Tenor Aaron Sheehan returns to the ABS stage February 26-29 as a vocal soloist in Handel’s “Alexander’s Feast.” Whether singing the music of Bach (he was sensational as the Evangelist in the 2013 ABS performances of St. John Passion), Handel, or one of their Baroque contemporaries, Sheehan’s expressive singing and memorable performances are well-known to ABS audiences. Last year, Sheehan won a Grammy Award for “Best Opera Recording” for his portrayal of Orpheus in the Boston Early Music Festival recording of Charpentier’s La Descente d’Orfée aux Enfer. I asked him about winning this important award, the challenges of “Alexander’s Feast,” and where he plans to eat while in the Bay Area.
Last year, you and your colleagues at the Boston Early Music Festival were awarded the Grammy for Best Opera Recording for a lovely pair of chamber operas by Marc-Antoine Charpentier. Bravo! What has this success meant to you? Has the positive reception of the recording had an impact on your career?
It was a great honor to receive the Grammy Award for our Charpentier opera. I have been lucky enough to spend most of my professional career singing and maturing with the Boston Early Music Festival. I owe a lot of my success to the time spent with them, learning, and cutting my teeth, so to speak. It is also nice to be acknowledged for doing something you love and believe in. My career hasn’t had a noticeable upturn, but it is remaining consistent and healthy. However, I have started receiving more inquiries for French Baroque roles!
Upon receiving the award, you offered some inspiring words: “Anyone that wants to sing: sing. Do it. Do it forever.” When did you discover that you wanted to sing?
I was a sophomore in high school, and I remember hearing my older sister sing the solo in Mendelssohn’s “Hear my prayer” with her college choir. I had never heard a good choir and the second they began to sing, I was mesmerized. By the end of that concert, I knew that I wanted to be a singer.
What do you like most about working with Jeffrey Thomas and American Bach Soloists?
Working with American Bach Soloists is always a highlight of my concert season. I get to sing great music at a world-class level with wonderful people in a beautiful part of the world. I appreciate how Jeffrey is able to coach his soloists and offer new ideas, but in the end has total trust in you as a singer and lets you do what you do best. As a tenor, I admire his career as a soloist and always look forward to his knowledge of the particular roles that I am singing.
ABS audiences are looking forward to hearing you perform as part of a wonderful assemblage of artists for Handel’s “Alexander’s Feast.” Are there specific challenges or rewards to singing a work in English like “Alexander’s Feast”?
I think one of the best rewards of singing in English is the immediacy of understanding what is being sung. The audience doesn’t have to be looking at the text and translating; they just have to listen. This also brings us to the main challenge: the soloists must deliver the text with spotless diction so that the audience can understand every word we sing.
Handel’s ode is not an opera with dramatic roles, yet the soloists and choir have some pretty dramatic music to sing. How would you define your part in the piece?
I mainly see myself as a narrator, building the scene and setting the mood. I feel that some of the music could be seen as a character, but for my role I mainly see myself as a storyteller.
Are there any favorite restaurants or Bay Area activities you are looking forward to enjoying in between rehearsals and performances with ABS?
The Bay Area is one of my favorite places to visit in the U.S. I always try to head up to the Marin Headlands – Golden Gate Recreation area. It’s a stunning view, one that never gets old. I typically try to spend my Sunday walking around and grabbing brunch in the Castro before our San Francisco concert. One necessary stop is NOPA restaurant north of the Panhandle … great food and interesting cocktails. I think that every out-of-town musician also enjoys stops at Top Dog in Berkeley and at least one visit to In-N-Out Burger.
What songs or artists are you listening to most?
This may sound odd, but I almost never choose to listen to music. I feel like I spend my life practicing, rehearsing, and learning music, so when given the choice, I do something else. When I’m driving, I choose to listen to talk radio. When I have free time I choose to work out, read a book, or explore a new part of town.
Hear Aaron Sheehan, baritone William Sharp, soprano Anna Gorbachyova, harpist Maria Christina Cleary, the American Bach Choir, the period-instrument specialists of ABS, and conductor Jeffrey Thomas perform Handel’s choral masterpiece “Alexander’s Feast,” along with two instrumental concertos by the composer, in Belvedere, Berkeley, San Francisco, or Davis, February 26-29. For tickets, check the ABS website or call (415) 621-7900.