OPERA NEWS - Sound Bites: Christian Pursell
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Sound Bites spotlights up-and-coming singers and conductors in the world of opera.

Sound Bites: Christian Pursell

A California bass-baritone is thriving as an Adler Fellow in San Francisco.
By F. Paul Driscoll

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Photograph by Tai Power Seeff at San Francisco Opera’s War Memorial Opera House
Grooming by Sara Chestnutt-Fry
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Baritone Christian Pursell, an Adler Fellow at San Francisco Opera
© Tai Power Seeff

CHRISTIAN PURSELL remembers his San Francisco Opera debut this past September, as Walter Raleigh in Roberto Devereux, as “an absolute blast, but kind of a surreal moment in my life—at least the first night was. Being with such great artists—Sondra Radvanovsky, Jamie Barton, Russell Thomas—and singing with them in such a huge house was nearly overwhelming, but still so special.” 

The twenty-eight-year-old bass-baritone, now in his first year as an Adler Fellow at SFO, was raised in Santa Cruz. While earning his bachelor’s degree at San Francisco Conservatory, Pursell attended as many productions at SFO as he could. “I got to see great shows—Dolores Claiborne, Moby-Dick, Handel’s Partenope. Those productions made me see the high standard I needed to aim for if I wanted to do this career. When I went to [University of Cincinnati–College-Conservatory of Music] for graduate school, it was my chance to get my feet wet in opera—to learn the skills I needed to be in it. My teacher there, Tom Baresel, helped refine my technique and get away from making an issue out of everything, so I could move on to the next step and not think about technique, but think about singing.” 

Pursell, who sings Samuel in Handel’s Saul with the Philharmonia Baroque in April, says his favorite role “so far” is Dandini in La Cenerentola, which he took on in 2017 during his season in the Merola Opera Program. “Bel canto is in my wheelhouse right now. Rossini, Donizetti and Mozart are really comfortable for me,” he says. 

Whatever he sings, Pursell’s diction is a model of clarity, and his intriguingly dark voice is beautifully projected, as witness his firm, committed work in several small roles in Fellow Travelers, which he sang at Cincinnati Opera’s world premiere, in 2016, and at the New York premiere, as part of the 2017 Prototype Festival. “Doing new works is one of my favorite things. I want to do more of that—I love the challenge of singing something for the first time and working with the composer. It was amazing to work with [composer] Greg Spears and [librettist] Greg Pierce, because the music is so beautiful, and that piece is incredible. Fellow Travelers was my first real professional opera gig—and I even got to be on the CD they made!” spacer

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