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Rising Stars McKinney lg 1015
McKinny sings Biterolf in the Met’s Live in HDTannhäuser this month.
© James Salzano

R YAN MCKINNY’s finely honed musicianship and elegant, bel canto approach to his roles have earned him a reputation as one of the most promising dramatic bass-baritones today. He’s also smart enough to know that young artists who can handle Wagner are always in danger of oversinging themselves into early vocal decline. “I have learned to say no, and I mix up the repertoire a lot,” says McKinny. “My voice is capable of a lot of different things, and it isn’t everyone’s taste in Wagner. I don’t have a kind of Greer Grimsley, knock-you-over huge sound. But there’s a history of people like Thomas Stewart, who didn’t have that kind of cannon but made beautiful music with that repertoire. That’s my vein. But we have these large American houses, and often it’s hard to commit to that when you see that huge sea of an audience.” 

This season, McKinny, thirty-four, makes two benchmark debuts, at Teatro Colón and the Bayreuth Festival, as Amfortas at both. An alum of the Houston Grand Opera Studio, McKinny now travels the world with his wife and children. “My wife was an actress when we met,” he says. “She comes to rehearsal and gives me notes. We home-school the kids, which is very tricky but, so far, rewarding.”

In preparing for the future, McKinny focuses on building relationships with the conductors and directors whose work he most values. “I stay away from trying to take gigs that are for the purpose of becoming famous or rich,” he says. “I try to give myself more time to do things that maybe take more effort but have a better payoff artistically. This life is worth it when the art is worth it. The life isn’t really worth it for fame or money. If that’s what it becomes, I would rather go take a desk job.”

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