At 13, an age when most boys are playing sandlot ball and rebelling at piano lessons, boy soprano Clark Utterback has sung at the Metropolitan Opera and the New York City Opera and has a string of other exciting credits behind his name. On March 13, Clark fulfilled another ambition when he soloed with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.
But the precocious Provo native has always known what he wanted, and he's been willing to work for it. He also lucked out in getting the right mother.At the tender age of 4, Clark toddled down the hill from Sundance Summer Theater, a dream already taking shape in his mind. "I want to be like those people on that stage," he told his mother. Rather than shush-shushing him and sending him out to play, Pam Utterback took his dream seriously and helped to nourish it.
First, of course, came performances in Provo and nearby towns. Clark's first solo onstage was in "A Christmas Carol," followed by "The Sound of Music" in the Provo Tabernacle, where he met his longtime singing teacher, Kathy Visher, who was singing Maria.
"He got that part because he was the only kid who could sing a high G walking across the stage," said Pam. "But he fell down during the dance audition, and he came home saying, `Please, please get me some dancing lessons!' "
Clark studied dancing with La Vaun Turner, and acting with Charles Lynn Frost. He has continued at New York's Broadway Dance Center, and last summer his persistence paid off handsomely when he won the New York regionals, then first place in his age group children 12 and under in the International Fred Astaire Performing Arts Competition in Miami. Clark won all three categories: tap, song and dance, and improvisational tap dance.
"We didn't have money to go to Miami, so I earned it," Clark said. "I sang on the deck of the Staten Island Ferry and collected $600, and gathered enough soda cans to pay the rest."
Clark's early career in Utah continued with Winthrop in "The Music Man" at Timpview High, and Little Charlie in Marvin Payne's "Charlie's Monument," both at BYU and on western tour. "Oliver!" followed at Spanish Fork in 1983, and "The Yearling" at the Promised Valley Playhouse in 1984.
Any boy soprano worth his salt soon encounters "Amahl and the Night Visitors," and Clark first sang the role in 1982, for Gene Larsson and Opera West ("no front teeth," laughed Pam), then for Utah Opera 1982-84.
During the summer of 1984 Clark was one of 12 boys comprising The Americas Boys Choir, which toured Belgium, Holland, Germany and France. (He made a hit by singing "I Am A Child of God" in all languages.) En route he learned of an audition for Amahl, to sing the following December under composer Gian Carlo Menotti's direction at Lincoln Center, and put in his name for it.
"Back in Provo at 2:30 p.m. one day we got a call saying we could audition the next day at 4 p.m.," he recalled. "We went for it my mom put me and Kathy Visher on the plane that night and I won."
Since then, Clark has sung four Amahls at Avery Fisher Hall under Menotti, who he thinks is "a character. He likes Amahl played very happy and cute." In Clark's score, Menotti has written, "for my best Amahl." Christmas seasons have been filled with Amahls in Philadelphia churches as well.
After his first New York Amahl, Clark saw what was possible and began to tease his mother to move there. At this point most mothers would have said "out of the question," and quashed the whole notion.
But Pam viewed the move as a challenge and an opportunity, not just for Clark, but for her four other children. "I wanted them to have some experience outside of Utah," said Pam, a single parent and convert to the LDS Church, "to know that there are good people everywhere, and get to know some of them.
"But before we left Utah, we made a deal. I said to Clark, if I ever have to push you, I quit; but as long as you push, I'll run to keep up. I've never had to push, but I have had to run! He has amazing drive."
Pam was raised in Urbana, Ill., where her father, William T. Everitt, was dean of the college of engineering at the University of Illinois. He was also the inventor of the radar altimeter and of the pushbuttons on your car radio. Since he died in 1986, the college has made plans to rename its electrical engineering building after him.
On a plaque in the building will be engraved a bit of Everitt's philosophical wit: "I am an optimist rather than a pessimist. It is possible that the pessimist may be proven right in the long run, but we optimists have a better time on the trip."
A large measure of this optimism has rubbed off on Pam, who holds a master's degree in counseling from the University of Arizona. She made her Utah connection at BYU the only university in the country that she could find offering both anatomy and physiology during a summer term.
A comfortable, competent-looking woman with a direct, humorous gaze, Pam has always had a way with children. "When I was in high school I invented the Shawnees, along the order of the Scouts, and supervised 42 girls and boys ages 5 to 12," she said. "They earned feathers rather than badges. I guess you could call me a sort of professional den mother!"
The Utterbacks closed in gradually on Manhattan, living first on Long Island, then Queens, then Staten Island. Their two-bedroom apartment on 47th Street now saves long commutes to lessons, auditions and work. "I became convinced it was better to have more mother and less space," Pam laughed.
In New York, Clark quickly made contact with Mildred Hohner, who for 20 years was in charge of all child artists at the Metropolitan and New York City Opera, and he has studied with her ever since. Getting on in years, Hohner now works only with NYCO, though she "loans" children to the Met.
But Kathy Visher stays in close touch, and in January she fulfilled a promise to come to New York when Clark debuted at the Met, singing Yniold in "Pelleas et Melisande." (Arriving at the stage door alone one day, Clark had to talk his way past the guard who said crustily, "There's no children's chorus in this opera.")
Child singers with sufficient chutzpah are rare everywhere, and work came along quickly for Clark. In 1985 he sang Jeremiah in "Jerusalem," an off-Broadway production, and Oliver at Artpark, near Niagara, N.Y. He also made his first connection with New York City Opera, singing the first boy in "The Magic Flute" a role he repeated in 1987, and will sing on tour with the company in May.
Last year was a big one, with the shepherd boy in "Tosca" for both NYCO and the Met, and an urchin lad in "Casanova" for NYCO. He sang Miles in Britten's "Turn of the Screw" for a small New York City company, a role he will repeat this year at NYCO.
"Beverly Sills told me, the part is yours, but just don't let your voice change!" said Clark, who at 13 must worry about the inevitable. He takes heart that his brother Bill's voice has not yet changed.
Singing jingles for commercials, both radio and television, make fine pot boilers and sometimes more, depending on the breadth of their exposure. Clark has about 15 commercials, include Toys R Us and Charmin' bathroom tissue only a middling number. "Some kids have 40 commercials," said Pam. He often sings a little child's voice, and "we have to take a tape with us, to convince people that I can really sound that young," said Clark.
All the other children are musically and/or theatrically talented, and work under the name of Everitt, since their agent found Utterback unwieldy.
The oldest is Everitt, 15, known professionally as Bill Everitt. He attends La Guardia High School of the Performing Arts (the school in "Fame"), plays string bass, acts and does commercials.
Twins Ben and Deric, 12, and Sarah, 10, all sing, do commercials, and act and sing in opera. Also living with the family for six months to sample the musical life is 10-year-old Justin Gurr of Provo. All four younger children are now appearing in "The Music Man" at New York City Opera, and all attend nearby Sacred Heart Catholic school, a desirable alternative to New York's public school system.
The family shares their apartment with two cats and a Schnauzer-mutt named Puccini. "Last summer the school couldn't find anyone to take the resident rabbit, so we had that for the summer, too," said Pam.
Everyone's money goes into a communal pot, though each child gets to save 10 percent of what he earns. About 90 percent of the earnings are Clark's, but "he understands that in order for him to be out doing these wonderful things, we have to live on his money," said Pam.
On a word processor she keeps accounts for some of the children's teachers, especially the Dance Center, writes their letters and sends out mailings and resumes. She also does some counseling.
At 5:15 a.m. Bill gets up to be on time for LDS Seminary at the Manhattan 2nd Ward, where the family attends. From then until late at night, Pam supervises her highly structured three-ring circus. This includes tutoring Clark in extended studies prescribed by the Farrer Junior High in Provo, to allow flexibility for his busy round of auditions, rehearsals, lessons, performances, contract matters and other engagements.
Chores are assigned permanently, since the children's schedules don't accommodate rotation, and some chores like walking the dog are unsafe for the younger children.
Bill empties the dishwasher before he leaves, and in the evening each child rinses his dishes (color-coded, to avoid arguments) and puts them in the dishwasher. They agreed in family council that anyone who neglects his chores must put 25 cents into a kitty (possibly earned by collecting the ubiqitous pop cans at 5 cents a can) for a party.
"Our microwave oven really saves my life," said Pam. "The kids gave it to me for Christmas. When they went downtown to pick it up, they tried to bring it home on the bus, but the driver wouldn't let them on. So the passengers took up a collection of quarters and dimes so they could take a cab!"
What lies ahead for the Utterback family? A return to Utah after Christmas 1988's Amahl at Lincoln Center, if all goes as now planned.
"I wouldn't want to live forever, seven people in a two-bedroom apartment in Manhattan," said Pam. "We love New York, we will leave with mixed feelings, but there are wonderful, positive things to be experienced in both places. We have a house still in Provo, so we have roots here. It will be hardest for Clark when he can't sing for a while."
Clark faces the future with equanimity. "I need to finish school and college, serve a mission, and then we'll see what the voice is like," he said, flashing his contagious smile.