Interview with Randall Bills
Randall Bills who appeared in ROF 2014 Armida, was kind enough to take time out during his recent appearance with the Seattle Opera to answer some questions for us.
Q. What inspired you to become a singer?
A. I always enjoyed music growing up but originally I wanted to be a choral music teacher rather than a performer if you can imagine! I think what inspired me to be a singer (and still does to this day) is how transformative vocal music is. There’s something very immediate about the voice in its communication. And then combine that instant communication with all the other performance art aspects of an opera and you have the perfect medium to connect with audience members and have them tap into their emotions and experiences with you, and through you on stage.
Q. What was the experience at the Accademia Rossiniana like? People who don’t sing ( like most of us) might wonder what specific aspects of singing Rossini can be “taught”/”learned” in such an environment.
A. The Accademia in Pesaro is really an excellent way to come together with other singers and see the behind the scenes “coaching” that goes on in rehearsal rooms for Rossini productions all around the world but all in one location and for an intense period of time during the Festival. In addition to all of the musical sessions with Maestro Zedda there are interviews with artists in the ROF productions, with stage directors, even ENT voice specialists, giving the Accademia members a well rounded feel for a lot of aspects in their future if they choose to pursue a career in opera. In addition to these more general aspects, a major portion of the learning is on the style aspects of bel canto and Rossini singing. We’re lucky to have many recordings of great bel canto operas, but some recordings are really not up to the highest bel canto standards. So being able to compare the ideas one has picked up from recorded history to what actually is required of a Rossini Opera Festival standard is a helpful experience.
Q. You have sung a number of Rossini roles and some of them are in infrequently performed operas. This summer you sang in the Rossini Opera Festival’s “Armida” which will be broadcast throughout the United States at the end of November, but you also have sung the role of Aggorante in “Riccardo e Zoraide” which most people, even Rossini fans, have not heard performed. How did that come about?
A. Honestly, it was a bit of luck and a bit of stupidity! My first contact with these heroic Rossini roles was through an agent in the Fall of 2011 when I was asked to sing Rodrigo di Dhu in La donna del lago in Moscow. I thought, “why not,” and after checking out the part and listen to some amazing artists that have sung that role before (both Chris Merritt and Gregory Kunde); I decided “I could do that” and agreed to take on Rodrigo. Luck was certainly the agent connection and contact, stupidity was perhaps saying “yes,” but by that time I knew my vocal technique and was secure in what I was doing to take on such a part. Singing Aggorante in the summer of 2013 came about through another agent who had spoken with me about the Rossini in Wildbad Festival (their director had heard me the year previously here in Pesaro in the Accademia). And my participation in the Accademia came about because of the Moscow La donna del lago. I’ve also performed another Rossini rarity: Osiride in Mosè in Egitto with New York City Opera in 2013 and that was a very similar situation. So, I guess it all starts with someone asking if you think you can sing something and you say “yes.”
Q. OF the Rossini roles you have sung, do you have a particular favorite- and if you do – is there something that you can tell us about to help us understand why?
A. My favorite Rossini role is hands-down Ramiro in Cenerentola. For me Cenerentola has all the musical set-pieces and elements that are typical of Rossini (all that compositional self-barrowing) but in Cenerentola they are all placed in just the right order. Combined that with the classic story, and the piece is just magic! I’m lucky to be getting back to Ramiro in Cenerentola with performances in Germany this Fall of 2014 (after not having performed it since Graduate School at the University of Southern California).
Q. And, as a follow up, is there a particular Rossini role that you are looking forward to singing in the future?
A. I think Arnold in Guillaume Tell would certainly be something to look forward to!
Q. What was it like to work with Luca Ronconi on “Armida”?
A. Working with Luca Ronconi in Armida was a great experience. He’s a very cinematic director and the accompanying program book for Armida showed a lot of the great historical details that were reflected in the staging. That being said, it’s like every other rehearsal period: you’ve got a set amount of time to rehearse and at the end you’ve got to get everyone standing in the right places and all the backstage aspects knowing what they’re doing; in short, a madhouse : )
Q.. What was it like returning to Pesaro as a star, rather than a student? ( OK, “student” is not the best word, because of course you were already a professional..)
A. Returning to Pesaro in a main role (and a non-comprimario role at that) was just like any other working situation at an opera company these days. Before I was in the Accademia I had already been working in opera companies in Germany for 5 years so it wasn’t all completely new as if I was just from the conservatory.
The other aspect of returning to Pesaro that’s very nice is getting to meet new colleagues and see old friends. This past summer I was able to reconnect with soprano Jessica Pratt and tenor Michael Speyers who were in Pesaro in 2012. Several other members of the Accademia from 2012 were also at the Festival. There’s really only a small group of people who go around singing this repertoire and it’s nice when we’re all in the same town together. And of course Pesaro itself is a beautiful city right on the ocean. There are certainly perks to returning to Pesaro!
Thank you very much to Randall Bills for taking time out from his busy schedule to answer our questions.
Be sure to visit his website www.randallbills.com
Follow him on Facebook www.facebook.com/randallbillstenor
and follow him on twitter @randallbills