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PDX OPERAbeat | A Company Blog is the blog for all things Portland Opera, featuring a variety of guest contributors who will provide insider's tidbits on all we do to celebrate the beauty and breadth of opera.

Meet the Cast: Richard Troxell, Older Galileo

At the beginning of the rehearsal process, I sent out some written interviews to a few members of the cast (Kevin Newbury's is here). Below, Richard Troxell, one of our Galileos, tells us the funniest embarrassing stage story I've ever heard, I think.

Unrelated true story: Richard and I were on stage together a few seasons ago. See?

Rigoletto

He was the Duke in Rigoletto; I was a concubine. He petted my hair as part of the staging. My fake hair. (My completely amazing, beautiful, long fake hair). I also got a piggyback ride from former POSA baritone José Rubio, our Cardinal/Priest in Galileo.


Anyway.

Every time you come to sing for us, I get a little pang of homesickness, because sometimes a little Mid-Atlantic accent slips into your speech. I know it well, because I'm from Maryland. You grew up there too, didn't you?

I did. I grew up in the beautiful rolling hills of Frederick County in Thurmont, Md., home to Camp David, where our leaders run off to.


Some people develop a love for opera at an early age, but many other singers say that they didn't get into it at all until much later, like maybe in college. What got you started in this art form?

Mario Lanza.. Christmas Album... the song was "Guardian Angels." I heard him sing that and I thought, "I want to sing like that." But I tucked that away in my teenage mind for later when my voice changed, and continued with my other possible career as a French Horn player in an orchestra. As I approached my senior year of high school, I tried out for the musical “Sugar” which is the musical version of the play/film “Some Like it Hot” and I got the lead. The fact that I had to do the part in a dress and high heels (since I was hiding from the mob), and the fact that the audience loved me... well, I was hooked. So I got a degree in Theater and sang Broadway tunes. At the same time though, I could do a pretty good Pavarotti "imitation" (or so I thought), so I started to pursue the whole opera thing -- but not really till graduate school. Once I sang my first aria, I was hooked... I think. I’m still not sure after 20 years.


In the meet & greet last week, you mentioned that you intiially came to Galileo with some -- how do I phrase it nicely? -- resistance. The story of your journey with this piece is particularly intriguing to me, because I had a very similar experience back when we did Orphée. I think it's important to talk openly about this sort of "awakening," because I think particularly with new music, there's an underlying assumption that you either "get it" or you don't, when in reality the process is often very gradual. Would you mind talking a little bit about how you came to appreciate this piece?

I’m still on a journey with this piece. I’m still resisting at times and accepting at other times. Perhaps it’s challenging a part of my “ear” or my visceral artistic soul which I have not tapped into yet. Perhaps I have to acquire a taste for this style but I am not opening my palate enough... or perhaps I just don’t like it. I’m challenging my artistic sense every day with it. I truly appreciate Philip Glass, I truly appreciate minimalism, and I truly appreciate all artists who challenge us. I want them to be there and to do their thing. I’m not sure that it will ever speak to me like it does to so many others but I am honored to take a part in it. I sing it and perform it from the same place that I sing Don Jose and Rodolfo. I commit completely to the experience and treat it with respect and all the musicality I would were it Massenet’s Manon or Verdi’s Requiem. The challenge is ... liking what I hear. That’s such a personal taste sort of experience that one may never be able to change. But I do appreciate it, and in all fairness I do like many sections of the music: the rhythms, the harmonies, the nuance and the beauty. Ask me this next week after I’ve worked with the orchestra for a week and I’m sure I’ll have a whole new appreciation.


It strikes me like this role climbs pretty high in the tessitura -- is that true? What's the most challenging part of the role? The most enjoyable part?

The role sits extremely high, I think, for the soprano and I think Lindsay is handling it wonderfully. For me it sits right in the passaggio which is just below “high” for a tenor and above middle voice and at the same time it goes pretty low for a tenor too. It’s more like a musical theater style of vocal writing at times but requires an operatic vocal technique ... Right up my alley, I guess. That’s the biggest challenge. That and the stillness of the character. I’m a very physical actor/singer/performer. This is much more inner self, dreamy, contemplative. I like that challenge. The opening aria/monologue is really my most enjoyable part.


You've spent much of your life perfecting your craft as a musician. What is something you might have chosen as a career path, had it not been for singing?

Well, I mentioned being a horn player earlier. I’m pretty sure I would have always ended up on the stage or at least under it... but really I love being on stage in front of people. I also love being in front of a camera, which really is the same thing -- it’s just not as risky as the live audience “one take” experience which I get to have. I think that’s what I like about opera. If none of this “music/performer” thing had worked out, I do have my CDL -- my Commercial Driver’s License. (My Dad was a truck driver) So. Who knows.


If you could sing any role -- any fach, male or female -- what would it be?

I’m so very lucky. I’m singing the exact fach/voice type I would love to sing. The roles I would love to sing as an alter ego/voice type would be Falstaff, and Boris Goudonov, and then as a dramatic tenor I’d sing Canio (who knows? maybe I will sing that) and Othello.


I know you bike a lot when you're out here. You and Clare Burovac, our Director of Artistic Operations, just recently biked the Springwater Corridor out to Boring and back. Have you gotten to go on any other long rides recently? Any places in particular you like to go? Are you biking back and forth to rehearsal?

I do bike everyday to rehearsal and back and try to get at least 60 miles in during the week. I love the biking trails here. All of them. I have biked on the Leif Erickson trail a bit. I’ve come screaming down the Burnside hill, not knowing you weren’t really supposed to do that. I love biking on Skyline and up to the TV towers but curse the hills getting there the whole time. I’ve biked over to Vancouver and out to Sauvie Island. I just like biking here.


Do you have any great stage stories: embarrassing moments, crazy things that have happened, etc?

So many…. I’ll tell you one. My debut in the professional opera world was as Alfredo in La Traviata. "Professional debut" meaning I got paid to sing this role with a notable opera company -- but it was at 10 AM for a full house of high school students. I was the Alfredo cover for the other performances. But it was a full performance with orchestra and the whole nine yards. Well, I was just out of school, I was a tenor singing a leading role with a reputable company, I was young, I was a "hot shot." The rest of the cast was “experienced” and I was the rookie. I never thought I was a rookie. So the morning of the show I woke up at 6 AM to be vocally ready and I drank a cup of coffee. Two things I didn’t like and still to this day don’t like are getting up early and drinking coffee. I don’t drink coffee and I don’t really do caffeine. It makes me hyper... or should I say more hyper. But I did that day.

Well, the opera is going well. I sing my aria well in the second act. It’s going "fine" but I want it to be memorable. I’m not going to look like the "rookie." So when we arrive at the last act and Violetta’s last wish is really just to see her beloved Alfredo one more time, I decide this will be the moment when I will sing this better and more passionately than any other tenor in the history of tenors. I run on to the stage and my character passionately and desperately sings the name of his beloved -- ”Oh, mia Violetta” -- on a high G-sharp then up to a high A and holds it for about 5 beats. That’s what the normal tenor does. Not me. I decide to sing this note longer and louder and with more passion than any other tenor and I hold it and hold it and hold it and hold it... and then, blackness. I FAINTED. On stage. Fell upstage completely into the wall of the set of Violetta’s bedroom. I awoke to 3000 hysterical high school kids and all my colleagues looking at me saying, “Richard.. Richard... are you OK?" It was like one of those bad dreams you have when you arrive in your ninth grade algebra class and you forgot to put pants on and all the kids are pointing and laughing... but there was no “waking up” from this one (and I was fully dressed). I was so mad at myself. I got up, walked to the edge of the stage, apologized to the Maestro -- Anton Coppola, Francis Ford’s uncle -- and told him I was going offstage and would do it again. I went offstage, got myself together, burst onstage, sang the note longer and more passionately than the disastrous first time and then walked over to the dying Violetta, swept her up in my arms, carried her to her bed and the crowd went WILD. I sang the beautiful duet “Parigi o cara” while rocking her in my arms in bed and when the scene ended the kids went crazy. And that’s how my career started in the professional opera world. Oh yeah: once I split my pants from front to back at the Opera Comique in Paris while singing Tybalt and fighting with Roberto Alagna as Romeo. But ... that’s small potatoes compared to fainting, don’t you think?


I ... hardly know how to follow that up. Last question: If you could have any superpower, what would it be?

Perfect immune system. No aches, no sickness, perfect health. (And of course… I could fly.)