Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Farewell to a wonderful baritone?

Earle Patriarco in front of the Metropolitan Opera House, date unknown.

Back in 1999 I discovered the wonderful American baritone Earle Patriarco, when he sang Lescaut on the superb Angela Gheorghiu/Roberto Alagna recording of Manon, conducted by Antonio Pappano. His singing was robustt and immensely characterful, and there were several moments during his portrayal (his sheer disbelief when Manon wants to go to Saint-Sulpice and his bribing of the Le Havre guards - "J'insiste!") where I actually laughed out loud. It was a superbly cast recording all around, even in the smallest parts, but Patriarco came close to stealing the show from Angela and Roberto - not easy! I believe he appeared in several recordings subsequently, and I saw him many times at the Metropolitan Opera since. Per the Met database he has sung 177 performances between 1997 and 2010, debuting as Ping in Turandot (1). Most of the time this was in character and comic parts (Taddeo in L'Italiana in Algieri, Falke in Die Fledermaus, the Marquis D'Obigny in La Traviata (2), Schaunard in La Boheme, and Dancaire in Carmen) but I was fortunate to also see his Figaro in Il Barbiere di Siviglia (he was covering the indisposed Simon Keenlyside, injured in a bike accident). While there are baritones who could beat him for sheer voice, I have never seen a more sheerly loveable and adorable Figaro than Patriarco. He also sang Belcore in L'Elisir D'Amore (which on the basis of his Figaro would suit him perfectly!) and Valentin in Faust, which especially in light of recent events, I am very unhappy I missed.

I was looking through my Das Rheingold program last night, noting any new additions to the roster, when I discovered, to my horror, that the newest bass in the Met chorus is...Earle Patriarco. What the heck is he doing in the chorus? My first thought was - he's ill or has had vocal problems - but surely that would be unlikely, with the huge workload the chorus takes on? A victim of nasty backstage politics? I suspect there's a bit less than in the Volpe era of that under Gelb - he seems to be a mensch, whether his underlings are or aren't. After talking with a few people (who know people who know Earle), it looks like it was his decision after all. He has five or six kids and he might have decided a steady chorus gig was better for his family than gallivanting all over the world like most singers do - and possibly the chorus pays better than being a freelance comprimario in other houses (I think it's about $70,000). It seems to be similar to the situation with bass Jeffrey Wells, who gave up singing major roles like Mephistopheles in smaller American theaters to get steady, and better-paying, comprimario work at the Met. Earle also apparently was looking for some local voice faculty jobs, which would also indicate a desire to settle down. And perhaps this isn't all bad - I have to remind myself that there are thousands of singers who would kill to get into the Met chorus. I considered auditioning about 15 years ago, but I'm not a good enough musician and the schedule is probably murderous - I can't imagine singing Turandot the night after I sang Carmen, both very heavy chorus operas that are occasionally performed on subsequent nights. Plus I've heard rumors that they'd fire you if you made the same mistake twice.

What still bothers me is - even if he is in the chorus, why isn't he on the main roster as well? Surely there must be some role, major or comprimario, that he can cover this year (OK, they aren't doing Barbiere or Elisir)? Or is there still a possibility that he could return to the main roster in future seasons? He's given the Met a lot of good work and he deserves to be rewarded for it. If not, his last performance was as Dancaire on May 1, 2010. I wish him to be happy and well, whatever happens.

Actually, it just occurred to me - if Earle is going to be "stuck" in NYC for the next year, maybe we might be able to see him here in recital?


(1) More recently, Ping is the role that the Volpe administration relegated wonderful Chinese baritone Haijing Fu (my first Met baritone, as Enrico in Lucia di Lammermoor) to, once they had Europeans they could replace him with in Verdi. And now he's not even getting that...

(2) As the Marquis, Patriarco bombastically attempted to join the flamenco dancers at Flora's party, which considering that he (or the Marquis!) isn't a good dancer, was memorably funny. And former recording colleague Angela Gheorghiu, as Violetta, gave him such a gigantic hug at the Marquis' arrival at Violetta's party that it was clear it was Angela hugging Earle, not just Violetta hugging the Marquis!


Anonymous said...

You posted the article about Earle Patriarco taking a spot in the Met Chorus almost three years ago, but there is a question in there I wanted to address. You asked why he wasn't also on the Met's regular roster. Unfortunately, that's not the way this business works. If you're chorus, you're chorus. If you're a soloist, you're a soloist. There is no crossover. I was at San Francisco Opera as a chorus member, and that was one of the obstacles to pursuing solo roles: the companies want to see you dedicated as a soloist, regardless of your vocal talent. I saw soloists come through that many of our chorus members could sing CIRCLES around, but they would never be considered because, again, it just doesn't work that way. Part of it has to do with the AGMA collective bargaining agreement. Soloists and choristers are covered under different collective contracts and handled differently, so the companies must treat the singers as one or the other. There is a provision for chorus members singing bit roles or covering small roles, but you'd never see a chorus member covering a big role in any of the major houses covered by the AGMA contracts.

On another note, I saw Earle at the Merola finals in San Francisco when I was 18, back in 1993. He was the one singer I remembered vividly from that concert. He sang an AMAZING version of the Soliloquy from Carousel. One of the hardest things for any baritone to sing in either the Broadway or Operatic repertoires

Anonymous said...

Farewell to a wonderful baritone chorister !

In contrary to Patriarco's departure from the solo roster, Jason Stearns' case is also an interesting one, not as unusual, but no doubt a brave choice. He entered the Met first as a bass chorister and then several seasons later broke out and left the chorus to sing comprimario roles and to cover lead roles. He always knew his voice was that of a soloist and even though he had had a taste of that big chorus paycheck he decided that his true calling was as a solo singer.
It's true there is something to be said for a steady paycheck in this business, but as another artist from the chorus used to say,
" Being in the Met chorus is like wearing handcuffs because you're always tied down...granted the handcuffs are make of gold, but they are handcuffs never the less....! "