Internationally acclaimed tenor brings “Sting” to Opera Carolina’s La Traviata
Posted on 27 Jan 2011 by Michael J. Solender
Jonathan Boyd’s firm handshake is only part of his initial welcome I received the other day over coffee. His rich tenor, warm and chocolatey, wrapped around my ears like a favorite muffler on a cold winter’s evening. It wasn’t a stretch at all for me to imagine the power and resonance that will greet Opera Carolina goers at the upcoming performance of Verdi’s classic, La Traviata.
In a scheduling coup, OC was able to land Boyd for the lead role of Alfredo Germont, the fiery nobleman who pines for Violetta, a woman of questionable background and virtues. Boyd brings a hefty resume of operatic accomplishments and some serious chops to the QC. Boyd has performed in opera and oratorio throughout Europe, North America and South America, where his recent company debuts include Opéra de Nice and Opéra de Toulon as Lysander in Britton’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream; Teatro Colón in a live television broadcast as Werther; Opera Faber in Portugal as Tom Rakewell in Stravinsky’s The Rake’s Progress.
The Corning, New York native has previously performed in San Francisco Opera’s productions of Falstaff, Turandot, The Merry Widow (released on DVD), and Mother of Us All. Since his apprenticeship with Florentine Opera of Milwaukee, he returned in numerous roles such as Don Ottavio in Don Giovanni and Camille in The Merry Widow.
Boyd has an extensive repertoire in 20th century operas including Michigan Opera Theatre’s world premiere of Margaret Garner as George Hancock, and New York City Opera’s productions of Mother of Us All and Central Park. Composer Lee Hoiby personally chose Boyd for the role of Romeo in his opera Romeo and Juliet, which he subsequently sang in the semi-staged performances at the Opera America convention in Vancouver, as well as with New York City Opera, Stamford Symphony in Connecticut, and the National Symphony at the Kennedy Center. In Santa Fe Opera’s production of A Dream Play, he received an award from the National Federation of Music Club for his accomplishments.
He’s no stranger to Alfredo and La Traviata as he’s previously performed the role with with Akouna, Opéra en plein air in France. Nor is he unfamiliar with Charlotte and Opera Carolina as Boyd performed with Metropolitan Opera star Denyce Graves as George Hancock in OC’s 2006 production of Toni Morrison’s Margaret Garner.
Invigorated from a full day’s rehearsal, Boyd shared his thoughts surrounding La Traviata, nuanced differences between opera in Europe, South America and the U.S., his musical heroes and the role he’d be tempted to sell his own soul to perform.
MJS: La Traviata is about illicit love between the classes portraying Violetta, a lifelong courtesan as a “fallen woman.” What does it say to contemporary opera goers?
JB: Though this piece is set in the mid 1800s it offers many universal themes that resonate today and into the future. The most dramatic of course is that true love can overcome obstacles no matter how great. In Traviata, Alfredo’s tremendous love for Violetta overcomes sickness, class and status issues and those who would stand between them. It’s really a classic story that is timeless and endearing.
According to the Mozart Forum (an opera education website), La Traviata ranks 3rd on the list of the 20 most performed operas in North America, why is that?
First off, I’m not surprised. It is a wonderful score paired with a fabulous libretto. It truly is a grand opera complete with period costumes, balletic dance, acting, emotion and rich arias. It is also based upon a true and well known story of the love affair between Alexander Dumas and Marie Duplessis. I actually had the opportunity to visit each of their graves while in Paris and the contrast between the two of them given their status of the day is stark.
Opera Carolina’s production has a wonderful cast of world class singers that I am beyond excited to be performing with. The staging and costumes will be fantastic and the audience will see a performance that is very personalized. By that I mean it is not a “park and bark” performance where performers plant themselves on stage and sing but rather is one where there is a great deal of physicality, touching, eye contact and true expression that is behind the relations depicted on stage.
What will you bring to Alfredo that is uniquely Jonathan Boyd?
I am a Scorpio and while I don’t know for certain about Alfredo, I believe he must be as well. Alfredo is feisty and sharp. He can sting with his directness but he is also very tender and passionate and means what he says, especially with regards to his love for Violetta. I’ll bring that directness, that fire and sting to Alfredo and the audience will both see and hear the emotion that he has.
You tour extensively throughout Europe and South America in addition to your work here in the U.S. How would you characterize some of the differences you see with opera overseas?
Europe has such a long storied history and tradition with opera that by comparison what we have in the states seems to be in such very beginning stages. An old performance hall or venue here is a building from the 1950s where in Europe I’ve actually performed Mozart Operas in 18th century structures they were composed for. There is much greater state sponsorship of the arts in Europe as well which makes a big difference, not only in ticket price subsidies but in support for companies in general. The Arts are not seen as “add –ons” or “nice-to-haves” but as an integral part of life so while the economy is also hurting, in many ways worse than here, support for the arts remains.
Another subtle but intriguing difference is how audiences relate to opera. Overseas people are more likely to say “I’m going to hear the opera this evening” rather than “I’m going to see it” it is perceived more as an aural than visual medium I think which makes a difference in how it is enjoyed.
Who are your musical heroes?
Without a doubt, Leonard Bernstein. I had the opportunity to see and hear him perform while I was at a music camp in Tanglewood (Boston) while I was in high school in the late 1980s. I summoned up the courage to speak to him after a performance and he encouraged me, it was very special. Some years later I sang at a memorial service for him.
What is your “to– die-for” role?
(Laughing) Faust! For someone to have so much passion that they are willing to sell their soul to the devil in exchange for something they want is a role that is simply too good to pass up. I’m hopeful I’ll get the chance soon.