During the 2015 season, the blog will feature interviews with our Filene Young Artists. Today, we hear from baritone Reginald Smith, Jr.,, Count Almaviva in Figaro and a member of the cast for Steven Blier’s Rodgers Family concert.
Which experience(s) most influenced your decision to become a professional singer? What’s the earliest point in your life that you can identify in pointing you in this direction?
When I was a sophomore in high school, my high school choir had the opportunity to see the final dress rehearsal of the opera Tosca. I didn’t know what opera was, but I knew I would get out of school for most of the day if I went. I’m so glad that I made the decision to go! After seeing this opera, I was hooked. I bought CDs, looked up singers, and even started taking voice lessons.
Can you tell us an anecdote or story from your training or career so far that will give us insight into what makes you tick as an artist?
I just love singing and exploring many different characters. The music makes me tick.
If you hadn’t chosen this career, what would you have pursued instead?
I have always been a choral music nerd; so much so that I have a degree in Choral Music Education (K-12). So, if I weren’t singing, I would be teaching high school choir and voice.
What non-operatic music do you enjoy? Do you dabble in performing/playing/singing any other genres?
Well, I grew up in Atlanta in the church. So, I always feel at home with gospel music. I have a few gospel songs/hymns that I sing often. Besides gospel, I really enjoy most genres of music. However, often, you can catch me listening to my Motown playlist.
What interesting things have you discovered about yourself or about your character (in this summer’s operas) during your role preparation? What aspects of your character are natural fit with your personality and/or which aspects are a stretch for you?
Well, I often believe that Count Almaviva in Le nozze di Figaro comes off as barky/angry or very unintelligent. I like to believe that the Count is a smart man who is making many not-so-smart decisions. Regardless of his actions and poor decision making, he is still the Count. I think we can all identify with making not-so-smart decisions, and I find that playing the character this way makes him very relatable.
What’s your favorite part (or parts) of the preparation/rehearsal/performance process(es)?
I love the “first day of school” when you get to see old friends, make new ones, and sing glorious music with amazing colleagues. Likewise, I always enjoy the Sitzprobe. It is a magical moment when you go from rehearsing with the piano to actually singing with the orchestra. It really gets you pumped up!
What aspect(s) of this career do you find the most challenging?
One of the aspects of this career than can be challenging is the time away from home. I believe you really have to figure out hobbies and things that interest you that can explored while on the road. Some people like cuisines, museums, architecture, etc; you just have to find what works for you.
Do you have any “hacks” that make your job easier/more enjoyable?
I think a good “hack” is never being satisfied with what you know or how you sing a piece of music. Always be willing to explore about the music, why it was written, what was happening historically, for whom was it written, etc. Even if it is an old piece, always approach it is as something new. You never know what you’ll find.
What’s the most exciting thing you think is happening in the opera industry today? The most discouraging/challenging thing? If you could change one thing about our art form and/or industry, what would it be?
I think one of the most important and exciting things happening in opera today is making it more relatable to our generation. This has manifested itself in new operas, chamber operas, new productions, and increased outreach to our communities.
In an attempt to connect to today’s generation, often times you see productions that are wildly radical and have no resonance to the music. I think the first thought in opera should opera should always be the voice and the story.
Our generation craves realness. We want to get to the core and heart of the music. One of the things I would like to change is the perception of what is an opera singer. We are real people that play real characters with real stories through extraordinary music. I believe by showing this side of the music, our art form will continue to thrive.
If you were talking about opera with someone who has never experienced it, what part(s) of it would you be most excited to explain to them?
I always go for the story first. I tell them the story in clear and down to earth language. Often times they are very engaged by the story alone. Then, I like to show them clips of that opera on YouTube. After awakening their imagine, I say, “Now imagine that live with no microphones. It is just the human voice and the orchestra.”
What’s your dream role and why?
I have two dream roles. One would be to sing Scarpia in Tosca. He is such a wonderfully complex character that you hate but secretly love as well. My other dream role would be to sing Rigoletto. In addition to the story, have you heard his music in the opera? That alone is worth it! Thank you, Verdi!
Do you have any artistic heroes? People whose careers or artistry you particularly look up to?
I look up to many artists. I think one can learn from anyone in all situations. I learn from current singers and older singers alike. I try to absorb it all to help me become the best “me” that I can be.
If you could travel back in time to meet any composer/artist from a former time, who would that be and why?
One of the artists that have always moved me is Leonard Bernstein. Whether he was composing, conducting, playing, or teaching he always did it with such overwhelming passion. I would have loved to work with him and absorbed some of that passion.
What are you most looking forward to this summer?
I am really looking forward to singing Count Almaviva in Le nozze di Figaro! It is a great role, and moreover, it will be fun to sing the Count after having performed both Antonio and Figaro. It is going to be a great summer of music making with tremendous musicians in a gorgeous part of the country! Who could ask for a better summer?!