For the latest installment of Opera Pulse’s “Artist Spotlight” series, I spoke to bass-baritone Patrick Carfizzi, who has received high accolades for his performances at the Metropolitan Opera, Houston Grand Opera, Canadian Opera Company, Seattle Opera, and more. In addition to charming critics with his “smooth, rich baritone” (Albuquerque Journal), Patrick is a successful operapreneur who founded ArtsLEAF (www.artsleaf.org) with colleagues in 2009. Upcoming performances include Figaro in Le nozze di Figaro with Houston Grand Opera, Leporello in Don Giovanni with OperaKoln, Dr. Bartolo in Il Barbiere di Siviglia with Houston Grand Opera, and Schaunard in La Bohème with the Metropolitan Opera. To learn more, visit www.patrickcarfizzi.net.
What is your background in music? When did you first decide to pursue a career in opera?
I grew up playing piano, low brass instruments, and singing in chorus. I loved and still love choral singing: the collaboration, the listening and making music with others just thrills me. At age 14 I started doing more solo singing. Thanks to my first voice teacher and my parents, I attended my first opera at age 16 at the Metropolitan Opera. The production was Il Trittico, and I fell in love with the art form. It was after seeing my second opera at the Met, Die Zauberflöte, 6 months later that I decided that this was what I wanted to do for a living.
You have found success at major opera companies across the United States, including the Metropolitan Opera, Houston Grand Opera, Seattle Opera, and Glimmerglass Opera. How did you make these opportunities happen? In other words, what steps have you taken since finishing your degree that led to these opportunities?
Success comes in all shapes and sizes, and it’s partly about one’s state of mind and realistic expectations. I have been very fortunate that I have had a lot of help and have done a lot of work. I cannot overemphasize my gratitude for the unending support I have received over the course of my career thus far, but I am also a workaholic and that definitely helps one to be successful (so long as it is balanced with time off). From my perspective, you need to let yourself feel successful, but not complacent, and set your goals high. I was very fortunate to be offered work immediately after finishing my Master’s degree at Yale and from there, with the help of teachers, coaches, managers and colleagues, have worked consistently for the past 12 years. There is no formula for having a career, but there are key factors that can get you and keep you employed: work, patience, a collaborative spirit, and respect for yourself and others.
How would you describe your singing process? What do you focus on first: technique, expression, emotion?
Singing is as complex as it is simple. For me, the focus is always on communication: I usually spend more time thinking than actually singing. I am addicted to the learning process, though you could never have proven that to my 6th grade English teacher! I enjoy breaking down the different elements (music, technique, language, expression…) as part of my learning process and often revisit these components individually while preparing for a performance. Eventually, they all start to blend together, and my understanding of a piece of music becomes based on these different elements feeding off of one another. This is where simplicity and clarity become the driving forces behind singing.
What is your process for learning a new role, both in terms of learning music and in terms of developing a character?
When learning a new role, you need both time and an understanding of how you learn and how much learning time you’ll need for each project. Personally, I am a kinesthetic learner, and am almost constantly moving while learning a new piece. I get it into my body from the very beginning and let it grow from physicality. My ideal learning schedule focuses on short work sessions— 25 minutes of language work, 25 minutes of musical work, a 25-minute walk with the text, and a 30-minute break (then repeat at least once more during the day).
One of my greatest challenges is that I sometimes overwork things. I need time away from a piece so that I can play with it and it becomes second nature. If memorization is an issue, I know I am under-prepared. All this starts and, to some degree, is settled before I get to the rehearsal room. At that time, I look forward to turning ideas and concepts upside down, working with directors, coaches, conductors, and colleagues to craft the performance we will all give.
Describe a typical day.
Typical day for me: lots of good and mostly healthy eating (ie. bran flakes with almond milk, a banana or blueberries), followed by office time (reviewing finances, correspondence, etc..) , a trip to the gym and/or a yoga class, and then it depends. If I am working on a production, rehearsals help to shape my day. If I have an open day, I work on role preparation for at least two or three hours, then might do some volunteer work, or relax and do things that have nothing to do with opera!
In addition to your performing career, you are a founding member of the artsLEAF program, which provides mentoring services for young artists in the performing arts. Can you describe the program and your reason for being a part of it?
I founded ArtsLEAF two years ago with some colleagues in an effort to connect individuals, organizations, and generations of artists through a mentoring network for the arts. By using online tools, educational methods, mentoring, ArtsLEAF responds to the needs of both emerging artists and working artists to stay connected regardless of geographic location for both structured and unstructured dialogue. ArtsLEAF has three programs: 1) workshops with artists from multiple disciplines in which we discuss various careers in the arts, 2) one-on-one structured mentoring for young artists in college and YAPs, and 3) one-on-one mentoring for emerging artists (post-college) or those artists who are considering a career shift within the field. You can follow our progress at www.artsleaf.org
Along these lines, what advice do you have for emerging artists who hope to have a similarly successful performing career?
If you stop loving what you are doing, you should find something else that you love to do. It’s also important to have a life outside of opera; it will enrich your performances and art making. Above all, you should listen to yourself…your team of trusted advisors have a lot to teach you, but ultimately, you need to take responsibility for your business. Finally, don’t forget that ego and confidence are two different things!
What do you see as the next step in your career? How do you plan to get there?
Unfortunately, as much as we try, we don’t have full control over our next steps. There are many roles that I want to perform and many that I want to do again, and, as I am only 36 (for a few more weeks), I am always happy to work. With a long list of roles and opera houses that I am striving for in the US and abroad, my plan for getting there is: to work, collaborate, work, learn, work, listen, work, take at least one vacation a year, take care of myself, give back to the community, and finally, be myself.
People are continuing to question the survival of opera in today’s society. Do you have similar concerns? Do you think that opera is still relevant?
If opera is in danger of extinction, and I don’t think it is, internal and external collaboration could be one of many tools to keep it off the endangered art-form list. If the opera community insulates itself and doesn’t recognize its place in everyday life, that disconnect could be dangerous, especially given the multi-faceted individuals who make up our community. Opera is relevant, but if we as members of the field think we are irrelevant then others will share that view. Diversity is built into our art form, and that diversity must be shared with the broader community. In doing so, we will support the continuum and life-cycle that keeps people interested in seeing performances, sewing a costume, running opera companies, and, of course, singing.