American 'baritenor' Michael Spyres
Why Michael Spyres excels at Rossini2:23, 17th November 2020
In the cover feature of the October 2019 issue of Opera Now, Michael Spyres explained why his voice suits Rossini so well. The following is an extract from Francis Muzzu’s interview…
Michael Spyres has had considerable form in singing the music of Rossini. His big break came in 2008, when he sang the title role in Rossini’s Otello at the Rossini in Wildbad Festival, which was a great success and launched his reputation as a Rossini specialist. Major debuts have followed – La Scala, the Rossini Festival in Pesaro, Covent Garden, Paris, Vienna.
Rossini usually proved his calling card: ‘I’ve done a lot of his operas as I’m what’s known as a “baritenor” – so it was the logical thing. A friend who was doing a PhD about vocal Fach [the German term that describes a voice’s range and timbre] analysed my voice, and my strengths were both as tenor and baritone. Lots of people could in fact go back and forth – everybody has a three-octave range, but people feel locked into their narrow selection. I’ve never been afraid to do silly voices,’ at which point he bursts into a selection, including a wonderfully accurate Homer Simpson. ‘There are lots of interesting ways of producing a voice. If you watch Britain’s Got Talent you’ll see people trying new things. Everybody can find a way into the classical world. The Three Tenors all cited Mario Lanza as an influence and for me it was Looney Tunes cartoons, like Bugs Bunny at the Opera.’
Spyres expands upon his unusual voice, with its exciting extension at each end of its range. ‘Don’t forget, the original Tonio in La fille du régiment [Mécène Marié de L’Isle] retrained as a baritone, and García himself sang across the range, performing tenor roles such as Rossini’s Otello, but also Don Giovanni. And my B-flat to C range is different from my friend and colleague Lawrence Brownlee’s. As I get older my voice is getting broader. The physiognomy changes in your late 30s and 40s [Spyres is 40] and I always knew that I might go towards larger roles.
‘I have been offered a lot of Wagner, and will sing Act II of Tristan in the future. For heavier roles I will wait perhaps 10 years before I go down that path. Wagner was a bel cantist. He really cared about the sound and vocal production. There are lots of ppp markings in Lohengrin and Tannhäuser. But, as the saying goes,’ he laughs, ‘never sing louder than lovely. But I do find it asinine that people say you can’t do both Wagner and bel canto. Over the last 50 or 60 years people have wanted things to be bigger and grander – I’ve worked with great conductors who really help your voice: Alberto Zedda, Riccardo Muti, John Eliot Gardiner, John Nelson – and musicologists like Will Crutchfield and Philip Gossett. Last year I worked with Michael Schønwandt on D’Indy’s Fervaal, which is like Berlioz-meets-Wagner, really heavy orchestration, and he was fantastic. So I’ll tread carefully with Wagner – I don’t want to get too cocky!’
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