High C — No Problem

Düsseldorfer Hefte, December, 2005

Steven Neil Harrison, guest tenor of the Rheinoper, plays the leading and splendid role of the hero Aeneas (“The Trojans” by Berlioz, conducted by John Fiore) in all performances in December — the American speaks now with Lis Schenk about his career

A spring in his step, light jeans, brown leather jacket. A man like many others. But it is no ordinary face. No,this one changes expression constantly. Yes, it sings. And with that we were into our subject. Steven Neil Harrison, from New York and Guest Singer for the past three years of the Deutscher Oper am Rhein, has already splendidlyšintroduced us here to his special vocal timbre as a lyrical spinto and his interpretive qualities. Those qualities were and are to be heard from him also as Pollione (“Norma”), Edgardo (“Lucia di Lammermoor”), Carmen(“Don José) and Turiddu (“Cavalleria Rusticana”). Now we are tošhear them in “The Trojans”, an opera that has never played before here at the Rhein, but which has really pursued him. He was connected with this work already as a singer in the chorus in Los Angeles and then at the New York Metropolitan Opera, before his soloist period. “At that time Domingo sang Aeneas, who I so love.” – which brings in the fact that before his singing studies he had also learned piano and oboe and was a pianist at concerts – preferably in Beethoven, Bach and Chopin. His first solo role in New York was in 1995 as Rodolfo (“La Boheme”) and after that, around the world. Taiwan, Hong Kong, then European countries such as Spain, Belgium, then again to New York and finally in Duesseldorf/Duisburg. “My second home is here, the first is naturally in New York, where I was born.”

That the tenor (39) is now singing Aeneas for the first time in his life here at the Rhein pleases him very much. “These dramatic top notes and the nuanced, elegant French musical style very much suits my voice as a spinto,” he said mixing in English; he is still learning German. That he has to reach up to a high C and a high B on occasion – “for me, no problem”. And meanwhile, at the interview, he sings some high parts to demonstrate. It sounds beautiful. “I would not like to sing Wagner prematurely, although he appeals to me in the same way that Puccini,Verdi and Massenet do. My instrument, my voice, is not dramatic enough; not yet.” In Harrison’s opinion the greatest singer in the world of Aeneas is Nicolai Gedda.

Feeling of Desolation

He said about the character of the hero Aeneas, who coming from Troy, is sent by the gods from Carthage to Italy (and was sung in November in the celebrated performance by the Dutch tenor Albert Bonnema ): “He is a fighter, a lover, a man of honor and true to his heart, but also at the same time stupid as well asšclever. He himself feels personally very much connected with him. And further: “We learn much about the sorrows and joys of mankind in these tales of Homer and Virgil. There is, for example, the feeling of desolation that Aeneas and also Dido experience – which belongs, literarily and musically, amongst the most beautiful moments in the world of opera: moments that touch our souls.” The bravura Jeanne Piland sang Dido in November, then as Harrison’s partner in December the well-known Marta Marquez will be heard. “I prefer to do wonderful characters such as Aeneas. Amongst them for me are “Werther”, my favorite role, Rodolfo (“La Boheme”), Radames (“Aida”) and now also Aeneas. These four men are my stage heroes.” Amongst the approximately 25 roles he has mastered, “Andrea Chénier” or Riccardo (“A Masked Ball”) by Verdi are also close to his heart. He would very much like to interpret the role of Hoffmann (“Tales of Hoffmann”) or sing in a Czech opera. That is certainly still to come.

When Harrison has sung his last Aeneas in Duesseldorf/Duisburg on 29th December, he then goes to New York for a few months, and has several appearances in the USA, including in Baltimore as Rodolfo. He comes back for the next 2006/07 season and will be heard in three operas–which those are, he will not yet reveal. In any event he is looking forward to his new period at the Rhein. Thus: “Here in this little, but international, city, I have a secure feeling for life; I admire the German self-respect, your pride and your honesty. I also find the German Ensemble system in the theatres, as at the Rheinoper, very satisfying, because I am always surrounded by the same colleagues, like a family.” Admittedly, he likes going to the movies but would like to have a “puppy” at home. Cooking is his favorite hobby and mentioned in first place is Chinese chicken and vegetables.