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HomeOperaKey'mon W. Murrah on Hope, Heroism, and what a Countertenor could be

Key’mon W. Murrah on Hope, Heroism, and what a Countertenor could be

Key’mon Murrah as Orpheus in Orpheus and Eurydice. Credit score: Philip Newton

Keymon W. Murrah, a countertenor heralded for his big selection and “sizzling coal core of tone” by, is a local of Louisville, Kentucky. In 2021, he was heard on the stage of The Houston Grand Opera as the first Place Winner of the thirty third Annual Live performance of Arias, because the Grand Prize winner of the Premiere Opera Basis + NYIOP Worldwide Vocal Competitors, and Finalist and Encouragement award winner of Operalia. He makes his Seattle Opera debut as Orpheus in Orpheus and Eurydice and stays on for an Artist Recital on February 4.

Key’mon not too long ago sat down with Seattle Opera over Zoom for a dialog that lined his journey to turning into an opera singer, the challenges of constructing a profession as a countertenor, his interpretation of Orpheus, and his upcoming recital.

Seattle Opera: I needed to begin by asking you about your background. How did you get began singing and when do you know you needed to make operatic singing a profession?

Key’mon W. Murrah: I suppose I began singing by way of my mom—she’s additionally a singer. However she sings extra gospel music, and I consider she used to have a bunch that did soul and R&B means again when she was rising up. Via that work, my mom discovered a bunch known as the West Louisville Performing Arts Choir, which on the time was a boys’ choir made up of individuals from the lower-income space of Louisville, KY. She received me concerned with that group, the place we did every little thing from spirituals to [George Frideric] Handel and [Wolfgang Amadeus] Mozart—every little thing. In order that’s how I received launched to classical music. After which I received into the Youth Performing Arts College, which was an identical introduction to a complete bunch of recent types of classical music. However I did not actually take it severely.

However then I received into this summer time program known as the Governor’s College for the Arts, which is the place I met my “music father,” A.T. Simpson, Jr. And that is after I began to fall in love with opera. This system had nice lecturers, nice school, and I loved my time there. That is after I determined to audition for the College of Kentucky, and I received a full journey there for voice. I truly didn’t graduate with a music diploma—I graduated with an arts administration diploma. However now I am again on the College of Kentucky attempting to complete the vocal diploma that I by no means received to complete.

Seattle Opera: When did you discover that you would sing as a countertenor? Did somebody level you in the direction of that voice kind, or was it a register that you just naturally gravitated in the direction of?

Key’mon W. Murrah: I began singing in my head voice after I was in boys’ choir, and I used to be a soprano all the way in which up till I graduated highschool. Once I got here to the College of Kentucky, I switched to being a tenor, and I sang as a tenor for about seven or eight years. However then I made a decision simply to completely swap! I at all times felt extra at house as a countertenor, singing in my head voice; at the same time as a tenor, I’d go house and replica Leontyne Value or Maria Callas, or different singers like that. In order that sort of singing was at all times with me and I at all times discovered pleasure with it. I may have had a profession as a tenor, however I simply felt happier and extra at house as a countertenor.

Seattle Opera: Did it take any main shift in your vocal manufacturing or coaching, or was it only a pure match?

Key’mon W. Murrah: It was each: it was a pure match, nevertheless it was plenty of work. It additionally took plenty of analysis, as a result of I used to be already in my late twenties by that point. I actually did not have time to begin over if I needed to make a profession. So I needed to put in 3 times the work to get to the place I’m at the moment, and I am nonetheless studying.

Seattle Opera: Did you discover that folks have been shocked that being a countertenor was an choice that was out there to you? Had been the individuals round you unfamiliar with it?

Key’mon W. Murrah: Countertenors weren’t completely unfamiliar to them, however I feel that most individuals by no means actually labored intently with one as a result of the college I went to makes a speciality of bel canto music. Countertenors simply aren’t as widespread within the forms of music they usually do at my faculty. Even my instructor, who I nonetheless work with at the moment—on the time she needed me to remain as a tenor. Which I perceive, as a result of it’s totally onerous for a countertenor to seek out constant work. There’s not plenty of work on the market. So if you wish to have a profitable profession, possibly the tenor choice would’ve been higher. However she noticed that I used to be placing within the work and she or he was like, ‘okay, I suppose we’re doing this.’ After which we labored and received to the purpose the place I received the Encouragement Award my first time on the Metropolitan Opera competitors.

Seattle Opera: What has it been like looking for these sparser alternatives, versus working as a tenor?

Key’mon W. Murrah: I knew that ordinary audition coaching for different singers simply was not going to work out for me. Even now, if an organization is doing Handel or [Claudio] Monteverdi or one thing like that, they might most likely select a mezzo-soprano. So I needed to be proactive. I needed to put stuff out on social media. I used to be the little annoying singer sending emails to all people, saying, ‘Hello, that is who I’m.’ You recognize? As a result of regardless of how properly I sing, I’ve to vary the notion of what roles could be finished by a countertenor. However now that I have been networking for so long as I’ve, issues are beginning to come to me, which is nice. However I nonetheless should preserve that community and preserve assembly individuals.”

Seattle Opera: You talked about individuals’s perceptions of what roles a countertenor can sing. What do you assume are a number of the greatest misconceptions about countertenors?

Key’mon W. Murrah: That countertenors can solely sing early music, or solely sing music with an orchestra of 12 individuals. Or that they’ve a shorter life in music, a shorter singing profession. We’re put in a field too usually, and I am attempting my greatest to interrupt that field.

Seattle Opera: Let’s speak somewhat bit now about Orpheus and Eurydice. Orpheus is a personality that is been reinterpreted and offered in so many various methods—in opera, in musicals, on movie, in every kind of issues. What’s it like for you entering into a task that has like such an in depth efficiency historical past? What units your Orpheus aside?

Key’mon W. Murrah: I really feel that mentally, Orpheus and I are very related. We love onerous, and we go to the fullest—even to the underworld—for what we love. Discovering that zeal by way of the music and thru the physique, his mannerisms, and bringing that facet of him to life is what attracts me to the character.

Key’mon W. Murrah (Orpheus) and Shelly Traverse (Eurydice). Credit score: Sunny Martini.

Seattle Opera: How a lot did [stage director] Chìa Patiño’s imaginative and prescient for the story have an effect on the way you approached the position?

Key’mon W. Murrah: I feel her imaginative and prescient stays true to the character, to all the characters. She’s not altering who the character is or something like that, it is extra like she’s creating the world round them. The one distinction between my interpretation of the character and hers was that she sees Orpheus as a warrior, the place I am somewhat bit extra gentle-hearted. So discovering that power in that kind of particular person is one thing that I needed to work towards. She introduced that out of me.

Seattle Opera: One of many main parts of her imaginative and prescient for this manufacturing is her stance that she does not see Orpheus as a hero—that it isn’t a heroic act to attempt to rescue Eurydice from the underworld. I needed to listen to your ideas on that. Do you see Orpheus as a hero? What do you consider his mission to carry his beloved again from the afterlife?

Key’mon W. Murrah: I feel we each agree that it isn’t a heroic act, however that Orpheus believes it’s in his head. It is his probability to indicate the gods that he can do one thing as highly effective as altering destiny. Which ultimately, he does not! He cannot try this. So it isn’t concerning the heroic act itself, however the truth that it is all in his thoughts to do it.

Seattle Opera: Do you might have a favourite a part of the opera to sing?

Key’mon W. Murrah: I feel my favourite half is correct after Orpheus meets Amore and has his lengthy recitative the place he is like, ‘what the hell did she say? I may go to underworld?’ He is questioning Amore, questioning the gods, questioning himself. And all through all of that, he finds the braveness to say, ‘I can truly do that. I am going to do that. Watch me do that.’ So defining that change of emotion is my favourite half.

Credit score: Sunny Martini.

Seattle Opera: Let’s discuss your upcoming recital. How are you conceptualizing your program?

Key’mon W. Murrah: For this program, we’re pondering alongside the strains of “songs of hope.” It’ll be all of the songs that impressed me to turn out to be an precise opera singer. They’re songs that I grew up with, that my household has taught me, that my church has taught me, that being within the American Non secular Ensemble has taught me. They’re songs that I’ve saved with me all through my complete profession. There will probably be songs by Moses Hogan, Jacqueline Hairston, Corridor Johnson, and a brand new composer, Shawn Okpebholo, in addition to a couple of different items. It is simply going to be some spirituals and a few African American artwork songs. I get pleasure from all these songs and I simply hope that the viewers will love them as properly.

I am additionally doing a set of two songs from Duke Ellington’s Sacred Live shows: “Heaven” and “Come Sunday.” They’re extra jazzy they usually’re going to be one thing enjoyable. After which there’s “Spherical ‘bout the Mountain” by Roland Hayes—that is the primary non secular that I ever sang as a countertenor. So I’ve saved that with me by way of every little thing I’ve finished. 

Seattle Opera: Are you able to inform me extra about what “hope” means to you on this context?

Key’mon W. Murrah: Once I determined to turn out to be an opera singer, I sort of made like a pact with God. I used to be like, if I need to do that, I need to carry hope. I need to encourage individuals to do no matter they need to do, to do it with love, and do it their greatest—simply preserve going and by no means hand over, since you by no means know what’s going to occur. As a result of my profession has not been a straight line—it has been plenty of zigzags. If I had given up, I would not be the place I’m.

Seattle Opera: Let’s zoom out now and speak extra typically about opera and the humanities. Why you assume opera issues? What can individuals get out of opera as an artwork kind in 2022?

Key’mon W. Murrah: I consider you will get plenty of feeling out of opera and classical music. You possibly can expertise feelings that you just’re not going to have the ability to expertise listening to fashionable music. You see a full vary of artwork, with the intention to stroll out of opera feeling modified. And I feel that is why I find it irresistible a lot.

Credit score: Sunny Martini.

Seattle Opera: What has been essentially the most difficult second of your profession? How do you discover the sort of hope we have been speaking about earlier that helps you persist?

Key’mon W. Murrah: One of many greatest challenges that I feel plenty of performers have been coping with is COVID. As a musician, you have already got the highs and lows of your profession—you have already got occasions when you are simply not going to be working. However with COVID, it actually stopped my profession fully. I felt like was nearly to begin transferring after which it was like, ‘nope, go sit down someplace.’ However even by way of COVID, I felt like I needed to preserve going. I needed to push by way of, I needed to continue to learn new music. I needed to preserve speaking to individuals, continue to learn, taking classes. And it confirmed me that I actually love this and I am actually prepared to do the work to do that.

As for what received me by way of it, it was the those that supported me. It was my friends. It was my lecturers. It was my mentors. It was my household. It was these those that stated: ‘Preserve going! Do you want a lesson? I will offer you a reduction!’ All these those that stated, ‘you are able to do this, we do not need you to go.’ In order that gave me plenty of the power.

Seattle Opera: And what would you say has been the proudest second of your profession?

Key’mon W. Murrah: I feel proper now! That is my debut at a serious opera firm. I am extraordinarily excited for lots of the experiences that I am having proper now and I am dwelling my best time.



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