Sound Bites spotlights up-and-coming singers and conductors in the world of opera.
Sound Bites: Ryan Speedo Green
Photographed by Dario Acosta in New York
Tie: Charvet, Bergdorf Goodman / Studs: Robert Lee Morris vintage / Grooming by Affan Malik
© Dario Acosta 2015
Ryan Speedo Green took his time figuring out what kind of singer he was. A tenor in high school, he transitioned to baritone as an undergraduate, then moved back to tenor, then baritenor. During his graduate-school days at Florida State University, his teacher, David Okerlund, figured out that Green needed to move down the scale, and he learned his first bass aria, “La calunnia.” But he remembers that in 2011, when he auditioned for San Francisco Opera’s Merola program, the S.F. Opera Center director, Sheri Greenawald, told him to throw out his repertoire, because he was really a high baritone.
That was the same year that everything turned for Green. He won the Met National Council Auditions as a bass and was later accepted into the company’s Lindemann Young Artist Program. He studied intensely for three years, taking a break from competitions until he felt he had mastered the intricacies of some of his rep and improved his language skills. “Up to that point, I had thought of competitions like any other audition. Even when I was doing the Met competition, I was thinking about keeping my voice aligned and spinning the B-flat, and sometimes when you think that way, you mess it all up. You’re not really performing.”
Now Green performs with a vengeance. When he returned to the competition circuit in 2014, he won big — a George London Foundation Award, grants from the Richard Tucker Foundation, an Annenberg, and first prize in the Gerda Lissner Foundation Competition. His winning aria was frequently Osmin’s “Solche hergelauf’ne Laffen,” from Die Entführung aus dem Serail, which he delivered in his big, booming bass. After making his Met debut as Turandot’s Mandarin in 2012–13, he joined the roster of the Vienna Staatsoper.
In 2011, journalist Daniel Bergner profiled Green for The New York Times Magazine, and the result, “Sing for Your Life,” was astonishing — an account of hardscrabble beginnings in a trailer park in Virginia and time in juvenile detention, all the while dreaming of becoming an opera singer. His earliest encourager was Elizabeth Hughes, his special-education teacher in elementary school. “She knew very little about opera,” he recalls, “but she paid for my ticket to see my first opera in New York City. She bought me my first suit and scores and books.”
Little, Brown and Company has decided that Green’s story has legs, and Bergner is busy expanding it into a book, scheduled for release in late 2016. “The trials and tribulations that every person has, opera singer or doctor, kind of puts stops in front of you,” says Green. “Do you walk over those stops and through the door? That’s your decision. I wanted to be a part of opera. I sucked up to whoever I had to suck up to.”
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