TROY — Bass-baritone Eric Owens’ career has taken him to the world’s opera houses and as soloist with major symphony orchestras. This season alone has him as artist-in-residence with the New York Philharmonic and in productions at the Metropolitan Opera and Washington National Opera. Local audiences know him from his many appearances at Glimmerglass Opera during the last three summers.
While critics have called him “masterful,” “towering” and “an American marvel,” he only does a handful of recitals each year, one of which will be tomorrow at the Troy Savings Bank Music Hall.
“I’d rather do a five-hour opera than a two-hour recital,” Owens said from Chicago, where he’s starring in Handel’s “Judas Maccabeus” with Music of the Baroque.
In opera, he said, he has costumes, works with other singers and can walk about the stage to better convey his character or the intent of his aria.
WHEN: 8 p.m. Friday
WHERE: Troy Savings Bank Music Hall
HOW MUCH: $35, $25
MORE INFO: 273-0038; www.troymusichall.org
“But in a recital, I must rely on the physicality, which is condensed, to bring drama,” he said. “There’s great intensity in the emotion of the singing, but there isn’t a physical release as in opera. It’s exciting but way more intense. It’s more exhausting.”
Owens likes to get involved in the character of each song rather than just sing the words. That’s also why he’s known for his strong presence in an opera setting in which he seems to anchor whatever scene he’s in. It is not something he was taught.
“It wasn’t something that was natural,” Owens said. “When I was in school [Temple University and the Curtis Institute of Music] and at Houston Grand Opera Studio, and even as a pro into the mid-1990s, I worked on making sure my acting was on a par with my singing. I only took one acting class at Temple. Instead, I watched other artists that I admired for their theatrical presence. I was in the audience as much as on stage. I’d always ask myself why I was so drawn to a particular artist, what was it that was so special about their character portrayal? I learned most from observation and how to do likewise.”
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Owens bolsters this approach by reading as much as he can about a role’s background, such as reading Shakespeare’s “Macbeth” before he sang that role in Verdi’s opera “Macbeth.”
“It’s a given,” he said. “I always go to the original text. You might have questions that are not answered in the libretto. Librettists pare down, so you’re always trying to tell the story even though those parts are missing. You’re fine-tuning moments, trying to telegraph what’s happening.”
Fortunately, for his recital, there are only a few songs that he’ll have to delve as deep. That’s also deliberate.
“There is no one way to do a recital. You can do all Schubert, or do the first half German and the second French,” he said. “A recital is my only chance to be my own artistic director and do what I want. You must be over the moon with the repertoire, otherwise why perform something you don’t like? So there’s nothing new here but the grouping is different.”
Besides lieder by Mozart, Brahms and some lesser known Schubert, the second half is lighter with songs by Ravel and Verdi, and also some Broadway hits.
“I enjoy turning that corner [at intermission],” Owens said.
His accompanist, Myra Huang, is a new colleague but he said she is “amazing, wonderful.”
This is Owens’ debut at the hall and on the Troy Chromatic Concerts series, which he called “an honor.” A pre-concert talk is scheduled at 7 p.m. from the stage.
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