30 performances. Seven cities. Five house debuts and two role debuts.
That is what tenor Brian Jagde faces in 2017. The first half of 2017 that is.
The tenor, who has been growing in prominence over the last few years, is slated for a monstrous calendar year that will see him make more house debuts than he ever has before.
Jagde came to prominence as a member of San Francisco’s Adler and Merola Programs before making waves at the Operalia Competition in 2012 where he received the Birgit Nilsson prize and won second place. From there, his career skyrocketed as he made auspicious debuts at major houses that included The Metropolitan Opera, the Opera de Bellas Artes, San Francisco Opera, Minnesota Opera, Santa Fe Opera, Lyric Opera of Chicago and Royal Opera among many others.
Chorus to Fake-i-Tone to International Tenor
Jagde, during a recent chat with OperaWire, admitted that this was far from what he could have ever imagined. He never grew up knowing anything about opera. He initially set out to study business and computer science before realizing how much he hated those professions. He auditioned for singing at a few schools before eventually finding himself in the slave chorus of Mozart’s “Die Zauberflöte” in a school production.
“It was during the chorus one night that I realized that this was what I wanted to do,” he revealed. “I fell in love with it immediately.”
He also learned four different parts for that production – he covered the role of Monastatos, performed the first priest and was a part of the priest chorus.
But it would not be smooth sailing from there. He was originally assigned as a baritone, or “fake-i-tone” as he referred to that period of his career. But he never had the low notes and the high notes seemed more natural, eventually putting him on the right path to be a star tenor.
One Debut After Another
Jagde is in a period of his career where he is constantly taking on new roles in new places. But he is keen to take his time with the new repertoire. As a rule of thumb, he usually does not program role debuts close to one another to give himself time to learn as well as keep his voice flexible and comfortable. In between, he reverts to his war horses, his “Pinkertons” and “Don Joses.”
“It’s about keeping your voice healthy. Those roles that you know that you can do and not be too stressed out,” he noted.
But the end of 2016 and start of 2017 present him with major role debuts and house debuts in close proximity.
In November he took on the fiendish role of Radamès in Verdi’s “Aida” at the San Francisco Opera for a whopping 11 performances between Nov. 5 and Dec. 6. It was not only the first time he ever sang the role, but also the first time he had taken it on on an A-list stage.
“It’s my first real Verdi,” he added before revealing that he could see himself taking on more roles by the iconic composer. “And I’m going to be doing ‘Trovatore’ in a few years and down the line there might be ‘Otello’ if I’m lucky. I think I have the right voice for it.”
Radamès’ night kicks off with the daunting “Celeste Aida,” an aria that features three climactic B flats while also forcing the tenor to throw his voice around with tremendous power and lightness at the same time. Throw in the fact that there is no opportunity to warm-up and you have an aria that has damaged careers and reputations.
“I guess that’s the question for everyone,” he responded when asked the best strategy for taking on the gargantuan task. “If you go into it thinking you’re not ready, then you won’t be. You have to be ‘game on’ the moment you get on stage, no matter what notes you sing. It’s like basketball. I have to get my game face on and prepare to make all of my shots on the court.”
Jagde also admitted that an additional struggle for him is that he cannot hear what is coming out of his body the moment it happens.
“When I’m singing I don’t hear anything. It’s in between phrases where I hear what key I am in,” he explained. “There’s a vibration that’s happening inside of me and there’s a sound that’s coming out of me and I can’t actually hear what’s coming out. I can only really feel the process and feel how my body is working.”
From his debut as Radamès , Jagde gets his first house debut of 2017 at the Bayerische Staatsoper in Munich as Don Jose in Bizet’s “Carmen,” a role that he relishes dramatically.
“I really enjoy going completely out of box as Don Jose in ‘Carmen,’ being that insecure man,” he enthused. “The guy that can’t resolve anything without violence. To go there dramatically is a lot of fun for a guy like me because I’m not like that on a regular basis. Thank God, otherwise my wife would kill me.”
Then comes Maurizio in Cilea’s “Andrea Lecouvreur” alongside Angela Gheorghiu, the foremost proponent of the eponymous role in the world at this very moment. Gheorghiu took on the role at the Royal Opera House alongside superstar Jonas Kaufmann in a production by Sir David McVicar. Jadge will step into that same production but is not thinking about filling anyone else’s shoes but his own. Instead, his focus is on the production and what he can take from his partner.
“The connection between Maurizio and Adriana in this [production] is magnetic. Other productions are more regal and proper, but this is more intimate. So to do it with Angela, who owns this role right now, on my role debut, is going to be an amazing learning experience,” he stated.
After his time in London, Jagde flies across the Atlantic to Washington for a house debut as Pinkerton in “Madama Butterfly” in May.
Then in June he heads north for his New York Philharmonic debut as Froh in Wagner’s “Das Rheingold,” a role debut as well.
Jagde covered the role for Brandon Jovanovich at San Francisco and was excited about singing Wagner with such a major orchestra. But before getting anyone overly excited about his dive into the titanic repertoire, he did express caution.
“I try to push it away as much as possible, because people have tried to bring up ‘Meistersinger [von Nurnberg]’ and I am simply not ready for that right now. Could I do Siegmund [from Die Walküre ] right now? Yea because it doesn’t go too high and it is actually one of the shorter roles, but I don’t really want to sing too much Wagner too soon,” he admitted.
“I want to keep my voice young and fresh and sing all my favorite pieces in the Italian verisimo. Like ‘Cavalleria Rusticana’ and ‘Pagliacci.’ That’s where my heart is.”
He won’t be singing either of those roles this year, but he will return to Italian repertoire for two more debuts. He makes his Oper Stuttgart debut in mid-June as Cavaradossi in “Tosca” and then runs off to Madrid to make his house debut at the Teatro Real as Macduff in “Macbeth.” He alternates those two runs for the ensuing weeks before his schedule clears out in the summer.
The Triumphant End to 2017
But there is still one more role debut coming at the end of the year.
“I will do ‘Turandot’ at end of the year,” he revealed before noting that he is not daunted at the prospect of taking on another titan of the tenor repertoire. “Calaf is actually not the longest role. It’s hard singing when you are on stage, but it is really short pops, maybe 20 minutes or so overall. It’s well paced.”
In the midst of this rising stardom, Jagde still sees himself as a student learning every day. He studies five days a week when he is home in New York and simply looks for ways to “learn and then learn some more.”
“You’re always learning. You never stop learning,” he noted.
The opera world will do a lot of learning about Brian Jagde in 2017.