Opera's Next Wave
Onstage, tenor Alek Shrader seems one of the most naturalistic actors among opera singers. His singing is distinguished by a simultaneous lyricism and verve; he performs one of his signature arias, La Fille du Régiment's "Pour mon âme," with a wonderful insouciance. When he sings in English, he never succumbs to outmoded "concert diction." In Ned Rorem's Our Town at Juilliard Opera Center in 2008, he seamlessly inhabited the part of Grover's Corners's George Gibbs, struggling with the unexpected complexities of ordinary life. Since much of modern opera production strives for a more precise realism than ever before, a performer with Shrader's disarming warmth is certain to be in high demand, especially in the age of the HD revolution.
Shrader learned a trick or two about performing on camera when he was one of the Met finalists under scrutiny in the 2009 documentary The Audition. "On the first day," he recalls, "I caught myself being kind of aware of the camera, and actually noticing that it might be affecting my behavior. So early on, I ignored it and tried to make the best of this once-in-a-lifetime chance, and really focus on the audition."
Shrader hasn't had much in the way of formal acting training. He claims that his most valuable on-the-job experience comes from working with directors such as Ken Kazan and Stephen Wadsworth. "I also find," he says, "that my comfort zone for acting involves more of a false portrayal, rather than imbuing these characters with little pieces of my reality. I'm not a Method actor. So when I'm acting, I'm pretending. It's been something natural that I've always had, and I've always been able to craft it working with these excellent directors."
Shrader, whose dream role, ten years out, is the Duke of Mantua in Rigoletto, tries hard to downplay the idea that opera singers might be rarefied creatures. "I've stayed pretty mainstream in my training — very blue collar, if you want. That's what I'm trying to prove on sort of a personal platform — that being an opera singer doesn't require some lofty attitude or arrogance, or anything other than a regular person would have. When given the chance to speak with younger people, I always try to say, 'I'm a normal person. This is accessible.' There's still a pretty big wall there in terms of young people having the wrong sort of expectations about opera. I think the major obstacle is getting them to attend the performance. We've got to do everything we can to remove the walls, the hesitations."
Send feedback to OPERA NEWS.