Sound Bites spotlights up-and-coming singers and conductors in the world of opera.
Sound Bites: Sean Michael Plumb
The lyric baritone sings Ariadne’s Harlekin in Munich this month.
by Henry Stewart.
Black velvet, peak lapel evening jacket, and pleated-front evening shirt by Jeffrey Rüdes
Photograph by Dario Acosta
Grooming by Affan Graber Malik
Wardrobe courtesy of Jeffrey Rüdes
SEAN MICHAEL PLUMB was eleven years old, living in Binghamton, New York, when he began taking singing lessons, like his big sister. Around the same time that his teacher introduced him to opera, Tri-Cities Opera visited his school. The combination was all it took. His first appearance with the company soon followed—as a boy soprano, in the children’s chorus of Bohème. “I got hooked,” he says, “and I haven’t stopped.”
The lyric baritone, now twenty-five, has undergrad and graduate degrees from Curtis and experience on stages around the world. He has a knack for making classic characters, from Barber’s Fiorello (Opera Philadelphia, 2014) to Bohème’s Schaunard (Opera Theatre of Saint Louis, 2016), feel modern, with just a bit of costume—the strap of a messenger bag—and his ardently youthful voice, which is emotionally pliant and strikingly muscular. He’s now at Munich’s Bayerische Staatsoper, on a fest contract. “I was really interested in coming over here just to work at a company that operated at a high level, just so I could be really thrown right into the middle of it,” he says. “I’m having a great time.”
It helps that his wife, Tess, whom he married in September, and their four-year-old Norwich Terrier, Bandit, joined him. Tess, who works in real-estate investment, plays the flute; they met at sixteen, at Interlochen Arts Camp, in Michigan, through an introduction by her bunkmate. “Her background as a musician allows her, I think, to understand what’s going through my head—not the pressure that I feel, but the amount of respect and duty that I have, to do my absolute best,” he says. “So she understands when I stay up ’til early hours of the morning, just trying to understand the libretto better.”
He dreams of dedicating this commitment to Figaros and Onegins. “I would kill—well, not literally kill—I would very much like to sing Pelléas!” he says. But for the time being he’s content with the Second Prisoner in Fidelio, Dandini in Cenerentola or Olav in Miroslav Srnka’s South Pole—so far his most demanding and rewarding role, which he originated. “Right now, I want to get up onstage,” he says, sounding like the eager boy at Tri-Cities who’d be a super if a show had no children’s chorus. “I feel comfortable with my technique now, with all of my training. I just want to get up and do it.”