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HomeDanceBaritone Michael Mayes on “Bluebeard’s Fort” and his love of nation music

Baritone Michael Mayes on “Bluebeard’s Fort” and his love of nation music


Michael Mayes is likely to be the least pretentious opera singer on the face of the planet. 

A self-described “good ol’ boy,” Mayes found his formidable baritone voice singing at school choirs and bluegrass bands whereas rising up in his hometown of Lower and Shoot, Texas. He studied voice on the College of North Texas and has subsequently gone from energy to energy performing main roles all through America and abroad, initially in lyric baritone assignments similar to Mozart’s Rely and Don Giovanni. 

Extra just lately he has moved into heavier repertory with Verdi’s Rigoletto, the evil Scarpia in Puccini’s Tosca and an outstanding account of the beleaguered title position in Alban Berg’s seminal 12-tone masterpiece Wozzeck. Wagner’s Alberich looms on the horizon. 

Mayes has gained his biggest acclaim, nonetheless, in modern American opera. He nearly owns the position of Joseph De Rocher in Jake Heggie’s Useless Man Strolling, having sung the piece in innumerable productions all around the world, and loved nice success in Tom Cipullo’s Glory Denied and Joby Talbot’s Everest. 

For The Atlanta Opera, Mayes has change into a well-known face and voice. He’s performed the title position in Sweeny Todd, carried out in Useless Man Strolling, The ThreePenny Carmen and within the title position of The Kaiser of Atlantis. 

Mayes (left) made his debut in Atlanta within the 2018 manufacturing of “Sweeney Todd.” (Picture by Jeff Roffman)

Atlanta audiences will hear him once more October 7-9 Mayes in Béla Bartók’s Expressionistic masterwork Bluebeard’s Fort, within the wildly applauded manufacturing from Britian’s Theatre of Sound by director Daisy Evans and conductor Stephen Higgins. The manufacturing can be at on the Bobbie Bailey & Household Efficiency Heart on the campus of Kennesaw State College.

ArtsATL sat down with Mayes to debate his eclectic profession trajectory and The Atlanta Opera’s Bluebeard.

ArtsATL: So how did a boy from Lower and Shoot, Texas change into an internationally celebrated opera singer?

Michael Mayes: The ten-cent reply is that I performed soccer. I grew up singing in church, a great missionary Baptist boy. I performed bluegrass and Southern gospel music. My freshman yr of highschool I ended up breaking some fingers enjoying soccer and needed to take a unique elective. I had two selections: choir or drama. I believed choir can be simpler and people theater youngsters have been weirdos, which is the irony of my life, as a result of that’s what I grew to become! 

By my senior yr I used to be onstage and received scholarships as a result of I used to be capable of sing. I didn’t know something about classical music or opera till I received to varsity. I began on the market in choirs; however my voice instructor stated, “I feel you could have a look at this,” and I sang my first position there, Frank Maurrant in Kurt Weill’s Road Scene, which was reasonably prophetic. That’s what actually made me make sense of opera. Earlier than that I used to be like, I don’t know what that is, folks singing in overseas languages and shifting actually gradual. However with Road Scene, I received it. Doing trendy opera helped me perceive the artwork type, as a result of it was one thing I may relate to.

ArtsATL: How have you ever carved out such a robust identification as a up to date American opera specialist?

Mayes: That’s the identification I would like. Till I found modern opera, I didn’t actually perceive the emotional context of what I used to be singing. I used to be so centered on saying the phrases accurately and making an attempt to grasp model. That sounds loopy, nevertheless it wasn’t till I began singing in my very own language and doing operas about topics that weren’t so faraway from my expertise — what I prefer to name “modern verismo opera” — that I actually started to understand the facility of the artwork type. 

Once I did Useless Man in Tulsa, a lady stated to me, “My daughter was murdered seven years in the past. You modified the best way I take into consideration the person who murdered my daughter.” That simply took my legs out from beneath me. That’s the purpose of doing this.

Michael Mayes
Mayes (with Jamie Barton) in The Atlanta Opera manufacturing of “Useless Man Strolling,” which has change into one in all his signature roles. (Picture by Jeff Roffman)

Don’t get me fallacious. I like Rigoletto, I like singing Scarpia. I’ve an Alberich arising and I can’t wait to do it. However I’m happiest as an artist when I’m doing opera within the modern American verismo vein. Once I do items like Useless Man Strolling or Glory Denied or Everest, I’m chatting with folks that I got here up with as a great ol’ boy from Lower and Shoot. Individuals I grew up with come, and are floored and say, “I didn’t know opera might be like this”.

Modern opera is extra of a storytelling medium. I spent 4 years working as a home supervisor at Steppenwolf Theatre in Chicago. I received to look at Joan Allen and Gary Sinise and John Malkovich of their course of. I believed, “I would like opera to be like this!” Storytelling is one thing I’m good at. My spouse and I play in a bluegrass band known as Midnight Cricket Membership. My specialty is gloomy, nation story-songs. For those who’re doing Don Giovanni, of course you can also make it related to trendy audiences, that’s not even a query. However the bridge with modern opera is shorter. It’s much less exhausting for the viewers to droop their disbelief and have an instantaneous understanding.

ArtsATL: I’ve heard some closed-minded folks say they won’t hearken to modern opera as a result of they’ve to concentrate to the story.

Mayes: That’s like watching NASCAR only for the crashes. You’re lacking the purpose, there’s a race occurring.

ArtsATL: Are there technical variations in singing modern works versus conventional rep?

Mayes: There are. Normal rep requires slightly extra refinement, and a spotlight to singing superbly. In modern issues you might be given extra license to make sounds that aren’t essentially thought-about lovely. You may get near a pure expression. My expertise in modern American opera has knowledgeable my work within the classics. As soon as I understood what it was to have an emotional depth and maintain an viewers in my hand, then I understood tips on how to give them that very same feeling of connection in one thing that isn’t in their very own language. I imply, how will you do this in one other language when you can’t do it in your individual?

Within the early levels of the pandemic, The Atlanta Opera carried out “The Kaiser of Atlantis” underneath a giant tent with Mayes (proper) within the title position. (Picture by Ken Howard)

ArtsATL: You probably did a present in Atlanta known as “From Opera to Opry: Liquor, Love, and the Lord.” How did that come about?

Mayes: Nation and opera are about the identical stuff. It’s heartbreak, it’s the satan and God, the identical tales. Nation simply does it in three-and-a-half minutes, the place opera does it in three-and-a-half hours. I discovered different artists who have been introduced up doing nation music, like Jon Burton and Leah Partridge. I believed our first half we’d be in tuxedos and the second half we’d be in our alter egos of Cletus McHatfield and the McHatfield Household Singers. For each bit from the usual repertoire there was a corresponding nation music piece. It was big hit, nevertheless it has been onerous to remount as a result of one in all us is all the time off making opera cash. Possibly one in all nowadays.

ArtsATL: In spite of everything that style hopping you at the moment are going again to one of many seminal examples of musical Expressionism, Bluebeard’s Fort. This manufacturing received ecstatic opinions whenever you did it in London.

Mayes: We flip the story on its head. It’s an allegory about dementia. A pair comes dwelling from the hospital to the flat they’ve lived of their entire lives. Judith has dementia, and asks what’s behind all these doorways. However as an alternative of the standard horror present, behind every door is a reminiscence. It’s one thing they’ve gone via many occasions to attempt to convey her again. And naturally, he can’t, as a result of dementia by no means will get higher. 

When she opens the doorways — metaphorically — a model of herself comes out and we re-enact these necessary recollections of our life and marriage. On the finish, her face lights up and he or she acknowledges her husband. They’re nearly to kiss — after which it simply goes away. She turns and appears into the space. It’s so highly effective as a result of everyone will get touched by dementia not directly. The British are stiff upper-lipped, however on the finish of that present there was 30 seconds of useless silence, then you definitely heard the sobbing. The chamber discount of the rating is implausible. Stephen Higgins is a genius.

ArtsATL: Is there something particularly you want to Atlanta audiences to learn about you?

Mayes: Proper now, this piece we’re about to do is extra necessary than me. It’s an necessary story, as is the truth that we’ve got been capable of import Daisy Evans and Stephen Higgins and Susan Bullock from the UK. That is an incredible collaboration. Bluebeard is the title character, nevertheless it’s actually about Judith; and to have an artist like Sue to inform this story with — nicely, that is one thing I wouldn’t wish to miss. It’s a novel expertise you’re not going to get wherever else.

::

Mark Thomas Ketterson is a Chicago-based arts critic and author. He’s the Chicago correspondent for Opera Informationjournal, and has additionally written for Playbill, the Chicago Tribune and different publications.



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