All Roads Lead to Tosca...Through Carmen

a chance meeting with Tom Cruise

It started as a dream this morning--
One day, I decided to explore my new block and discovered a house with a public restroom. As I walked in, there he was—astonishingly, Tom Cruise. He looked at me warily, so I instinctively raised my hands, palms facing him as if to say, "I mean no harm." Frozen , I watched as he made his way to the bathroom. Summoning my courage, I finally spoke, "Tom Cruise, you're a great actor. My favorite film of yours is War of the Worlds." Just as I was about to give him what I'd consider a living eulogy, cotton mouth struck me. Struggling through the discomfort, I managed to rasp out, "You should have won an Oscar." Embarrassed, I walked around the corner to leave, only to find that he had looped around the house and was making a swift exit. He jumped into his black SUV, adorned with unusual national flags, and sped away. I started my walk home, initially holding back tears, but eventually breaking down, inconsolable. Then, like a scene cut short, I woke up.

TL/DR Making my role debut as Don José in "Carmen" with Opera Santa Barbara on September 29 and October 1, before launching into another debut as Cavaradossi in "Tosca" with Opera Orlando. Details at Opera Santa Barbara and Opera Orlando.

"Je ne menace pas..." Says Jose to Carmen in the fourth act. Interestingly, this very gesture in my dream is part of my portrayal as Don José in "Carmen," a role that has been both a challenge and a revelation.

As an artist, the excitement of a debut performance is always tinged with the collective experience that led us to this point—the rehearsals, the self-doubt, the breakthroughs, and, most importantly, the immense learning that shapes us both as artists and human beings.

"Art is the most beautiful of all lies," said Claude Debussy. But behind that beautiful lie is a reality of hard work, emotional upheaval, and often, silent struggles.

This last season has been a rollercoaster, to say the least. Kicking off last year ( really? 2022? I barely remember it) with Don Ottavio at the new Charleston Opera Theater's Don Giovanni, segueing into a new and exciting technology development, diving into a new production of Paul Moravec and Mark Campbell's "The Shining" at Opera Parallele — A jaunty orchestral reading of Gordon Getty's Plumpjack was next, where I sang the role of Hal, (nee Henry the Fifth ... a role I'll fight anyone for), Then came the recording of 14 classical epoch arias for the Pentatone label with Opera Marseille, 12 of which were completely new to me and were all a master class of singing,.. and now to my Carmen and Tosca debuts.

When I began learning the aria album (Shadows in the Daybreak) I was hanging out in a posh hotel in Napa. I was so stressed, occasionally I'd whimper out loud if my mind wandered from being in the moment. Those who have known me for a long time have seen me fail, and witnessed my setbacks. While failure was this current part of success, I loathed the thought of not meeting expectations and more importantly, the building back, the restarting. I just wanted no part of it. And yet my schedule was not entirely my own.

Obligations and a feeling of honor and duty made this journey truly challenging and found me rubbing shoulders with uncertainty...defeat.

But slowly, like a sculptor (as that ultimately is what I am, friends) I put time in. Each coaching session, each note ponded, each rehearsal slowly chipped away at my insecurities, turning them into stepping stones. The lines started flowing, the character began living within me, and the ensemble around me became a source of strength and inspiration. I am particularly thankful to my directors, coaches, and fellow artists who’ve been integral to this journey. Their wisdom, support, faith and hope have transformed this process into an enriching experience. Like, kinda fun, really! My time singing with fellow UCLA Alumna, Sarah Saturnino, also making her role debut as Carmen, has been inspirational. I see her at the beginning of her long career. She's, hella talented, strong, vibrant, and totally excited about opera and what it means as an art form.

"Joy is not in things; it is in us." --Richard Wagner
The joy, the passion, the camaraderie, in creating something as emotionally resonant as opera comes not just from the notes on a page, but from the people who bring them to life.

Through it all, and through our 5th anniversary, my wife Jamie has been my keystone. She fed me when I couldn't. Washed clothes when all I could do was look at a wall. Prompted time off for health and longevity, added levity. When all I want to do is pick her up and carry her, she has carried me. Opera is all-encompassing at times. It truly is an Olympic endeavor. I'm not kidding. The amount of brainwork it takes to memorize and realize a musical work is massive. Couple that with the physicality of acting it out, and then, with Carmen... the sheer brute force of the combat and the weight of it psychologically... it's just ... wow.

And now, as I simultaneously prepare for another debut, this time as Cavaradossi in "Tosca" with Opera Orlando, I find each role and each project that I've undertaken this season has built upon the last. It's a continuing saga of personal and artistic development, of facing the precipice of failure and finding the courage to leap forward anyway... well, maybe inch forward :)

With the debut of Don José just hours away at Opera Santa Barbara's Granada Theater and "Tosca" on the horizon, I can say with growing confidence that my whimper has transformed into songs that carry the weight of centuries.

And so, I find myself looking forward to the final curtain call, not as an end, but as the thrilling next step in an ongoing journey.


Nathan Granner