Sound Bites spotlights up-and-coming singers and conductors in the world of opera.

Sound Bites: Christian Van Horn

by F. PAUL DRISCOLL

Sound Bites Van Horn hdl 312
Photographed in Chicago by Brian Kuhlmann
Grooming by Karen Lynn Accattato
© Brian Kuhlmann 2012
Sound Bites Van Horn sm 312
© Brian Kuhlmann 2012

Christian Van Horn has a leading man's energetic charm and dashing good looks — virtues that were kept somewhat under wraps this past fall, when he was singing Raimondo in Lucia di Lammermoor and Crespel in Les Contes d'Hoffmann at Lyric Opera of Chicago and Turandot's Timur at San Francisco Opera. "When I show up for a job and go to have a wig fitting, I can always spot mine — it's the gray one, and it usually has a long, gray beard to go with it." Van Horn has a fair amount of practice playing older men: during his two full seasons as a contract artist at Bayerische Staatsoper, his seventeen roles included a run as Edita Gruberova's father in Norma, an experience he says was "kind of like singing with Angelina Jolie, because [Gruberova] is so wildly famous there. The applause after the show would last for an hour sometimes, and the crowds of people waiting for her outside the theater were unbelievable."

Van Horn, who is revving up for "the dream assignment" of the four villains in Hoffmann next season at San Francisco Opera, cites as his current favorite role Mozart's Figaro, an ideal vehicle for his firm, elegantly deployed bass-baritone, easy wit and lanky grace. He first sang Figaro professionally in 2005, at Chicago Opera Theater, shortly before he joined the Lyric Opera Center for American Artists. "Figaro is a perfect fit for me, vocally. And from an acting standpoint, it's easy to know that guy. You know? He's young and in love, working hard, believes he's the smartest guy in the room, even if he isn't. It's easy to identify with someone who has money and society stacked against him. All of us have been there at some point. It was easy to tap into that." 

Van Horn's intelligent, self-possessed performing style is consistently striking, whether he is taking on the challenge of creating a leading role in a new work, such as his uncommonly sympathetic portrait of the cuckolded Karenin in David Carlson's Anna Karenina, or singing Angelotti in Tosca. "Very early on, I thought this business was all about being noticed. Then I realized it was all about not being noticed, you know what I mean? You know, being overly prepared, being always on time. Nobody should ever be concerned about you — it's your job to be rock-solid. If you're singing Zuniga, you prepare it as if it were Wotan. You need to absolutely hit a home run every chance you get, because that's the only thing that's going to get you the next bigger role. You don't treat the small things like they're small things. They absolutely will lead to the big things." spacer 

F. PAUL DRISCOLL

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Current Issue: December 2014 — VOL. 79, NO. 6