ALIVE Q&A: Bass Baritone Aubrey Allicock On OTSL's World-Premiere Series—And The Opera's Next 40 Years
This month marks the 40th anniversary of one of the city’s musical institutions: Opera Theatre of Saint Louis (OTSL). Since it was founded in 1976, OTSL has launched 24 world premiers as well as 24 American premiers, making it one of the most inventive and well-respected opera companies in the country. Each year, the theater welcomes opera enthusiasts from around the country and across the globe, and has been deemed “one of the few American companies worth the transatlantic fare” by London’s The Sunday Times.
In 2013, staying true to their mission to shape the future of opera and champion new works, OTSL launched “New Works, Bold Voices,” a three-year cycle of world-premiere operas by American composers. The series spurred Opera magazine to describe OTSL as “one of the country’s most enterprising, off-center festivals.” But the longstanding commitment to crafting high-quality, innovative productions isn’t all OTSL is known for. Over the years, they have developed a tradition of discovering and promoting the careers of some of the finest operatic talents of our time.
Bass-baritone Aubrey Allicock debuted with OTSL in 2011 as Mahmoud in John Adams’ “The Death of Klinghoffer.” Since then, he has performed in opera houses around the world (Ireland, Austria and Hungary), but admits that OTSL, a place that “taught [him] everything about opera,” holds a special place in his heart.
Many people who have reached your level of acclaim say they’ve always loved their art. Was it that way with you in the beginning, and if so, what was it that drew you to singing, then to opera specifically?
In the beginning singing wasn’t foreign for me, but opera was. My first voice lesson wasn’t until 2002 during my undergraduate at Grand Canyon University. The first time I heard this operatic technique come out of me, I thought, “What is that?!” It hooked me then because I thought, “Wow, my voice has a super power!” It grew from there and was definitely something that intrigued me.
How did your love of singing and opera play out from there?
Prior to 2002, I sang gospel music, but it wasn’t until the end of my teens that I really got started with opera. It started taking up a lot of my time in my early 20s—beating myself over the head trying to memorize languages and what the voice teacher was trying to tell me. We call that ‘woodshedding.’ Every opera singer goes through those years before they develop their craft.
What do you think your “biggest break” or greatest opportunity has been in your career so far?
Definitely in 2011 when I was called by OTSL. I was understudying at The Met in NYC, and I was called by OTSL to play in “The Death of Klinghoffer”. This led to really great opportunities including my audition at The Met, and ultimately led to my entrance into Julliard.
So, St. Louis kind of holds a special place in your heart?
Oh, big time! Absolutely. OTSL taught me not just how to be a singer but how to live in this career and how to manage myself in rehearsals. It taught me everything about opera.
You made your debut at the Opera Theatre of St. Louis in 2011’s performance of “The Death of Klinghoffer”. What do you remember most about that performance?
“Don’t mess it up!!” It was John Adams’ music and all I thought was, “Don’t mess it up! Breathe low, don’t crack on this high note.” I knew this was my shot and I was so focused on not messing it up. Also, I remember that I got so into the role. I was playing the role of a terrorist, but he has a philosophical side that he’s explaining and to allow myself to go there was a little terrifying. But I also felt comfort—I remember that. I was a young artist two years prior and had been on that stage before with very small roles so I knew a lot of the audience and felt safety in that.
When evaluating the current climate of US opera festivals, journalist Anne Midgette called St. Louis the “gateway to the best.” In your words, what is special about the opera scene in St. Louis?
It is definitely those who run the company of OTSL. You have some of the best, most brilliant minds who run these auditions and hear these singers. They travel the world all year and hear these talented singers, but what makes them even better is that they give these singers real opportunities. They really work especially hard for the young artists. They are always working in your corner. They are always thinking about you.
You’ve been cast in the OTSL’s 2016 world premiere of “Shalimar the Clown”. Without giving too much away, what can opera enthusiasts expect from this performance?
Patrons should look forward to the music itself. They’re using authentic instrumentation of the period and of India. I’m so excited to hear this music. It’ll be something we’ve never heard before. It’ll be magic hearing the orchestra for the first time. Oh! And the cast is going to be great! I won’t reveal any names, but some St. Louis favorites will be in the cast.
This September marks OTSL’s 40th anniversary. What can the theater do to make the next 40 years just as fruitful?
I would definitely say they’re already headed in a great direction with “New Works, Bold Voices,” and that’s what keeps it so fresh and so interesting. Keep that up! I know they have a great focus with involving young people. It’s great that some of these patrons are my age or younger and enthusiastic about opera! That’s what will keep it around for the next 40 years, is getting these young people excited. So, they’re already doing it. They’re innovative. And they really do influence the world of opera.