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

Sound Bites: Brenton Ryan

The Missouri-born tenor sings Puccini, Mozart, Britten and Monteverdi this season.
By F. Paul Driscoll 

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Photograph by Dario Acosta
Grooming by Affan Graber Malik
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Tenor Brenton Ryan, a versatile singing actor
© Dario Acosta

ONE OF THE STANDOUT characterizations in the Met’s 2017 production of Tosca was Brenton Ryan’s oily, sharp-eyed performance as the police agent Spoletta, who oozed his way in and out of scenes like a malevolent shadow. The Saint Louis native, who made his Met debut in 2016 with a crisp, cheery performance as Pedrillo in Die Entführung aus dem Serail, returns to the company this season for more Spolettas, and for his house role-debut as Monostatos in The Magic Flute. Ryan’s 2018–19 calendar also holds Lysander in A Midsummer Night’s Dream at Opera Philadelphia; his European debut, as Pedrillo at Opéra de Monte-Carlo; and Nero in The Coronation of Poppea at Opera Theatre of Saint Louis. 

Asked if he sees himself as a singing actor, Ryan acknowledges, “Acting is locked into my singing technique. I notice that whenever I get tense or uncomfortable onstage, it’s because my thought process is too centered on singing. If I ignore the character, then my singing suffers. Honoring the theatrical aspect of it is directly tied into my vocal technique.

“When I was eight years old, we moved to a small town, and I was forced to be in a local production of the musical Oliver! I was super shy as a kid, and my parents wanted me to make new friends. I went in kicking and screaming, because I didn’t want to do it. But I liked it—I got bitten by the bug and have loved performing ever since. It makes me physically free and vocally free to be someone else for a few hours—it’s an excuse for me to be extroverted and have fun.”

Ryan’s first job at the Met wasn’t onstage; for two seasons after he finished graduate school at Rice University, he worked in the Met Opera gift shop. “I was in New York, doing the singer thing and auditioning and getting gigs here and there. So I knew the house really well in terms of how it looked from the auditorium. Then, a few years later, when I was [a Domingo–Colburn–Stein Young Artist] at LA Opera, I was offered the chance to audition at the Met, which was really surreal. Looking back, it’s still hard to believe that it happened, but it was fun. Pedrillo was a great debut role for me, because his first moments onstage are just dialogue, not a big aria. Being able to start with dialogue helped me get my theater shoes in a bit, which relaxed me for the rest of the show!” spacer 

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