Broadway World Interview: Baritone Gabriel Manro Bridging the Slim Divide Between Opera & Musical Theatre
Southern California's Verdi Chorus will cap off their 35th anniversary season with their Fall 2018 concert PASSIONE! OPERA! The two performances at the First United Methodist Church in Santa Monica on November 10 and 11 will feature four guest artists: soprano Julie Makerov, mezzo soprano Janelle DeStefano, tenor Todd Wilander and baritone Gabriel Manro. I had the chance to quiz two-time Grammy Award-winning baritone Gabriel Manro on his love for singing, the technical aspects of singing opera vs. musical theatre and his recent onstage proposal.
Thank you for making time for this interview, Gabriel!
How did you come to join creative forces with Verdi Chorus?
I was recently attending a concert given by the extraordinary metropolitan opera tenor Todd Wilander, who I have sung with many times in opera productions in Europe and New York. When visiting him backstage, he introduced me to Anne Marie Ketchum, Music Director and Founding Artistic Director of the Verdi Chorus. This put me on her radar. I'm very grateful that she found a place for me on her program for the upcoming concert.
Do you know what you will be performing already?
Yes! I, along with the Verdi Chorus and three other fabulous soloists Julie Makerov, Janelle DeStefano and Todd Wilander, will sing opera highlights from some of the grandest operas in the repertoire, including Don Carlo, Mefistofele, and The Tales of Hoffmann.
When did you realize you wanted to make singing your career?
In high school, I was selected for the California All-State Honor Choir and found myself performing great choral works like Stravinsky's Symphony of Psalms with full orchestra. It was an experience I'll never forget. At this same time, there was a dramatic shift taking place in the musical theater world toward a much more operatic form and style, with works like PHANTOM OF THE OPERA and LES MISERABLES. My formal training as a violinist and choral singer had given me a somewhat classically-bent musical taste which found a welcome home in the likes of these musical spectacles of the 80s. I knew at that time that I wanted to sing on the musical stage.
Verdi Chorus' Founding Artistic Director Anne Marie Ketchum strives to mentor young aspiring opera singers. Who were you early idols and mentors?
My idols in my formative high school years were Michael Ball (Marius: Original Cast LES MIZ, Alex Dillingham: Original Cast ASPECTS OF LOVE, etc.) and Mandy Patinkin(George: SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE). My step-brother and I would regularly travel to Los Angeles or San Francisco to see the touring casts of these musicals, andMandy Patinkin on his Dress Casual album tour. As my musical tastes expanded in college, I began getting more into opera and my greatest mentor became my voice teacher, the legendary Elisabeth Parham. She was a great believer in me and her certainty has been an inspiration throughout my life and career. She also had a superior understanding of vocal technique which resulted in a myriad of her students becoming well-known opera and music theater singers. Ed Dixon was one of these. Another of Parham's students became a huge idol and mentor of mine, baritone David Pittman-Jennings who made recordings of the most eclectic music imaginable, from Wagner'sFlying Dutchman to Schoenberg's Ode to Napoleon (Grammy-nominated Boulez recording).
Is it more challenging, or less challenging for you to perform as yourself, as opposed to as a scripted character?
These are an equal challenge. Whether performing as myself or as a character, there is a story in the text to be communicated. As I sing mainly opera or musical theater, I often have a scripted character. For instance, in the upcoming Verdi Chorus concert, I will incorporate as much as possible the overall story of the opera through the single excerpt that I'll be singing. This communication of the story through music becomes even more crucial when singing languages in which much of the audience is not fluent. My body, my inflection of tone, my musical choices etc. become that much more crucial to the communication of the story.
You sing quite a few of your roles in Italian. Are you very fluent in Italian?
I've worked in Italy and have been quite proficient in conversing in Italian professionally and socially. I do get pretty rusty when I haven't been back for a while, but I know the meaning of every word that I sing in Italian. I approach it in the same way as I do when taking on a role in English and run across a word in the script that I don't know: I look it up and practice using the word until I'm fluent with it. It's the same in doing a role in another language--there's just a lot more words to look up!
You have been singing in a number of musical theatre productions. Do you have to adapt your singing technique performing musical theatre vs opera? Or do you have to exercise completely different vocal muscles?
It's very similar for me. The crucially functioning muscles of the voice are exactly the same. When you hear a great musical theater singer, there is a very fine coordination of the voice that is also present when you hear a great opera singer. The big difference is that the opera singer generally uses much more of their body as a resonator to amplify the sound. This is not totally necessary for musical theater as the microphone amplification is already doing this for the singer. There are all different degrees of this now with "popera" singers like Bocelli, who is a great example of someone who uses the most divine, perfect fine-muscle coordination of his voice, while at the same time not fully using his body to amplify the sound. And I don't think that this is a detriment at all. In fact, I am reminded of when I sang with Patti LuPone on The Ghosts of Versailles(Grammy: Best Opera Recording 2017). There were many world-class opera singers in that cast, but I consider her just about the best singer on
Opera director and singer: Offstage they’re happily engaged, onstage he’s toxic masculinityCalifornia Opera wraps up its annual festival with ‘Bluebeard’s Castle’ and ‘Trouble in Tahiti.’ Gabriel Manro and Justine Prado fill us in
The California Opera Association’s annual Summer Opera Arts & Education Festival concludes with a busy weekend highlighted by two fully staged productions at the Mercedes Edwards Theatre in Clovis.
Béla Bartók’s “Bluebeard’s Castle” will be performed 7 p.m. Friday, Aug. 10. And Leonard Bernstein’s “Trouble in Tahiti” will be performed 2 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 12. Admission is free, with donations accepted. (Also on the festival lineup: the popular “Doctors at the Met” performance at 7 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 11.
The cast of ‘Bluebeard’s Castle’: Linda Baird, left, Gabriel Manro, Courtney Dunn, Chelsea Spoon and Julia Yu. Photo / California Opera
Two of the shining names at this year’s festival are baritone Gabriel Manroand stage director Justine Prado — who just happen to be engaged. (And what a story their engagement is. More on that in a moment.) She’s directing the two 20th century operas for the Fresno festival. I caught up with them for an email interview.
Donald: Justine, let’s start with “Trouble in Tahiti.” Did Bernstein really begin composing it on his honeymoon? (And should that have been a danger sign to his wife?)
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06.11.18Broadway World Review: La Cenerentola at Judy Bayley TheatreSince Gabriel Manro first appeared as a pitiable beggar, his reappearance as the commanding tutor, Alidoro, showed his ability to be different and convincing characters. His voice was strong and his characterizations melded the various parts of this opera together.
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05.13.18'Oklahoma!' star thrills SLO crowd — and his girlfriend — with this onstage surpriseThe audience at Opera San Luis Obispo's performance of "Oklahoma!" was treated to an unscripted storybook ending Saturday night when the star of the show proposed to his girlfriend onstage.
After the curtain call, Gabriel Manro, who plays Curly McLain, brought girlfriend Justine Prado to the front of the stage and after a bit of a nervous buildup, got down on one knee and popped the question, to the delight of the crowd and cast, most of whom were not aware of the actor's plans.
"Please, ma'm, will you do the honor of marrying me?" Manro said, as he placed a ring on her finger.
Prado, who is the production's assistant stage director, nodded her head as the house cheered.
Manro then kissed her, dropped her in a dip and then swung her in a circle.
As if on cue, the conductor brought the orchestra back in to resume playing the closing music, and the curtain fell.
The stage at Harman Hall was a fitting place for the occasion. Manro and Prado met two years ago during another show at the Performing Arts Center, Opera SLO's production of "Pagliacci."
Manro grew up in Templeton and a 1991 graduate of Atascadero High School. He is a two-time Grammy winner.
Launch Related Site05.08.18This Grammy winner grew up in Atascadero. Now he's starring in SLO County's biggest showAs a musical theater-obsessed kid growing up in San Luis Obispo County, opera singer Gabriel Manro was sure he was destined for stardom.
But instead of landing the lead in Atascadero High School's production of "Oklahoma!", he wound up in the chorus with a chicken puppet on his hand.
"The whole show, I was terrible at upstaging people," Manro recalled with a chuckle. "I really laid the ham on thick."
Nearly 30 years later, Manro — a two-time Grammy Award winner who sings with the Los Angeles Opera — is the star of Opera San Luis Obispo's production of "Oklahoma!" Coming to the Performing Arts Center in San Luis Obispo on Mother's Day weekend, it's one of the biggest shows on the Central Coast event calendar.
A turn-of-the-century love story set on the American frontier, "Oklahoma!" represents the first collaboration between two titans of theater: composer Richard Rodgers and librettist Oscar Hammerstein II. The musical opened on Broadway in 1943, earning a Pulitzer Prize, and later inspired an Oscar-winning movie.
That 1955 film was “one of the most beautiful, most perfect pieces that was, thankfully, immortalized … on a Hollywood screen," Opera SLO artistic director Brian Asher Alhadeff, who’s modeled his company’s production of “Oklahoma!" after the movie version." "I’m definitely doing my best to capture that lush soundscape of that Hollywood era."
"Oklahoma!" opens in 1906, with the Oklahoma Territory on the cusp of statehood.
Lovely, headstrong Laurey (April Amante), who lives on a farm with her tough-as-nails Aunt Eller (Dawn Spare), is torn between two men: confident cowboy Curly (Manro) and sullen farmhand Jud (William Powell III).
Laurey isn't the only one with love troubles. Her flirtatious friend Ado Annie (Kate Stephens) just "cain't say no" to the affections of peddler Ali Hakim (Dylan Thomas) and cowboy Will Parker (Stefan Miller).
Their romances play out against the background of a fierce feud between ranchers and farmers over fencing and water rights. (That agricultural squabble may sound familiar to San Luis Obispo County residents, Alhadeff said.)
According to Manro, "Oklahoma!" celebrates a simpler way of life with memorable songs such as "Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin'," "The Surrey with the Fringe on Top" and "People Will Say We're in Love."
"It's just a real fun musical," he said.
In many ways, Manro added, "Oklahoma!" reminds him of his upbringing on a 10-acre ranch in Templeton. As a boy, he won the Little Cowboy contest after riding his pony in Paso Robles' Pioneer Day Parade.
"I'm definitely going back to my roots," said the singer, who graduated from Atascadero High in 1991 and earned a master's degree in music from Cal State Northridge in 2000.
He's performed with groups across the United States and Europe, appearing in roles ranging from President Abraham Lincoln in Golden Gate Opera's premiere production of "Lincoln and Booth" to villainous vizier Jafar in "Disney's Aladdin: A Musical Spectacular" at Disney's California Adventure theme park.
Manro came back to the Central Coast in 2015 for Opera SLO’s production of two one-act operas, “Cavalleria Rusticana" and “Pagliacci." (How’s this for a meet-cute? The singer met his girlfriend, “Oklahoma!" stage manager and assistant stage director Justine Prado, backstage.)
"He's a wonderful artist. He's very expressive. He's very original," said Alhadeff, who’s since brought Manro back for a few gala fundraisers.
Now he’s put the singer at the center of "Oklahoma!" – marking the second time the opera company has produced a Broadway-style musical, following a successful production of "Showboat" in 2014.
“Oklahoma!" isn’t just a showcase for Manro’s talents, either.
Conducted by Alhadeff with help from stage director Edna Garabedian, choreographer Andrew Silvaggio and chorus master Paul Osborne, the show – advertised as a citywide arts collaboration – brings together local talent from Civic Ballet San Luis Obispo, Deyo Dances, Studio @ Ryan's American Dance and the Central Coast Children's Choir.
"Opera is the Olympics of classical music. It's where all the classical arts converge together on the same stage," Alhadeff explained, including music, dance and theater. "In order for an opera company to really have the ability to grow to its full extent, you have to have a thriving classical arts community around it."
He added: "In San Luis Obispo, we're finding that the formula for success is to make something large and expansive … that brings everybody together."
Opera SLO’s take on “Oklahoma!" is indeed expansive. The company’s full-fledged production, which features massive, two-story sets by Rick Adamson and colorful costumes by Randon Pool, boasts 20 dancers, 32 chorus members and 42 musicians, Alhadeff said.
"If you go and see 'Oklahoma!' at (a local theater), you're going to see a very intimate, small production (done) to prerecorded music in a small venue," Alhadeff said, adding that such musicals "were originally written to be large pieces."
Opera SLO, he added, is producing those shows in the grand manner in which they were originally intended. According to Manro, such massive shows are rare for a performing arts group of Opera SLO’s size.
"Opera SLO is a gem," the singer said. "It's this little opera company that does these incredible, big productions" on par with those in major metropolitan areas.
"Everyone should be going to these productions," Manro added. "They're really something."
Launch Related Site06.10.15CENTER STAGE OPERA’S ‘CARMEN’ TAKES SEVILLE… TO THE MADRID, AND WITH STYLEAnd, ah, the toreador – lanky of body and lusty of voice, Gabriel Manro brought brilliance to this strong character with his wonderful sense of the lyrics and use of diverse tone colors as he played with his phrases. He reminded me of Tito Gobbi in his use of the voice for effect, not necessarily for beauty, delivering raw tones and primal energy as he stalked the stage like a cat, using the French language as if it were real, not just vowels on a melodic line.
Launch Related Site02.27.15Broadway World: LA Phil Presents West Coast Premiere of Unsuk Chin's ALICE IN WONDERLAND This WeThe ground-breaking, fully-staged opera, written by composer Unsuk Chin and librettist David Henry Hwang, offers a new remix of the Lewis Carroll story. Under the guidance of director/designer/video artist Netia Jones and with visual material derived from the illustrations of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas gonzo-artist Ralph Steadman, Alice in Wonderland offers the audience a collision of styles and influences set on a black and white chessboard floor and featuring the orchestra as part of the set.
Launch Related Site02.08.15Opera 'Ghosts of Versailles' may live foreverIt's comic and serious, entertaining and erudite, silly and thoughtful, emotional and mysterious, harrowing and uplifting, intimate and over-the-top — and the more times you see it, the more you'll find in it and the more you'll get out of it.
Launch Related Site08.18.14Center Stage Opera Presents LA TRAVIATA, 9/21-28Tickets for Dylan F. Thomas' new production of Verdi's immortal La Traviata are already going fast! One of the most beloved operas of all time, La Traviata was also the inspiration for the hit film "Pretty Woman" starring Julia Robers ("Violetta") and Richard Gere ("Alfredo"). But while Hollywood insists on a "happily-ever-after" ending, opera (and real life) often takes a different direction. La Traviata's moving story and music will be brought to life on The Madrid
Launch Related Site07.25.13nytheatre.comnytheatre.com q&a preview by Line Tjornhoj
What is your job on this show?
What is your show about?
Oration gives a unique description of the human experience and the love and hate, hope and despair, suffering and joy we see in our lifetimes."
What type of theater do you like most to work on?
Music theater and opera in particular provide a unique opportunity to work with important ekstistentielle themes relevant to people's lives. Especially opera creates a space where we as humans can reflect on our lives - the joys and sorrows that shapes us and provide impetus for change.
Are audiences in New York City different from audiences in other cities/countries where you’ve performed? If so, how?
I love being in New York! It's easy to talk to people and they are curious and open. Art is a natural and active part of people's lives and it's wonderful to meet an incredibly diverse audience.
Do you think the audience will talk about your show for 5 minutes, an hour, or way into the wee hours of the night?
I'm pretty sure the audience will talk a long time about Oration. The singers are amazing and the production is beautiful and evocative. In Oration "sound of the human being" is built into the material and the audience will hear great extended voice techniques integrated into Opera. The opera is about the choices we as humans do in our lives and the consequences for life on earth. My hope is that it will inspire thoughtful conversations between people.
Which “S" word best describes your show: SMOOTH, SEXY, SMART, SURPRISING?
How important is diversity to you in the theater you see/make?
All people want to be seen for what they are - creating diversity is a keyword particularly in art because here is the opportunity to create visibility in all human facets. It brings peace, love and harmony!
Launch Related Site10.26.12A Death in the Family (TV 2012) - IMDbMore at IMDbPro »
A Death in the Family (2012)
TV Movie - Musical
Director: Róbert Alföldi
Writer: William Mayer
Stars: Philippe Brocard, Gabriel Manro and Oliver Holmes | See full cast and crew
Launch Related Site10.25.12Best bets in Marin County, Oct. 25 through Nov. 1, 2012Marin Independent Journal
With its clever kids, a wacky witch, a spooky forest, colorful costumes and mysterious lighting, the Golden Gate Opera's annual production of "Hansel and Gretel" has become a Marin Halloween tradition.
Launch Related Site10.14.12OperaJournal Opera on Blu-ray, DVD, Live and HD-LiveWilliam Mayer - A Death in the Family
Armel Opera Festival, Sgezed, Hungary 2012 | Róbert Alföldi, Sara Jobin, Philippe Brocard, Adrienn Miksh, Vira Slywotsky, Gabriel Manro, Todd Wilander, Nora Graham-Smith, Sarah Belle Miller, David Neal, Joshua Jeremiah, Brooke Larimer, Ashley Kerr, Judith Skinner, David Gordon, Aaron Theno | Internet streaming - ARTE Live Web, 8 October 2012
Based on a novel by James Agee - the work unpublished at the time of the author’s death - A Death in the Family was created for New York’s Center for Contemporary Opera in 1983, the composer William Mayer, drawing also from Ted Mosel’s play ‘All the Way Home’ in the writing of the libretto. It’s a work that is seeped in the local colour of the deep American south and the period, set in Knoxville Tennessee in 1915, the score and libretto drawing music and imagery from gospel music and the blues to capture the tone of melancholy and sorrow that pervades the opera.
Launch Related Site03.11.12"Lincoln and Booth"- A Bold New Opera - Matinee Performance"Lincoln and Booth" is a Bold New Live Opera, set in the Civil War Era, about the lives and times of President Abraham Lincoln and actor John Wilkes Booth, commemorating the 150th Anniversary of the American Civil War. Created by John Cepelak, composer, and Christina Rose, librettist, both of Mill Valley, CA. The cast features Gabriel Manro, baritone, as Abraham Lincoln, Matthew O’Neill, tenor, as John Wilkes Booth...
Launch Related Site03.08.12San Francisco Chronicle - "Lincoln" Packs a Wallop of HistorySeasoned baritone Gabriel Manro who, at 6-foot-5 resembles the towering president, leads the cast as Lincoln. Matthew O'Neill, a tenor who has just finished a gig performing in the "Moby-Dick" opera in San Diego, stars opposite Manro as John Wilkes Booth, Lincoln's fate-sealer.
Launch Related Site03.01.12Mill Valley composer-librettist couple make history with 'Lincoln and Booth'"Lincoln and Booth," Marin's first opera premiere, will be performed March 10 and 11 by Golden Gate Opera at Dominican University. It's the first opera the two have written, and it's the first opera ever written about President Abraham Lincoln and John Wilkes Booth. And it's being debuted on the 150th year commemoration of the Civil War.
"This is the biggest public performance I've ever received," notes Cepelak, who began writing the music for the opera almost 12 years ago. "Yeah, I'm nervous!"
Launch Related Site02.29.12Golden Gate Opera premieres ‘Lincoln and Booth’The cast features baritone Gabriel Manro as Lincoln, tenor Matthew O’Neill as Booth and soprano Jacqueline Goldgorin as Mary Todd Lincoln.
Launch Related Site02.24.12Marin Voice: Lincoln opera offers timely history lessonTHE OPERA, "Lincoln and Booth," debuts in Marin on March 10 and 11 at Dominican University.
There have been only two operas in part based on the life of our 16th president. Ironically, both will have premiered on either side of the Golden Gate: Phillip Glass' "Appomattox" in 2007 and Christina Rose and John Cepelak's work this year
Collaborating with Roberta Becker of Golden Gate Opera, the opus coincides with the sesquicentennial commemorations of the Civil War.
Launch Related Site01.20.12Opera Preview Party - "Lincoln and Booth"!Hear and meet the stars, Gabriel Manro, baritone, as Abraham Lincoln, and Jacqueline Goldgoren, soprano as Mary Todd Lincoln. Also meet the "Lincoln and Booth" creators, John Cepelak, composer, and Christina Rose, librettist.
Launch Related Site10.23.11"Manro was still performing in Los Angeles Opera's Il Postino when Forza opened on October 15. Gifted with a striking, sinister baritone that remains strong, even and sonorous throughout the range, he tore into Verdi's music on October 23 with a vengeance. Manro's towering portrayal declared his readiness for major roles in houses far beyond his Southern California base." - Opera News
Launch Related Site07.13.11Review: Festival's complicated undertaking of Boris Godunov"Gabriel Manro demonstrated bass and baritone prowess."
Launch Related Site11.01.10"Manro’s every syllable, every expression, every gesture demonstrated his mono-mania in an outstanding way. At times he was truly terrifying." - Splash Magazine
Launch Related Site10.23.10"West Bay Opera dared, for the first time in its fifty-five-year history, to undertake one of opera's "big ones" — Verdi's La Forza del Destino. Thanks to the major casting coup of baritone Gabriel Manro as Don Carlo, the results were more than credible." - Opera News
Launch Related Site10.22.10"The biggest revelation to me has been Gabriel Manro’s powerful Don Carlo." - Songs and Schemas
Launch Related Site10.19.10"Gabriel Manro, a stunning Carlos, registered a standout performance with his beautiful open and free voice. Manro is likely to enjoy a long, full career." - Los Altos Town Crier
Launch Related Site10.17.10"If no weapons are involved, next time I am facing a gang in a dark alley, I want Gabriel Manro on my side. The young, lanky baritone would need only sing “Morir! Tremenda cosa!” (Die! Darn it!) and all the bad guys would run away, presto." - San Francisco Classical Voice
Launch Related Site10.17.10"Manro is a new kind of baritone: not lyric, not helden, not Kavalier, not Bariton-Martin — none of those. Rather, he’s a knock-down baritone." - San Francisco Classical Voice
Launch Related Site10.17.10"His was an exciting debut of intensity and power. In the role of the demented Don Carlo, Manro burns up the stage, making at least this part of Francesco Maria Piave’s preposterous libretto believable." -San Francisco Classical Voice