A Q & A with Will Liverman (Silvio)
By Kelly Maxwell
Baritone Will Liverman is an agile performer, adept at navigating classic operatic repertoire, new avant-garde works, and jazz. He is at home in the hypnotic soundscape of Philip Glass, in beloved operas such as La bohème and The Barber of Seville, and in his own piano mash-ups of operatic hits. Liverman is, by any definition, a 21st century renaissance man.
Liverman performed the role of Silvio in Opera Colorado’s 2020 production of Pagliacci.
You just made history as the first African American to perform the role of Papageno at the Metropolitan Opera in Mozart’s The Magic Flute. Where do you find inspiration when forging your own historic path?
My dad was a big Paul Robeson fan, one of the first names I associated with opera. He was a larger than life figure. I also remember seeing early clips of Lawrence Brownlee singing Rossini and I was completely blown away by his power. We’re the same height and it was amazing to see another short black guy singing lead roles. He was absolutely killing it and it was great to see him out there being so successful.
That’s a perfect segue into performing with Brownlee in Charlie Parker’s Yardbird. What was it like portraying Jazz legend Dizzy Gillespie, in the heyday of 1950’s Birdland?
Yardbird was the opportunity that helped launch my professional career. Opera Philadelphia took a chance on me when I did the workshop for the show. I didn’t really know what to expect. It was really cool because my dad was and still is a big jazz person.
He played the trumpet in school, we listened to a ton of jazz and gospel, and I grew up playing piano. I never stopped playing because it was always a great outlet for me.The coolest moment of the tour was performing Yardbird at the Apollo Theater in Harlem. We were the first opera ever performed at the Apollo. We went backstage and saw all the famous folks who wrote their name on the wall. Yardbird is one of the most successful new operas, making its way into the standard rep.
“It’s important that we continue to pay respects to traditional opera, but it is equally important to tell new stories that are relevant to today.”
What do you think about newer works becoming more popular? Why are people paying attention to new opera?
It’s important that we continue to pay respects to traditional opera, but it is equally important to tell new stories that are relevant to today. It’s great to see new works coming out left and right, but the kicker is, you never know how a new work is going to be received. Back in the day, operas like The Barber of Seville were not immediately successful. So, I’m really curious to see, over the course of the next few decades, what works will stand the test of time. There is a ton of amazing new opera out there to digest and that is the best possible problem to have.
You’re going to be singing Silvio many times after this production. What is your favorite part about the character?
That will definitely be something I learn in Colorado because this will be my role debut. I like to compare opera characters to movie characters. Don’t make fun of me here, but Titanic is my favorite movie. When I think of Silvio, I just think of Jack Dawson. He is totally obsessed with trying to get Rose away from the life she’s living and feeling trapped by. Silvio and Nedda experience the same dynamic, just without a shipwreck. Silvio is a super passionate young guy and because of that, he’s one of the most relatable characters in Pagliacci. Just about everyone has had an experience where they felt like Silvio. You know how the story is going to end, but you end up rooting for him.
“You know how the story is going to end, but you end up rooting for him.”
Kelly Maxwell is Opera Colorado’s Multimedia Producer.