Baritone Keith Phares has been a part of many of the Florentine’s productions of new operas. He sang the title role in our 2010 recorded production of Elmer Gantry. He sang the role of Charlie in our production of Three Decembers. And, he was George Hurstwood in our world-premiere production and recording of Sister Carrie.
In fact, Phares has become known throughout the opera world for his work in contemporary operas.
While it’s common for new opera pieces to be cast with younger singers – since there is not yet years of tradition surrounding the work and roles – the further Phares got into his training and career, the more affinity he felt for contemporary works.
Phares: While I was at Julliard, one of my voice teachers was W. Stephen Smith. His philosophy of vocal production is to sound like yourself; speak like yourself and sing like you speak. When I started training with him, I was still exhibiting a lot of posturing. I probably started out doing an impression of an opera singer, thinking, “this is what I’m supposed to sound like.” I manufactured this dark, mature voice trying to sound older and more experienced. Steve helped me get rid of that and focus instead on “doing me.”
With contemporary opera, there’s not 300 to 400 years of tradition, so you have a little more flexibility to create your own character. It’s still classical singing, but there’s no reason that the words being sung can’t sound like the words I’d speak.
It’s my personal mission to act and sound like a real person on stage. I feel like contemporary operas give me more of an opportunity to do this.
This “mission” is also one of the reasons why Phares is looking forward to singing in our Midwest premiere of Carlisle Floyd’s Prince of Players.
Phares: Carlisle Floyd’s characters are very relatable, and there is always something in the opera that people can connect with.
In Prince of Players, I’m singing the role of Edward Kynaston. He must overcome a crisis that everyone faces in life – when times change, how do you deal with it? The twist in the opera is that all Kynaston needs to do is switch to playing male characters, but he struggles with who he thinks he is.
Edward Kynaston has worked hard to get to this point in life, and performing female roles has brought him fame, adoration and what appears to be love. This is the world where he’s comfortable. And like most of us, when change happens, we try and hold on to what’s comfortable.
In addition to the characters and the drama they face, Phares believes that the cast of the opera is a very important reason for people to check out the productions on October 12 and 14.
Phares: I’m excited about this cast. I’ve had the opportunity to work with many of them before, and I love their work. I can’t say enough that it’s a really good cast. Every singer is committed to the music, the text, their individual characters and the story as a whole. Most audiences don’t get the opportunity to see such an experienced cast in a newer contemporary work like this.
Other reasons why people should see Prince of Players?
Phares: The opera presents itself as serious, but it’s funny, and it’s okay to laugh during the show! It’s an hour-and-a-half of great singing, great theater and a great story.