me opportunity to sing the tenor/mezzo duet with her from Il Trovatore. Dolora has been very helpful too.
She is so good at that role, the first Trovatore I heard was with Dolora.
She said something really great, that there are two kinds of singers, regardless if you are famous or not. You can either sing 9 roles, and be the absolute best at those, or you can take on a wide variety, and sing 240 roles. She's obviously the former.