On May 18, 2018, bass-baritone Kyle Albertson had one of the most surprising experiences of his career. Albertson, who is currently covering the role of Wotan at the San Francisco Opera, was asked on short notice to sing a concert performance of the role with the Dallas Symphony.
After saying yes, Albertson took the first flight to Dallas and arrived at the theater seven minutes before Act Two when Wotan makes his first entrance of the evening. The result, was one memorable performance, which scored the singer rave reviews.
OperaWire had a chance to speak with Albertson about the experience and what he felt during this adrenaline-filled showcase.
OperaWire: What was it like to jump into a performance without any prep time?
Kyle Albertson: In a word? Surreal. The whole experience was surreal. To receive a call while enjoying your morning coffee asking if you can jump on a plane as soon as possible to sing your first Wotan was surreal.
OW: Did you hesitate before saying yes, especially because you had never performed the role? It’s also Wagner and a monumental role.
KA: When my agent called and asked me if I could do it, there was a brief moment of pause. Besides the logistics of getting to Dallas, getting released from San Francisco opera rehearsals (thank you so much SFO!!!), etc, there was also the fact that it’s frickin’ Wotan in “Die Walküre!!!” Yeah, it gave me a moment of pause, but in the end, it became a moment of “Why the hell not?!”
OW: Walk me through the experience on the way to the airport and what you were feeling?
KA: On the way to the airport, it was pure panic. After getting off the phone with my agent and good friend, Vanessa Uzan, and saying “Yes I can do it,” things happened quickly. She told me to get my stuff and head to the airport immediately while she talked to SFO about a release etc. Worse case scenario, I was taking an Uber to the airport and back. So I showered, threw some clothes in a bag (word of advice, never pack in panic mode because you never pack the right stuff), and headed off to the airport. Vanessa called me back and said SFO had released me, and to buy the first ticket to Dallas I could get, so I did. Next thing you know, I’m on the plane!
OW: How did you prepare when you have never been on the stage, worked with the conductor and never seen your cast mates?
KA: It’s really kind of impossible to prepare for that kind of experience. You basically just have to do what you do. There were so many variables in play, that all I had control over was me, and I barely had control of that. I spent the plane ride reviewing my score, listening to recordings, and softly humming along (apologies to the gentleman sitting next to me). That was basically all the prep I could do.
I think the biggest challenge of everything was trying to stay calm. It was all so exciting, and adrenaline-based. Once I touched down in Dallas, there was no time to think, it was go go go! I just had to remember to breathe.
OW: What was it like to work with Jaap van Sweden, a conductor you had never worked with?
KA: Working with Maestro van Zweden was an absolute privilege. I met him only briefly before walking on stage. We shook hands, and he told me “Good Luck.” I could not have asked for a better conductor for my first Wotan. He was with me every note, and at the same time managed the orchestra brilliantly. It truly was an honor.
OW: Since you’re covering in SF Opera, did the prep work there help you for this huge challenge?
KA: Absolutely. The prep and help from the coaches, conductors, directors at SFO was invaluable. And watching Greer Grimsley do Wotan for the past month is like receiving a free master class. Without the “education” I received from the people at SFO, there is no way I could have pulled off my performance.
OW: What kind of support did your castmates give you during the performance? Was it helpful to have friends in the cast and how did it affect you?
KA: Everyone involved with the performance at DSO was amazing. Everyone. And my colleagues were a godsend. Before Act two began, I was greeted by Simon O’Neill and Michelle DeYoung with heartfelt smiles and words of thanks and of well wishes for the performance. Simon even cracked a joke about it being a requirement to throw in a “baritone claw” in the show. They helped me relax and enjoy what was happening. Then I saw the Brünnhilde, and my good friend, Heidi Melton. She gave me a giant hug, and said “Oh this is gonna be awesome!” We talked through a few dramatic logistics, laughed a bit, then we were off to the races! One of the toughest parts of the evening was in Act three, where Wotan storms on stage looking for Brünnhilde who is being hidden by the Valkyries. Many of the amazing women singing the Valkyries are my friends, and all I wanted to do was turn to them and smile and wave, but I didn’t think that would be appropriate for Wotan.
OW: Did you guys have time to go over anything for the third act after the second?
KA: I was picked up at the airport by a member of the DSO artist team, and assistant conductor for the show, Miloš Repicky. Miloš talked me through Act two tempi etc on the drive to the theater, while I changed clothes in the back seat. During intermission after Act two, we repeated the process for Act two, but this time I had my clothes on. Miloš was a life saver.
OW: Did having the music on hand help or do you find working off-book more freeing?
KA: I had been informed that Matthias Goerne, the fabulous baritone I was filling in for, was planning on using his score on stage, and it was okay for me to do so as well. Having the ability to refer to my score if needed helped relieve a little bit of stress for me. I was still able to interact with my colleagues, though at times, the stand did get in the way.
OW: What was one major takeaway from the experience?
KA: I learned that the Boy Scouts were right. Be prepared. I learned that I have an amazing support system. A fantastic wife, family, friends, management, colleagues. I knew that before all this, but the events of this weekend cemented that fact. I learned that I still have a lot of room for growth and improvement. And I learned I could do it. It was a huge gamble, one that could have gone horribly, but it didn’t. And that’s pretty cool.
OW: What is next after this incredible performance?
KA: Next is back to San Francisco to resume my cover duties. After that? A vacation. Then gearing up for an Escamillo at the Phoenicia Festival of the Voice, covering Wotan in “Siegfried” at Lyric Opera of Chicago, a Sparafucille at San Diego Opera, and a Lt. Horstmeyer at Arizona Opera. No rest for the wicked.