Passionate and Gifted, Sean Michael Plumb Debuts At Opera Theatre

By Rob Levy
In Culture

Some people are born for the stage. Sean Michael Plumb is one of them. Whether singing at home or singing onstage, Plumb represents the embodiment of a working artist on the rise. A winner of the 2016 Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions, Plumb was named a United States Presidential Scholar in the Arts by President Obama at a White House ceremony. He also took home Top Prize at both the 2015 Opera Index Competition and the 2016 Gerda Lissner Foundation International Vocal Competition. He also was the Grand Prize Winner in Classical Voice at the Los Angeles Music Center Spotlight Awards.

Much more interesting than “Friends,” Giacomo Puccini’s “La bohème” is a post-romantic opera of love and friendship whose many layers weave around several settings in Golden Age Paris. At the heart of the story are six bohemians, led by the painter Rodolfo whose romance with a seamstress named Lucia (“Mimi”) is both triumphant and tragic.

Baritone Sean Michael Plumb makes his Opera Theatre of Saint Louis debut as Schaunard, a street-smart musician. Passionate and clever, he is a fixer possessing the necessary skills for navigating life as a poor artist, as well as surviving cold Parisian winters.

Plumb discussed his relationship with his partner of eight years, Tess, whom he is marrying this September has help. Plumb talked about how his love life helped him craft the savvy Schaunard for the stage.

Sean Michael Plumb. Photo courtesy of Opera Theatre St. Louis

Sean Michael Plumb. Photo courtesy of Opera Theatre of Saint Louis

How has your own relationship influenced the portrayal of your character?
An important thing to remember is how young these characters are. I actually fell in love with my now fiancé at the Interlochen Music Camp. We were both 16, she was a flautist and I was a singer. I wouldn’t say we were bohemian but we were little 16-year-olds who didn’t have any money. We fell in love one summer and now it has been eight years. So it is very easy to draw upon my own relationship when playing these young and in love characters.

What other influences help you craft Shaunard and other parts you have played?
You draw upon the beautiful things in your life and you draw upon the challenging things in your life when you create a role like this. It’s not just entertainment; it’s art and art should challenge the audience and the performers themselves.

Has this role affected how you think of your own relationships?
Not really. It’s kind of a one-way street. In broad strokes, the experiences that we’ve both shared have informed my performances.

The best part about having a musical partner is that she understands what I have to do to prepare for a role. She understands the artistic lifestyle of what that means and hopping around from one city to another.

Do you have a special way of connecting with the audience?
I think the more that I can dig into a whatever character I am singing, and the more that I can make it as real as possible and be as vocally convincing as I can be.

The magic of opera is that when you delve into the characters musically, this art form somehow transcends the space and really gets to people and says something meaningful. I just do my best to serve the art and the audience.

I hope that any time I approach a new role, my specific voice and how my life has influenced how I approached a role is going to create something new. But I think that is true for any committed opera singer.

How does “La bohème” speak to you as an artist?
It’s iconic for a reason. It’s an opera based on real life and everyday struggles and the joy that comes along with life. “La bohème” is a very quaint opera that talks about how beautiful love is and how terrible love is. What you see onstage are very real stories, things that happen to everybody. I think it’s an extremely relatable piece. I don’t think you can go see it and not leave elevated and changed somehow.

“La bohème” runs through June 25 at the Loretto Hilton Center (130 Edgar Road) on the campus of Webster University.

For showtimes, tickets and more information visit opera-stl.org or call 314.961.0171.

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