By Kelly Maxwell
Today on the blog we get to know tenor Nathan Ward, whom audiences will hear this Sunday as part of An Afternoon of American Song—an intimate concert featuring 21st century American gems sung by the incredibly talented Opera Colorado Young Artists. This is the third season that we present this event and we’re particularly thrilled about this year’s theme, which takes a look at what it is to be an artist, and all the joys, frustrations, and complexities that come along with that life.
The program is brimming with works by some of today’s most vibrant composers—such as Pasek and Paul, Jeff Blumenkrantz, Ben Moore, and Jason Robert Brown—as well as the giants of American musical theater, including Stephen Sondheim and Marvin Hamlisch. That seems particularly fitting for someone like Ward, who is passionate about contemporary music and revels in the opportunity to sing in English. Read on to learn more about his background, the piece he’s most excited to sing this weekend, and more!
You had a whirlwind journey to Opera Colorado this past summer! Tell us how you started in opera, and how you made your way to our Young Artist Program.
I always loved music. My mom used to practice piano and I would walk over to the bench in my diaper and push her off so I could go and plunk out notes on the keys. Music has always been really important to me as a way to get in touch with how I’m feeling, especially as a young man. In high school and college, I studied piano, cello, and voice and eventually narrowed it down to voice. I did my undergrad at the University of Missouri in Columbia, and my grad degree at Northwestern. While there, I met Michael Ehrman, who works at Central City Opera, and I got to work two summers with them.
Just this past summer, I was singing at Central City’s tongue-in-cheek titled “Death by Aria” event. So I go out, sing, and after the concert, John Baril, Music Director at Central City comes up to me and says, “I have two people I want to introduce you to.” Turns out, they were from Opera Colorado; it was Cherity Koepke, Director of Education & Community Programs and Director of the Young Artist Program, and Greg Carpenter, General & Artistic Director, and they were still looking for a tenor. They said, “That was fabulous, what are you doing in the fall?” My fiancée had to pack everything up, my world just kind of got turned upside down, and I was so happy because of this incredible opportunity.
What ultimately swayed you toward choosing voice as your field of study?
It’s a choice that you make every day, and this life isn’t necessarily easy. Home is constantly in flux. You have to keep defining that yourself. I was simply passionate about music, and finding my way into that world led me to this life.
Did you ever want to be anything else besides a musician?
I think there are a number of things that I’d be quite happy doing. Who knows? This life, the life of a singer, is so much in flux that I could be doing any number of things in the near future. I know that music will always be a part of my life. I really enjoy being a professional musician because I know that the caliber of the people around me is incredibly high.
Now that you’re well into your eight-month residency with Opera Colorado, tell us what your experience has been like in the Young Artist Program.
We were suddenly a family. There was no other option. We spend so much time together, and only we know what we’re going through. Some days are long and some days that’s easy. Cherity is a mother to each of us. She is in love with our artistry, she is devoted to us and to the company. Her enthusiasm is ground-shaking in the way it comes out. I’ve been really happy to have Brett Sprague, Assistant Director, here because he is an experienced singer who is able to make a lot of our experiences relatable. He’s several years ahead of us in terms of his experience and he’s making his own way as a singer in this world. So it’s always been great to have Brett around to relate to us and to where we are. Parisa Zaeri, Manager of Education & Community Engagement, is a good colleague. She’s a rock.
Who is your favorite composer?
Benjamin Britten. He wrote for his lover, Peter Pears. I sing what was written for Peter Pierce quite well, so I have spent a lot of time with Benjamin Britten. I’ve gotten to know his idiosyncrasies and the parts of him that he wants to hide. It’s been interesting to have such a profound relationship with someone that isn’t around anymore because singing his music has really taught me about singing.
Looking ahead to this weekend’s An Afternoon of American Song, is there a specific piece you’re most excited to sing?
There’s this monologue from Later the Same Evening by John Musto. It starts off with a man sitting in a theater about to watch a show; he’s just soaking up all of the potential energy, the dimming of the lights and the excitement of the audience around him, just a bunch of strangers in a room doing something together. A friend of mine has done this piece before, and I agree with him: I think that this particular character is gay, and in this monologue—and I say ‘monologue’ instead of ‘aria’ because it feels more appropriate—he reveals that he’s come from a city sort of in the middle of nowhere where he teaches, and he’s just so excited to be at a place where he’s not any stranger than any other person. I can so intensely relate to that: the desire to be somewhere where you can be as odd as you are and not even get anyone batting an eye.
There’s so much buzz around this particular event. What do you think makes An Afternoon of American Song so special?
For the last several months, the Young Artists of Opera Colorado have been doing what needs to be done for the company. We’ve been singing, we’ve been very happy to be doing that, but this is the program where Brett and Cherity have chosen works that speak to us and speak of us. It’s just us, the young talent of this company being the young talent of this company. Basta così!