Utah tenor to debut with N.Y. opera

He says living in Salt Lake hasn't hurt his career a bit

Published: Sunday, Sept. 5 2004 12:00 a.m. MDT

Popular belief has it that to be a successful opera singer, you need to live in one of the major metropolitan centers and concentrate on promoting yourself and your career. Robert Breault, however, defies that conventional wisdom.

For the past 12 years, he's made Salt Lake City his home. And his career hasn't suffered one bit.

Breault has an active career, singing with opera companies and orchestras throughout the United States. And on Friday, he'll be making what many would consider his long overdue debut with New York City Opera as Alfredo in "La Traviata."

Breault is no stranger to the Big Apple. "It'll be exciting to sing there," he said, "but I've been singing in New York for years. I've performed at Carnegie Hall, and I've done four or five different things with the Opera Orchestra of New York."

When Breault auditioned for New York City Opera, he was asked to sing five arias. "That's very unusual to be asked to do that," he said. The following week, the company called him to find out if he was interested in doing "La Traviata." "Alfredo was the role that I really wanted to sing," he said.

Breault has sung the role twice before. The first time was a few years ago in Michigan under the direction of his former voice teacher, Lorna Heywood. His second encounter with the role was this past summer in Chautauqua. "It was in English, like everything they do there. I've been having to learn the part again for New York and purging my brain of the English translation."

Complicating things is the fact that Breault will also sing Alfredo with New Orleans Opera Association while he's in New York. That came about because he accepted the New Orleans engagement before he knew he would be doing the part with the New York City Opera. "I'm going to be working with two different stagings and two different directors at the same time. George Manahan and Robert Lyall are very different," he said, referring to the New York City Opera music director and the New Orleans Opera artistic director, respectively. "Robert is a detail kind of guy, so it should be very, very interesting."

However, Breault doesn't seem to mind being in two places at the same time. "It's a great role and I'm looking forward to doing it again."

Breault admitted that the audition process at New York City Opera was a bit odd for him. "When I walked in, it was like a cattle call. It was so strange." He said that most singers who live in New York run into each other at various auditions. "Living in Utah, I'm out of the loop. Nobody knew who I was. They knew my name, but they had never heard me sing."

Breault recently changed managers, a move he feels has helped his career. "I decided to take the risk and go with a new agent this year." Breault wasn't dissatisfied with his old agent, but he realized that he was in a rut. "I was singing at the same places over and over. I'd go to new places, too, but I always kept returning to the old ones."

Breault said that his new agent is careful about how he markets him. That, and his large repertoire make it difficult to put Breault in a vocal category. "It's confusing for people. I've been asked to sing 'Cavalleria' for Opera Arizona. I've done 'The Creation' and 'Messiah,' and now my agent is trying to convince people that I can sing 'Boheme.' "

Breault is comfortable with many different roles. "I feel I can do two or three different kinds of repertoire. I can sing all the coloratura stuff and also heavier parts, although I don't consider myself a dramatic tenor."

Other roles Breault has recently added to his repertoire include Mario in "Tosca" and the title character in "Stiffelio." Another new character for him is Steva in Janacek's "Jenufa," which Breault will do with Utah Opera in January. "I've sung Janacek before, but never in Czech," he said. "Once I have Alfredo down, I'll begin to study the language. I'm going to have some down time in New York, which I can use to study."

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