Meet Damon – An Interview with Zachary Wilder

As we continue getting to know the Acis and Galatea cast a little better (previous interviews with Nola Richardson and Kyle Stegall), we now introduce tenor Zachary Wilder. Mr. Wilder makes his ABS debut as Damon in Handel’s pastoral, January 23-26. His views on the work and making a career as an American opera singer based in Paris, France, are below.

Zachary Wilder

Zachary Wilder

Tell us about Damon’s role in Acis and Galatea? What musical challenges does Handel create for this role?

Damon really serves as the voice of reason in this work, cautioning both Acis and Polyphemus against making poor decisions in the heat of passion or anger. What makes Damon challenging, but also very interesting, is that Handel really asks of you to listen very carefully to what is going on around you all of the time. Each time Damon sings, he is offering a contrasting color in response to the aria that just came before; so you have to really pay attention to your colleagues. Also, two of Damon’s arias are in “call and response” with the instrumental lines (violin in “Would you gain the tender creature” and oboe in “Consider, fond shepherd”), so there is quite a lot to think about and listen for!

Acis and Galatea is one of Handel’s most enduring and popular operatic works. What do you think attracts listeners to it? As an artist, what do you find most rewarding about it?

That’s true! I think Handel was particularly inspired when he first got to England. He really tapped into the beautiful, melancholic tunefulness of the English music tradition there, which makes the work very touching and appealing. But I think what makes the work so exciting is the mixing of French, English, and Italian styles that Handel brought to it, bringing together the best elements of each to make something quite different and incredibly compelling.

You are an accomplished performer in staged Baroque operas. Any favorite roles or productions that you have performed in?

That’s a tough choice! I’d have to say Grimoaldo in Handel’s Rodelinda, as well as singing the role of Mercury in this real gem of an opera by Gioseffo Zamponi: Ulisse all’Isola di Circé. The battle scene with Venus was a blast and I got to dance in that production!

This year, I’m very much looking forward to singing Septimius in Handel’s Theodora as well as partaking in Boston Early Music Festival’s productions of Monteverdi’s Il Ritorno D’Ulisse in Patria as Telemaco and L’Incoronazione di Poppea as Lucano.

As an American musician living in Paris, do you observe any significant differences among French and American audiences for Baroque music?

Oh gosh, you’re going to get me in trouble … It really depends on where in France, but in general the French have the benefit of a very rich education in their own cultural heritage. Lully, Charpentier, Rameau, and Cavalli all performed and premiered many of their works just a few miles west of Paris in Versailles. So while the French are very proud, they are also very possessive and are not afraid to tell you what they did or didn’t like about your interpretation. American Baroque audiences also hold performers to a very high standard, but they don’t come with the same cultural baggage, so are generally much more open to new sound experiences.

Will this be your first visit to Northern California? Besides singing with ABS, what do you look forward to doing while you are here?

I’m actually a native Californian (though a Los Angelino … shh, don’t tell anyone), so I’m really very excited to be singing in my home state as I miss it very much. I’ve been to San Francisco and the surrounding areas quite a few times and am always in awe of the richness of the surrounding geography, mid-century architecture, food culture, and arts scene. I’ll probably try to go to the MOMA, take many walks, and make sure to indulge in as much Cali-Mex food as possible before returning to the other side of the Atlantic.

Unfortunately the SFMOMA will still be closed for renovation while you are here. Anywhere else?

Oh no! That’s a shame to hear, but it encourages me to explore some new things in San Francisco. I’m a big fan of contemporary art, but also anything sort of Wunderkammer-like. The Museum of Craft and Design looks like it’s up my alley and will be opening up their new exhibits just before I get into town. The Sarah Winchester House in San Jose is something I’ve always wanted to see, but it may be too far. However, the Burlingame Museum of Pez Dispensers (and Banned Toys) looks “very” promising.