Adler Profile: Anthony Reed
Anthony Reed is a second-year Adler Fellow who appeared in The Magic Flute, Die Meistersinger, and The Fall of the House of Usher this past fall. Read on to learn what he compares his experience as an Adler Fellow to, his original pop music, and more.
How would you describe your experience as an Adler Fellow? What have been your favorite moments so far and which moments have made you the most nervous?
In my experience the Adler Fellowship is like the time I went skydiving. We start in January when the Opera isn't mounting any productions and we do a lot of fundraising events and classes that help to ensure that we are well rounded for the career we are training for. The opera center provides us with intensive small-group language classes that cover German, French, and Italian. We have a movement instructor who teaches us how to keep our body aligned for the work we do, and an acting instructor who gives us a technique for portraying characters on stage. Sometimes these classes seem to happen all at once and sometimes there are days to catch our breath. For me, the off season is like the ascent of the plane, attached to the skydiving instructor, knowing that jumping into a freefall is inevitable. While we are trying to absorb the information coming at us from all directions, we are also preparing for every role assigned to us by the opera company. The moment the first rehearsal starts for the main season we have all hurled ourselves from the door of the plane. The remainder of the year makes me want to smile, scream, and pass out. I feel like there is a great chance of falling flat on my face and doing something that will bring everything I know to an end. However, just like my skydiving experience, the entire company deploys to make sure I have a safe landing when the journey concludes. Everyone from the General Director, to castmates, to staff makes sure that all of us Adlers can be successful at what we came here to do.
Who or what are some of your musical and/or artistic influences?
My biggest artistic influences come from different periods in my life. My high school orchestra director still speaks in my ear every day. He would say to me, "Hard work beats talent when talent doesn't work hard." At Curtis we got to sit in on prospective-student auditions, and I got to see that a "voice" isn't everything. I learned from Mikael Eliasen that a great voice without anything to say is nothing but a sound. My voice teacher has imparted the importance of always striving to sing well. From him I learned that "subtlety begins with audibility." And with all of these personal influences I also have the impressions left by the great singers of the world. My favorite bass is Nicolai Ghiaourov because he captures what I believe in this moment. He worked hard with what he was given, he learned how to sing, and he used that knowledge to communicate something only he could say.
What was your first exposure to classical music? Do you have a musical background in your family?
My first exposure to classical music was piano lessons. My parents must have been trying to find ways for me to channel my music so that they weren't always having to hear me sing. Until I was about 20 I dispersed my musical expression between voice, violin, and piano, but I finally settled upon one expression. My mom was a great amateur singer, but everyone in my family has a science focus, so there wasn't a lot of classical music at home. Thankfully, my parents encouraged me to pursue my interests!
What and who are some of your favorite operas and composers? Which roles do you hope to perform in the future?
It's hard to pin down favorite operas and composers because there are things I love about almost every opera I do or hear. I love The Rake's Progress because it is a powerful piece, written in a way that constantly keeps my ear interested, and English is the easiest language for me to convey. I love French opera, especially Faust, because Mephistopholes is my dream role. Mozart is easy to love. Tchaikovsky is one of my favorite composers of all music, not just opera. It's hard to focus on an opera or a composer that, above all, is number one. I just love the art form, and the variety of perspectives it includes.
What is the best piece of advice that you have received in your career as an opera singer thus far?
The advice that I am choosing to follow right now is: learn how to sing and the work will come. It is very tempting for young singers to want a career instantly. It is hard to be patient when you feel like you have something to offer. In my opinion though, networking and publicity are not the way to a successful career. A lot of people are splashes in the pan, but the singers we still listen to of ages past had incredible control over their instruments. Without the technical ability to say what you want to say, you can only get so far. While I believe in my own talent, I also acknowledge that I have a long distance to traverse before I will have the career I want. It is my belief, through the advice I have been given, that the key to closing the gap between now and that ideal future is as simple as learning to sing.
How do you prepare yourself to perform on the day of a show? Do you have any unique or interesting backstage rituals?
On the day of the show I like to sleep as late as I can. As an Adler fellow that is hard to do, because I might have rehearsals for two different operas before going on stage to perform in a third. Given my choice, though, I like to sleep in, drink coffee, take a shower, and smile as much as I can. It is easy to get nervous or have self-doubt, but the more I smile and remind myself that this is what I love to do, the more honest a performance I can give.
What is your favorite neighborhood or place to explore in San Francisco and why?
I have watched numerous sunsets from the bluffs on Land's End Trail. Amid the chaos of the Civic Center where I work and live, it is nice that this city can also provide the serenity of nature.
What do you feel is the most common misconception that people have about your job as an opera singer?
The thing I hear the most is "at least you are doing what you love." The previous statement is absolutely true, but the sentiment often comes laced with the idea that singing is a hobby and it can be treated as such. As singers we have to be hyper aware of our bodies. We negotiate daily how much we talk, how loud an environment we choose, what we consume, what gets sacrificed to ensure adequate sleep and exercise, along with a slough of other factors. Sometimes we have to perform at 100% through a cold, breakup, holiday, or fatigue that leaves us wanting to do anything but perform. With those daily sacrifices comes the lifelong ones. The lifestyle of a professional singer is such that a traditional family is nearly impossible. Most important relationships we have are cultivated at a distance. We often forgo important events including weddings, births, and funerals. We spend most of our lives dressing from suitcases, inhabiting hotel rooms, and eating microwaved meals alone in a foster city. At the end of the day I can say "at least I'm doing what I love." Yes, at least I have that, but it is by no means without its difficulties and sacrifices. So when someone assumes that I merely play all day, it devalues the tenacity that it actually takes to become a professional singer.
What kinds of things do you enjoy doing in your free time? How do you relax and unwind after a day at the opera house?
One thing that I love to do in my spare time is write and record pop music with my best friend who produces the instrumental portion of the tracks electronically. The autonomy we have over the production process feeds my creative soul. I also enjoy exercising both at the gym and in the outdoors. Netflix has been a godsend during the season when I don't have a lot of time to do other things. Watching tv dramas helps me wind down before bed.
Do you have any advice for first time opera goers? What do you think is the best opera to take someone to who is new to the art form?
My advice to the first time opera goer is to get to know the opera before seeing it. Usually people will listen to an Adele album before buying tickets to here her perform. Familiarizing yourself with at least the story of the opera will free your eyes from having to stare at the supertitles, and will allow you to feel comfortable with what is happening on stage. Listening to famous moments like arias or duets will help you look forward to those moments and appreciate them in context. The speech and drama of a play or movie happens in a relatively realistic amount of time, but the speech and action of an opera is larger than life. Patter can be too fast to understand, and arias can be so slow or embellished that it can take a minute for someone to finish a sentence or even a word. Suspending reality is key to believing what is happening in front of you. With these things in mind, almost any opera could be a good first opera. One caveat: seeing a Wagner opera is only a good first opera if you have a very long attention span. The music and stories of his works are incredible, but they require a sizable time commitment! After you see your first opera it is okay to acknowledge what you didn't like. But what a shame it would be if you wrote opera off completely. Imagine seeing your first movie, disliking it, and assuming you dislike movies.
Favorite Book: Harry Potter
Favorite Movie: Mean Girls
Favorite TV Show: House of Cards
Favorite Food: Risotto