Opera star offers insight into music career

Register Reporter

Photo courtesy Katarina McIntosh
Berlin Opera Company tenor Gregory Warren gives some tips to Iola High School senior Jonathan Michaels at a master class at the Bowlus Fine Arts center Tuesday. Warren spent three hours with both middle and high school vocal students thanks to the Sleeper Family Trust.

Iola youth interested in a professional singing career received a rare treat Tuesday in the form of a master class by rising opera star Gregory Warren at the Creitz Recital Hall in the Bowlus Fine Arts Center. Warren, who lives in Germany, was in Kansas for two weekend performances of Handel’s “Messiah” with the Kansas City Symphony Chorus.
With Warren being so, relatively, close to Iola, was a gift to Iola middle and high school vocal and orchestra teacher Greta Adams. The two are old college chums.
“Greg called and said he was in Kansas,” Adams said after the class. She hustled to get him to Iola, where the Sleeper Family Trust funded his visit with the high school singers class, mixed choir and middle school vocal students. All told, about 140 students from the two schools attended some part of Warren’s three-hour class.
“This is my first master class situation,” Warren said. He made the most of the time.
“You try to give them one, two, maybe three strong points they can work on on their own,” he said of the condensed training.
Warren was raised in Texas, but now resides in Germany where artists are supported by the government, he told the students.
“They aren’t starving artists,” he said. “They all have a steady job, a monthly income, insurance and retirement plans.”
Nonetheless, leaving his native land wasn’t easy, he said.
“It was hard to move to Germany,” he told them, “but I got used to it, and now I love it.” One-hour flights can take him to Paris, Spain or Italy, he said. In addition, he described Berlin as a Bohemian city chock full of talent.
While American public schools, Warren said, present a better foundation for future singers than do European schools, which focus on languages, opera — and singing in general — is not a surefire way to get rich.
“You’ve heard about unemployment?” he asked the students. “Unemployment in the opera world is 98 percent.
“Only about 2 percent of opera singers in the world have a career as a full-time singer,” he said. “You have to decide how long you’re going to give it — you need to be realistic and hopeful at the same time.”

WARREN studied for a number of years with Placido Domingo in the Domingo-Cafritz Young Artist Program with the Washington National Opera in Washington, D.C.
The first time he heard the famous tenor, though, was on TV.
Warren and a few of his friends “were watching the first Three Tenors concert on TV” while in high school in Longview, Texas, he said. He began to imitate the singing.
“It started out with me mocking them,” he noted. But then he realized he could — maybe — sing that way.
“I just thought that I could kind of do it,” he said.
With no concrete goal and college looming, Warren said he thought he’d try for a music scholarship. He landed at Centenary College in Louisiana; it was there he and Adams became friends.
“We were both vocal performance majors,” she said.
While she went on to become an educator, Warren followed what he called the “rather standard step if you are interested in opera.
“The trend if you want to do music theater is you go to New York City and audition for everything,” he told students. “In opera, you join a young artists program sponsored by an opera house.” The programs “expose you to agents and give you the most important thing — stage experience,” he said.

WARREN said you can’t really judge a singer until you hear them live — “and sometiomes not even then.” Performers like Britney Spears use self-adjusting technology, he said. “If she’s sharp, the mic adjusts the sound before it comes out,” he noted.
In contrast, he said, Christina Aguilera “uses a very clean technique. I can guarantee it’s classically based,” he said.
He told the students that voices don’t mature until a singer is in his late twenties to thirties.
“In college, you’re still very young,” he said. In one’s 30s, though, voices shift just as they did in adolescence.
“It’s hormone-based, like a voice change for a 14- or 15-year-old boy. When you’ve hit your prime you have maybe 10 to 20 years of consistent singing until age comes in” and the voice begins to weaken, he said.
Warren, 37, said his voice has only just matured.
“Last year I felt the last big change,” he said. “It’s really starting to settle.”
Warren closed his session with a performance of “A Furtive Tear,” an aria from “An Elixir of Love.”
His voice rolled across the stage. It was never unbearably loud nor so timid as to be indiscernible, but rang like a peal of thunder in a mid-afternoon mountain shower.
As for how long he’ll remain with the Berlin opera company, he responded, “I’ll be there as long as they’ll have me.”