"I'm 27 now, and Partenope is my New York professional opera debut, but I've been at this for a while. I had, you could say, not your average childhood.
"When I was six, I was taking piano lessons, but I was very bad at reading music, so my teacher suggested that learning sight-singing would help. I think my fate was sealed then! When I was eight, a boy was needed for a production of The King and I in Raleigh, and we lived in Durham, because my parents teach at Duke. I auditioned and I got the part. That led to a slew of musical theatre roles: Winthrop in Music Man, Little Guido in Nine, Gypsy, A Christmas Carol in Madison Square Garden, national tours of Sound of Music and Falsettos. I got a New York agent and moved to New York, where my parents split weeks staying with me, and I enrolled in the Professional Children's School.
"I wasn't involved in opera until I was 13. I sang Miles in Turn of the Screw at the Opera Festival of New Jersey, and it took me about two minutes to figure out, 'This is what I want to do!' This was just about the time a boy's voice changes, and the question came up, 'Do you think you might be a countertenor?' I began to vocalize and sing as a countertenor straight through the break. So I've never sung as anything but a treble voice. In that regard, my story is different from most of my countertenor colleagues.
"Then came the question, 'Should I go to a university or a music conservatory?' I decided I wanted the widest possible frame of reference, so I went to Princeton. But I didn't neglect opera. I'd been researching the castrati, so I put together a fictional pastiche piece, with music of Handel, Vivaldi, Hasse, Pergolesi, Porpora, based on the lives of the castrati. By then, I had many professional contacts, so I got James Ivory, a mentor of mine, to do costumes, and Karole Armitage to choreograph. And I learned to produce, and raise money.
"When City Opera first did Partenope, in 1998, I was taking some lessons with Bejun Mehta, a role model of mine, and I came to see him as Armindo, which was his breakout performance. Debuting here in that same role is thrilling to me. I feel I've come full circle. I may be experienced, but I'm not jaded."
Partenope, starring Cyndia Sieden in the title role, runs April 3-17.
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