Retrospective Review

A written interview of Nathan Granner by author Gale Martin

At one point in my career, things were not going well at all. Author Gale Martin always knew when to write me, just in the middle of some uptick in my schedule. When we first met, she had just written a murder mystery entiled Don Juan in Hankey, PA, and had enlisted me to read it and , from on the road, write a review. (Lovely novel, really). She had also started a blog named Operatoonity, writing about opera performances, recordings and interviewing opera glitterati about their lives and careers.

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This interview was after a decade long slog through obscurity. Two years after I had chosen as a last resort to apply to grad school, I was on roll. Bohemes were popping up and Id been working regularly with Brenna Whitaker and through her, David Foster. My stint with West Bay Opera in The Bay Area, turned out to be the tip of the iceburg working in that delightful opera-centric city. Here are the questions answered as a snapshot in the life of this long-time operatic tenor. -NG

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Gale Martin: Last time we connected, you released a "HYMN -- Songs of Great Faith" with (fellow tenor and Bob Quintana roster mate Ben Gulley). So catch me up. What have you been up to?

Dear me. That’s a lot of life lived! SO. Much. Has. Happened!
Not to write a novel (wink wink) about this period. Let’s just say that creating the Gulley/Granner LLC brand, really helped kickstart Ben and me into getting both of us established in the opera world.

We went on to raise funds and release a second independent album, Benchmark, Vol. 1, Tenor Arias and Duets with Piano Quartet. I produced the live show taping of a PBS special on Virgil Thomson (just the show part) at Kansas City’s Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts and a couple other high tech musical installations in the area. Ben and I also won a couple of awards at the Mozilla (Firefox) Hackathon for Google Fiber combining music and technology for the Gigabit network.

Almost directly after that, Ben got picked up for his first solo tour. Fully supportive, but not having a partner for a year I went back to school to get my Masters Degree at UCLA.

It was supposed to be more about producing, but I like to say that the instructors basically locked me in a practice room for two years.

During that time at UCLA I not only learned a lot about musicianship and opera, but I also became (through my dear friend and amazingly talented Verve/United jazz chanteuse Brenna Whitaker) the kind of go to opera guy for David Foster on the West Coast.

I graduated, and signed onto the Robert Mirshak roster and went off to NYC to audition for my first roles out of college. My first was for Spoleto USA in Studio C of the Metropolitan Opera. I got lost on the way out and by the time I got out of the building I had been cast as Triquet in Eugene Onegin.

That was last year. I sang Curly in “Oklahoma!” as well as Edgardo (with my now wife and amazing soprano Jamie Chamberlin) in “Lucia di Lammermoor,” The Magician in “The Consul” and premiered the role of Morel in the world premiere of Stewart Copeland’s (of The Police) “The Invention of Morel, ” both at Chicago Opera Theater and Long Beach Opera.

Somewhere in there I did my first Rodolfo at Tulsa Opera, Opera San Luis Obispo and most recently back to back with West Bay Opera and where I am right now, Opera Santa Barbara, where we will open this beautiful production in about 10 days from this writing.

2. Looks like you are singing back-to-back Rodolfo's this fall? Is that a signature role for you?

I haven’t signed anything … JK. … Anyone? Anyone? Buehler?

In this biz, a signature role is a rare thing. I’m just fortunate to be immersed into this character and have been able to inhabit Rodolfo so utterly. More than anything, La Boheme has allowed me to sing with and befriend so MANY excellent singers and opera folks.

There is sadness and pain, you know, with this opera. The first time I sang it was a rough, rough time for me personally. I have learned that keeping rehearsals light and breezy, for the most part, is really crucial to the process. Sure we have to practice the entire show, and face the tragic end (of youth and innocence), but to do that in rehearsal for weeks at a time can be quite damaging, so … Keep it Light, Keep it light, keep it Gay!

3. You had been touring for years with The American Tenors? Are you back to live opera performance exclusively? If so, for how long?

I miss my AMTEN time for sure. Singing with Ben and Daniel Montenegro most of all, as well as Jessie Lynch our long time accompanist. I miss the road. Specifically waking up with a freshly brewed cup of coffee and stepping out of the tour bus and seeing the amazing country at my fingertips. The colors of the Northeast, The Potomac River, the green of Mississippi, the grandness of Montana and the beauty of the Golden Isles in Georgia… The crowds and the music.

I have at least three more records in me to record and am getting pretty desperate for the studio too.

I’ve missed opera, you know, but being a newlywed, I miss my Bae and pine to be with her and sing with her on every stage.

The world of singing opera is never a constant. Even when one has dedicated their life to the art form, it is as fickle as The Duke of Mantua projects onto Gilda. For the time being, I am just trying to keep and grow the career and sing at the best level of competence that I can.

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4. Where do you call home these days?
L.A. (Now Santa Maria, CA)

5. What roles are you waiting or wanting to sing. (Sometimes tenor voices have to catch up to certain roles, right?).

I’m actually wanting to reprise Nemorino and Tamino. Such great roles. Tom Rakewell from Rakes’ Progress.

A friend of mine is set to premiere “Alice in Wonderland” in the EU, and I’m really looking to sing Mad Hatter! Duke in “Rigoletto”. I just got cast in “I Due Foscari” this January/Feb 2019, so I’m super looking forward to that one!

I’d love to take a look at Charlie Parker from “Yardbird.” My friend Larry, who premiered it said it was particularly challenging. I’m from Kansas City though and many of my friends are Jazz musicians, so I’d REALLY love to at least take it on once.

Impossible dreams?
I want to premiere Tony Montana in the non-existent “Scarface” Lebowski in “The Big Lebowski” (also non-existent).

I really, really love new opera if you couldn’t tell. I just want to sing compelling and relevant roles germaine to contemporary culture. I DO love me some 19th Century romantic stuff though, so yeah. I’m game for whatever right now.

6. Tell me about your charitable work and why you do it.

Charitable work is a huge part of my life. In some respects, singing opera is a charitable work... No joke.

I sing for the ALS Foundation when I can. I am a true lover of anything to do with eradicating Parkinson’s disease, in honor of my late grandmother, Marie Kimmel.

And I am a fan and new supporter of WildAid, protecting wildlife and reducing demand for animal parts is a calling of mine too.

I think on some level, to do what I love has to be done on a real holistic basis. Giving back is a big part of that. While I am not at the point in my career I can sing totally pro bono, I do a lot of non-musical work for organizations. Public speaking, creating images, and design -what have you- is a way I can work without the need to reduce fees for my artistic discipline.

Favorite opera: “The Rake’s Progress” Igor Stravinski

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Favorite composer: I can’t! Too many!!!

Favorite Italian composer: Ottorino Respighi. Pines of Rome anyone? PS, there’s a Rodolfo line in the first act of Boheme “L'amore è un caminetto che sciupa troppo,” which has total Respighi “Pines of Rome” intervals. No one else really gets that, but I still love it every time.

Favorite venue: WaterFire in Kansas City, or Providence.

Favorite aria: All Hands, from “Postcard From Morocco” by Dominick Argento and Oblivion Soave from Monteverdi’s L’Incoronazione di Poppea. Go figure. I mean I GUESS I could say too Che Gelida Manina… especially now that my Hi C is really popping these days.

Thanks so much, Nathan.