Written and interviewed by Administrative Associate Stephen J. Trygar
The Meet the New Resident Artists! Blog Series is a sequence of Q&As designed for you to get to know our new artists. Today, we invite you to learn about our new tenor, Shawn Roth! Mr. Roth comes to us with a Bachelor of Music in Voice Performance from the Oberlin Conservatory. He has performed a variety of different roles, such as Bardolfo in Falstaff at the Music Academy of the West, Pa in Proving Up with the Oberlin Opera Theatre, and Der Lakai in Ariadne auf Naxos with The Cleveland Orchestra. For a full list of Mr. Roth’s previous roles and competitions, visit his biography on the AVA website!
Tell us a little bit about yourself!
“I’m from a small town on the other side of Pennsylvania called Johnstown. I’ve been a musician all my life, starting piano lessons when I was four. I picked up multiple instruments growing up; I think I was able to play around fifteen at one point. So in a way, I guess it’s ironic that I ended up with the instrument that’s been inside me all along! While my other musical interests include accompanying myself on the piano and harpsichord, non-musically I love to hike, swim, ski, cook, and play basketball. That’s another thing; I’m so excited to live in a city with a basketball team and become a 6’ers fan! Though the Steelers will always be my number one in football.”
What has been your favorite role to perform?
“I actually have very little role experience as a tenor, since I moved up from baritone toward the end of my undergrad. I was lucky enough to have done a Don Giovanni with AVA coach Luke Housner in Portland, which I’d say was probably my favorite role to perform up until now. Mozart just has such eclectic music in that show, and a lot of it. It’s a beast of a role musically, incredibly fun to perform, and I feel it also inspires important discussions that we need to be having in opera today. Actually, I find it kinda funny how when Mozart wrote this music, the idea of an “Italian tenor” that you’d see in mid-to-late bel canto music hadn’t existed yet— so the men who sang it didn’t know if they were genuinely lower-voiced baritones or larger-voiced tenors, which was exactly my situation at the time. Maybe during my time in this field I could revive the idea of the Mozartian baritenor in a historically-informed performance of Donny G or the Count as a tenor. Stay tuned!”
What is your dream role?
“Dick Johnson in La fanciulla del West. I’m a huge fan of anything Puccini, obviously, but of all the roles I’d like to sing someday, this one’s music just speaks to me the most. Additionally, the fact that Puccini was writing about cowboys while they were still very much a thing is just wild to me. In an art form where it’s commonplace for composers to write music for stories that are hundreds of years old, here’s one of the standard composers in his prime writing about an era in another part of the world that was exotic to him but happening during his own life. To cap it all off, Johnson’s farewell aria is what I believe to be the most heartbreaking piece of music in the repertoire, and I really want to sing it!”
What made you want to get involved in opera?
“So I was always a musician, and always wanted to make music for a living. That was evident from day one. I saw opera as a continuation of the things I was already doing; just as classical piano was a step up from the pop arrangements I would play in my spare time, opera was a step up from the musical theatre and choral music I had always sung. I figured if I was already going to pursue music at the professional level, I might as well go for all the marbles and pick the hardest style to master.
“As for the story of how I chose opera specifically, that’s a little more whacky. I was at a regional choir in high school, and the conductor was auditioning people for solos in Mozart’s Regina Coeli. I knew if I sang this solo straight tone like all the other kids, there was no way I’d stand out and identify myself as a soloist. So I had the idea: “Maybe if I tried to sound like that crazy Pavarotti guy my friends and I send each other videos of, I’d stick out!” So I did my best impression, and got the solo. Now up in front of hundreds of people, acting like an opera singer, it made me want the real thing.
“I actually bumped into that same conductor at a chamber festival a few years ago, this time as colleagues. I told him about that story and thanked him for starting me out. Chris, if you’re reading this, thanks again!”
Tell us something interesting about yourself!
“I promise you that when you see me on a stage, you are seeing me at no less than 100%. I have worked tirelessly for everything I have been given, and I never squander an opportunity. I overcame what could have been a detrimental vocal transition and moved my entire voice up by a third in less than a year so that I could apply to post-graduate programs singing my true fach on time. Earlier I mentioned that I’m a basketball fan, and that was a bit of an understatement; someone like LeBron or Jordan is just as much of an inspiration for me as Corelli or Pavarotti. Singing, after all, is athletic. When I’m in the gym, I’m remembering Jordan’s words, but am listening to Corelli’s Il trovatore recording, and holding the last rep as long as he holds the C. Sometimes I feel the character of a piece so much that I can’t help but cry during performance, which of course requires more discipline of vocal technique to handle, so I account for my emotions in the practice room. The idea is, I will never be in control of whether someone is more talented than I, but I will always be in control of who works harder than I do. And I will not be outworked.
“I guess one last fun fact about me is that I have a rescued Himalayan cat named Eleanore who, as of the time of this writing, has ten thousand followers on Instagram. My sister runs the page, and I contribute from time to time, but Ellie of course writes the posts herself. You can check her out at @eleanore_thecat!”