Thursday, April 16, 2015

The Unique Voice and Career of Michael Maniaci

Internationally acclaimed Michael Maniaci will be singing at Catacoustic's final concert this season on April 26. (For more information on this concert, click here.) Let's learn a little more about him.

You have such an unusual voice – what can you tell us about it? How does your range compare to countertenors, altos, sopranos? How do you find or choose music that suits it?

My range is most similar to that of a mezzo soprano. It sits higher than most traditional countertenor voices. Yet one of the best things to come out of the industry's relatively new fascination with countertenors in opera repertoire is how varied and unique each countertenor voice truly is. No two sound alike, and it’s great fun to hear the differences and contrasts between multiple voices in the countertenor family.  My voice happens to sit higher than most…but the easiest vocal description is to be referred to as a countertenor.

While most countertenors have specialized in operatic repertoire that sits in a solid alto register, I’m most comfortable in higher roles, such as Sesto in Mozart’s Clemenza di Tito, Idamante in Idomeneo, and Sesto in Handel’s Giulio Cesare. It can be challenging to find opportunities to perform these roles, as rather conservative producers still tend to favor women playing these male characters. But I’ve been fortunate to perform both the Mozart roles in Toronto with Tafelmusik, and they were exceptionally enjoyable musical experiences.

What kind of music do you like to sing best?  What are your favorite performances? 

My career began on opera stages, as opposed to appearing in concerts halls. This wasn’t a personal choice, it’s just how the cookie crumbled. So the majority of my most memorable musical experiences come from the opera stage. When I had recently graduated from CCM, and was continuing my studies at the Juilliard School, I was invited to sing the title role in Handel’s Xerxes at Wolf Trap, in their superb Young Artists program. I remember being terrified ahead of time. Never having tackled a role so vocally and dramatically demanding before, I was scared I would fall flat on my face. But I learned so much that summer, and had amazing support and encouragement from conductor Gary Wedow, who taught me so much. I surpassed my own expectations and discovered I had the right to do this when I grew up, and needed to keep working hard to hone my craft.

Another meaningful moment occurred when I sang the role of Medoro in Handel’s Orlando at Glimmerglass Opera - a role they offered me a year earlier while in their Young Artists program. It was my first chance to share the stage with a truly world-class cast, and receive my first exposure to major US and international press. Medoro sings a haunting aria in Act 2, when he and his lover, believing they will never see each other again, carve their initials into a tree, so all may know of their love after their deaths. It was the first time I brought down a house  -- and while every kid who dreams of show biz takes pretend bows in the basement to imaginary cheers and applause, when it actually happened tears welled up and I just felt so fortunate and blessed to be there.

Since then there have been amazing experiences, such as my Metropolitan Opera debut in Giulio Cesare, (including running offstage at the end of a scene and crashing into set pieces that had been moved into place for the next day’s performance of a different production), being hired by Teatro La Fenice to learn, memorize, and pull off the title role in Meyerbeer’s Il Crociato in Egitto in two weeks and winding up on the DVD (which was shot from the final dress and second performance… the final dress being the first time I was ever in costume, let alone singing the role from beginning to end), and Christopher Alden’s wonderfully singular and powerful staging of Handel’s Imeneo at Glimmerglass Opera. Chris knew the score better than anyone else in the room, and his ideas and focus challenged me so deeply in the most wonderful sense. He helped me find something so profound and meaningful…the connection with the audience was truly intense, and I’ve really never experienced an opera production like it since.

How do you come to live in Cincinnati?

I attended UC-CCM as an undergraduate, where I studied with David Adams, and from there continued my education at the Juilliard School. I’m still so impressed by the work ethic and standards CCM instills in its students, and the results their graduates enjoy. It really was a phenomenal experience and I’m proud to be an alum.

Tell us about the music from this upcoming concert. Will you have to sing in Chinese?

For this concert, the repertoire will be contemporary, but written for baroque instruments. I can’t think of anything more fun. To hear these baroque instrumental colors exploited by modern artistic sensibilities and musical palates is fantastic. Whether a piece was written in 2015 or 1715, the same responsibilities still apply:  bringing to life the text and color world the composer has provided in the score. The piece by Tan Dun is in Chinese, but this is not my first experience with the language or culture. On a one-month tour of China and Singapore with the Shanghai Opera Orchestra, I learned, or rather had pounded into my brain, two Mandarin folk songs which I performed from memory. While on my trip I saw a lot of arts programming on television, which included transfixing excerpts of traditional Chinese opera. The sounds, style, and vocal techniques from that genre will be on full display in our concert - and it will offer the Catacoustic audiences the chance to listen to something they’ve never heard before in Cincinnati.

I look forward to seeing everyone at the performance and will be there to visit for a bit afterwards.  Unfortunately I won’t be able to stay for long as I have to drive overnight to Charleston, SC. My rehearsals for a staged production of Cavalli’s Veremonda with Spoleto USA begin the next morning at 10:00 am! This program will be a lot of fun and I’m honored to be a part of Catacoustic’s spring season. See you there!