Grammy Award-Wining American Tenor Aaron Sheehan has established himself as a first-rate singer in many styles from oratorio and chamber music to the opera stage. He regularly performs in the United States, South America and Europe. He sang the title role in Boston Early Music Festival's recording of Charpentier's La Descente d'Orphée aux Enfers which won Best Opera Recording at the 2015 Grammy Awards.
Do you sing music of the Baroque & Renaissance, exclusively? What works best for your voice, and what are you happiest singing?
No, I don't sing Baroque & Renaissance music exclusively. I do think this music works best in my voice, and I am completely at home with Bach, Handel, and most French Baroque music. However, I also like singing composers like Britten, with his obvious inspiration by the baroque. I have recently been exploring more of the French chanson of Fauré, Hahn, and Debussy, which are exquisitely beautiful.
I know you as many US early music performers used to know each other: through our time at Indiana University's Early Music Institute (EMI). It used to be that having gone to the EMI was enough to create a connection and bond. Most of the pros came from there. Now things are different with music schools and conservatories like Juilliard focusing on early music/historical performance. Can you comment on the new generation of Early Music performers?
I think it is rather exciting that Early Music has proliferated into so many conservatories and schools across the country. I believe that more and more programs are actually being taken seriously, as well! The early music movement has grown up and is fairly mainstream. However, I can still give masterclasses throughout the country where students are dumbfounded by certain sounds used in our repertoire. I get questions like, "how do you make that sound?" or "what is this keyboard instrument with plucked strings?" These are sounds and instruments that have been around since the 17th century and can be found on thousands of recordings over the last fifty years! So, for all of the growing up we have done, I think there is a long way to go. I also hope that the scholarship of early music doesn't become watered down with this proliferation of talent.
You are a regular performer for the Boston Early Music Festival operas. These have been exceedingly popular. What is the appeal of Baroque opera today to the audience? Is it more relevant than traditional romantic opera of Verdi of Puccini?
I think the appeal of Baroque opera lies in its visual and aural beauty, but also in the fact that the story usually revolves around what it means to be human. Love, Loss, Regret, Fear, Hope, War, and did I say, Love?! These are themes of our lives today. I don't think Baroque music is more relevant than grand opera; it's just different and focuses on different aspects of the art form.
Tell us about your university teaching.
Teaching has always been a part of my career. I have found it to be helpful to my own singing, as well as an even keel in my life. I currently teach voice in the Historical Performance Department at Boston University, and I am a visiting teacher at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland. I have held teaching positions at Wellesley College, Brown University, and Towson University, but have had to slim down my teaching due to an uptick in the performance career. I love seeing students grow and develop over time. I think it is important for all of us in the early music world to help teach and spread the knowledge that we have gained from our mentors to new students.
What is your life like, traveling for work? How much time do you spend at home?
I travel quite a bit for work. It is definitely not a career for someone who hates travel or is a homebody. I would estimate in a given year that I spend 65% of my time on the road or not at home. It means a lot of sleeping in hotels, or patrons' homes- and eating out A LOT!!! It also means you need to have an understanding partner, which, thankfully, I do!
You recently won a GRAMMY for your performance in another Charpentier opera. What was that experience like? What does it mean to win this particular award, and how has it changed things for you?
Winning the GRAMMY was a wonderful experience and one I wish everyone could have. It is an honor to be recognized by your peers for your hard work and commitment to what we have all chosen to do in life. It's amazing to be completely stunned when they announce your name, to then give an off-the-cuff speech in front of the peers that voted for you. I will never forget the feeling.
I don't know if my life has changed too much. I have a little more performing work, and I acquired a manager. I also have been requested to sing more French Baroque music as of late, which is a good thing!
Have you been to Cincinnati before? We look forward to having you join us.
I actually have been to Cincinnati before. I used to date a singer that was at CCM while I was a student in IU Bloomington. I spend my last year of graduate school driving to Cincinnati 1-2 times a month before moving to there for the summer after my graduation. I then lived in Cincinnati for three months before finally moving to Boston in the fall of 2001. I haven't been back since, but am really looking forward to returning.
Click here to listen to Aaron sing an excerpt from the Charpentier opera La Descente d'Orphée aux Enfers.