Academic journal article Journal of Singing

A Conversation with John Relyea, Part 2

Academic journal article Journal of Singing

A Conversation with John Relyea, Part 2

Article excerpt

CONTINUING MY CONVERSATION with bass baritone John Relyea in the Press Porch at Tanglewood . . .

Leslie Holmes: Did your father start teaching you?

John Relyea: Yes. He ended up teaching me for the first three or four years. I would be playing guitar, and making all kind of noise in the basement just below where he was teaching. One day he said to me, "You know, I think we should work on your singing." He could hear, just from my talking voice, that there was something to be accessed. He just started messing around with it one day, when I was about seventeen. It was a very easy thing, because I had listened to him all my life. I had sort of a built-in sense of how to make that sound. It started with a certain amount of imitation, but we do have very similar voices. It was a very natural way to learn. When I was twenty-one, I went down to Curtis.

LH: Did you audition for other schools? How did you happen to end up at Curtis?

JR: I just heard from various people what a great place it was. I had already been doing some concert work. I knew, just comparing it with other schools like Juilliard, that I thought I needed a place that was smaller, so I could get a little more focus and not be so worried about getting lost in the shuffle. My father had worked with Michael Ellison, and he liked him a lot. So, I went down there and auditioned. There were 500 people auditioning that year, and five of us got in. It was an exciting experience.

LH: That must have been rather affirming.

JR: Yes, it was. I had already been on the concert circuit in Canada, and I thought I couldn't get off that easy and not go to school.

LH: I understand, from some of your comments, that your father is still giving you a lot of input.

JR: Oh, yes. That will never stop and, most of the time, I'm open to it. They go to all of the telecasts. I bought them a Sirius radio for Christmas. He's very much in contact with what I do, on a day to day basis. If it's got anything to do with the Met, he usually gets to hear me once or twice a week, when I'm there. He's the first person who taught me to sing, so we talk about all of my lingo and the core ideas, and are very much on the same wave length. The main challenge for me was finding my own sound, after I'd been imitating him for the first three or four years. And I'd say that it took another three or four years, after that, to find my own voice. Working with Hines helped, in that regard. He was very good at finding my own physical resonance in my body.

LH: He was at Curtis?

JR: No. When I was at Curtis, I worked with Edward Zambara, who's since passed away. At the time he was working at Curtis, at Juilliard, and at Boston Conservatory. I worked with him for a while, and really got a lot of legato and the bel canto approach with him. I wasn't at Curtis for long, because I got into the Merola Program.

LH: Did they come to Curtis to audition people, or did you go out there?

JR: I went out there [San Francisco] . That was '95. I was still only in my second or third year at Curtis. So, I didn't finish there. If you do Merola, its a big opportunity.

LH: You were also an Adler Fellow.

JR: Yes, right after that.

LH: How did that help you?

JR: Oh, immensely. I had had limited experience with opera, up to that point in my life. So, I went from doing very little opera to doing it four or five nights a week.

LH: I think Lotfi Monsouri was there.

JR: Oh, yes. He taught me so much about preparing and creating characters . . . building them. He took a particular interest in me, in developing the role of Figaro, for instance.

LH: And you took it on the road to thirty different states in a bus.

JR: Yes.

LH: It is too bad that Western Opera Theater is no longer.

JR: It's a shame. It's one of those things that, if you can do that, you can pretty much do anything. It's a lot. …

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