As with most artists that I get the privilege to chat with, I am fascinated by the hours of time and training it takes to perfect a craft. Opera singing is no exception, and making a career out of this art form is an exceptional accomplishment. I interviewed baritone Michael Adams who portrays Count Almaviva in Opera Omaha’s production of “The Marriage of Figaro,” which opens March 31st at the Orpheum Theatre. Adams, who is signed with Sempre Artists, has garnered a list of accolades and accomplishments from first prize placements at international vocal competitions to engagements with world class symphonies and renowned opera houses such as the Grand Theatre de Geneve and Gran Teatre del Liceu. Formerly a resident of the Santa Fe Opera and Studio Artist with Wolf Trap Opera, he came to critical acclaim and is lauded by Opera News for his beautifully rich baritone vocals. Adams was scheduled to have his Met debut in 2020 which was cancelled due to COVID but plans to have his long-awaited debut in “Carmen,” this coming December. From life on the road, to constant rehearsing and auditioning, a robust and busy schedule is also one of the most rewarding of careers.
How did you get your start in performing opera?
Adams: Essentially, I played baseball my whole life and it’s kind of what I wanted to do. I got in a skiing accident and then I woke up in the hospital and had torn up everything. Long story short, I started singing in choir to pay for school and TCU said they would pay for my tuition if I was a voice major. My father was also a singer, I grew up listening to him my whole life which gave me a huge head start. Doors just kept opening. With athletics there are different parts of the game that you have to master. Singing is no different. There’s the technique, then there’s dance, languages, the acting. All these different elements I basically applied a sports mentality to. There’s definitely the education that helps but I think most of my mentors and people who taught me were in the business, in the industry. You learn the most from doing it onstage and meeting these people and just absorbing as much as possible from them. I’ve been very fortunate. You know it takes a village to get this whole thing going. I could not be more blessed.
Apparently it’s a small world in opera?
Adams: Rod [Nelman who plays Dr. Bartolo,] was singing all the buffo bass funny roles in opera when I was in the chorus at Texas Christian University and I met Vanessa [Becerra who plays Susanna,] when I was a freshman in college because she was also at TCU. This gig has come full circle because I have known them as long as anyone. It’s really wild.
You play a lot of stock characters in operas, how would you describe the type of character or fach that a baritone often plays?
Adams: Honestly so much of that repertoire is archetypal. Most of the standard rep, most of the Donizetti, the Mozart, a lot of just the baritone roles are” that guy.” In Carmen, it’s Escamillo, the bullfighter; Don Giovanni. But my favorite roles are comedic ones.You can make “The Barber of Seville,” hilarious, Papageno from “The Magic Flute,” funny.The ones where you can just be a weirdo. I’m always happy to do the leading man thing but I enjoy a good laugh for sure.
Tell me about the character you play in The Marriage of Figaro, who is Count Almaviva?
Adams: He’s the antagonist but he has to have some kind of humanity in him. The audience has to love something about him to make the Countess fall in love with him in the first place so it makes sense that he is a very flawed person but can also be redeemable. A week from now I will reprise the role in Madison, Wisconsin. We’ll have a completely different team, opera house, and production. Same music, slightly different cuts. You get both predictability and variation which is nice. The next director may have a completely different take on it and interpretation even though my character is the same.
You also get the chance to perform with your wife Mary Feminear who plays the Countess. What has that been like?
Adams:This is about the third or fourth job we’ve done together. To do that on any kind of meaningful scale in Omaha is just a gift. I feel very fortunate to get to sing with her because it’s kind of hard to line that up.
Favorite opera houses you’ve performed at?
Adams: Obviously Omaha is on the list! Barcelona, Spain,- that was amazing. We got paella every other day, we were tourists just straight up. Geneva, Switzerland, was also pretty great.
What are recitalist and soloist symphony gigs like?
Adams: You’re contracted as a soloist and the rehearsal periods are normally three, four, five days. As a singer it’s nice because they are shorter gigs. But actually, it can be more difficult than opera because in opera there’s a storyline and an immediate suspension of belief, there’s so many moving parts that help you get into the process, whereas you are just standing in front of the audience in nothing but a suit or a tux you have to really know what you’re doing and saying- there’s nothing between you and the audience. If you don’t know what you are saying or selling it comes off flat. You really have to engage. And so, there’s this trade off with it being a shorter gig but sometimes there is even more preparation time.
Your all-time favorite opera?
Adams: Probably Tosca. That Act 2 has to be some of the greatest music ever written.
What do you do to keep your voice intact?
Adams: Every morning I make coffee and warm up and check out what the voice is doing. When learning to sing, you spend about 10 years coordinating the body and mind to do certain things, and it saves time in the long run if you make a daily habit of focusing on the fundamentals.
Is opera relevant to today’s younger generation?
Adams: Yes! Every first timer is surprised by how much they enjoy opera when they’re exposed to it.
Mozart or Handel?
Adams: I’m more of a Mozart-guy but I enjoy and have sung both.
You like to play golf in your spare time so are you the next Tiger Woods?
Adams: That ship has long sailed! Those guys on tour often have one particular strength. But he was gifted in every area of his game. Fun to watch. He was an artist. Believe it or not, I have learned a lot about singing since picking up golf. The processes and methods of training are more similar than you’d think, much less any athletic endeavor for that matter. Singing looks like magic from the outside, but there are a lot of hidden things happening in the body.