Posted November 16, 2010

Boyer vocalists hone their craft with an opera master

Graduate vocal student David Tahere performs an aria from Mozart’s “Don Giovanni” during a master class with American bass-baritone Eric Owens.

Baritone David Tahere stood in Rock Hall, preparing to perform a complicated aria from Mozart’s “Don Giovanni.” In a traditional opera setting, Tahere’s performance would be supported by a full orchestra, elaborate costuming and a full cast of performers. But during this performance everyone in the room, including award-winning American bass-baritone Eric Owens, is focused on Tahere’s vocal range.

“Situations like this are always nerve wrecking, especially in a master class setting,” admitted Tahere, a graduate vocal student. “Even though we’ve practiced and performed this before, there’s a lot to remember when singing Mozart.”

While the audience clamored to find seating, Owens, who returned to Temple to teach a master class last week, sat quietly, gazing toward the stage. Not too long ago he endured similar experiences while studying voice in the Boyer College of Music and Dance. Although he recognizes that master classes can be stressful, he says the end goal is to learn.

“The object of master class is to identify a student’s best qualities and help them improve on their technique and talent,” Owens said. “It’s about drawing out the best, not necessarily fixing something on the spot.”

As each of the four vocal students selected to participate in the master class completed their performances Owens offered a few pointers on breath support, uniformity of color, vowel placement, vibrato and engaging the voice.  

“Mozart is difficult for even your most seasoned vocalist,” he explained. “It's always sort of a litmus test of one’s overall vocal health and production. If you want to know if things are going well, just sing some Mozart.”

Although he developed a fondness for opera at a young age, Owens didn’t set out to pursue a vocal career. It wasn’t until he began singing in the choir at Philadelphia’s Central High School that opera became an option.

“I’ve always loved opera, but I didn’t think about studying vocals until a choir director thought he heard something special in me that his thought might be worth pursuing.”

He began taking classes in Temple’s Music Preparatory program, gaining the attention of faculty members who urged them to study vocal performance.

For his performances in opera houses and symphony halls, Owens has earned a reputation as a versatile and eclectic performer, with a deep baritone voice that has garnered accolades from critics across the country.

Owens’ recent Metropolitan Opera appearance as a troll named Alberich in “Das Rheingold,” a new production by Robert Lepage, received rave reviews from The New York Times and NPR heralding him as the most sought after singer of the season.

Although he keeps a busy schedule, performing across the country, Owens says he enjoys coming back to Temple to help students improve their craft.

“My career has been so gratifying that it's hard to pinpoint just one particular experience, but I'm always looking ahead in anticipation of the next thing being as wonderful as the last.”