It’s As If Massenet Wrote “Werther” Just For Him: Tenor Steven Harrison

With The Musical Score In Bed.

Christina Schulte, Westdeutsche Allgemeine Zeitung

The Music Reverberates In My Head: The Tenor Steven Harrison Has Discovered His Dream Role–Werther

Krefeld.  I suggested going for a walk, but the tenor was comfortable indoors: Let’s sit inside, here, he suggested.  So we sat in the Dramaturgy Office and talked, and in the end he did what I secretly hoped he would do — Steven Harrison sang for me, alone.  Magnificent!  Superb!  The young man from America has scored a hit with me — but not just by his singing.  It wasn’t his style to begin singing as soon as I got through the door.  He, first of all, described how he became a tenor, and it was by no means a direct route.

Incidentally, while he was telling me his story, he also described a sensation: How does it come about, that my head now reverberates from my singing? How did it happen? When he sings, his whole head is full of vibrations and reverberations, he declared.  Then he demonstrated.  First, a few soft, gentle notes as beautiful as a child’s before his voice has changed.  Then the beginning of an aria.  The music reverberated not only in his head!  The notes cleared a way through the whole room and set my head vibrating also.  It was a powerful sensation!

Steven Harrison first discovered this gift in himself rather late, but he is aware every waking moment how great that gift of a voice is.  He told me how as a little boy, five years old,  he had sat at the piano in his parent’s house on Long Island.  His father played the Moonlight Sonata for him and then as a joke said: Now you, but without the sheet music.  Steven’s ambition was awoken then and there, when he found that he was doing it — without the sheet music.  Two years later he turned to the oboe.  He also sang in a children’s choir, but when his voice began to change, he concentrated wholly upon his instrument.  His career would be as a musician, he planned.

However, at 17  “suddenly all the sounds came out”, “a big fat sound”  and he had for the first time “these vibrations in the head.”  So he changed direction: he decided to study musicals and pop music.  The tuition fees were high, but he was able to support himself through music.  He played piano in New York’s famous department store, Macy’s: Swing while you shop.

He tried his hand at composing his own songs as a pop singer in Los Angeles.  He also had an enormous respect for opera singers, and after trying his hand in an opera chorus, he was invited to an audition in Santa Fe.  He was then 29 years old:  “Cavarodossi in Tosca — that was the first role I sang.”  He was one of 1,000 hopefuls.  He had no experience, but he knew Italian and had a voice.  The New York Times wrote a good review: that was the beginning of his career as a tenor.

Where to from there?  He worried about the continuation of his career, knowing that every step of the ladder depended on his own industry and diligence.  “It’s a lifelong process–there are always new things.  For example, my next language: German.

Harrison has now discovered his dream role: Massenet’s “Werther.”  When he was signed up for this season, he still didn’t know the piece: “But it had often been said to me that this was a role for my voice.”  The music immediately had him under its spell.  He went to sleep  with the full score under his pillow and turned to the music as soon as his eyes were open.

While he describes himself as “lazy,” he learned the opera by heart, down to the last note, even the other parts.  “I haven’t sung as beautifully as now,” he enthused.  And in the theater, as they say, “it’s as if Massenet wrote “Werther” just for him.”

He is currently singing here in Carmen and La Traviata, as well as in Duesseldorf in “Cavalleria Rusticana” and the celebrated “Norma” performance.  In autumn, he has guest performances in Miami and Taipei.