AMERICAN IDENTITY:

Tenor Nicholas Phan, who sings Berlioz’s Roméo et Juliette with San Francisco Symphony this month, thrives on exploring an eclectic repertoire.

OPERA NEWS  (click link for FULL article at Opera News)

JUNE 2017

Judith Malafronte

WHEN TENOR NICHOLAS PHAN invited me to one of his rehearsals, I jumped at the chance. I’ve long admired Phan’s musical individuality and his smart, thoughtful blog, and I’m fascinated to see him at work. At an October 2016 meeting near Lincoln Center, Phan and pianist Myra Huang are revisiting “Gods and Monsters,” a program of German lieder that they’ve already toured and recorded. If one of them needs to tear through a song full-out to check stamina, the other obliges. They dig into the texts, refining tempo changes—“Is that ritard too indulgent?”—and sharpening musical gestures. 

I’m curious to know why, with a career centered on composers such as Bach, Mozart, Stravinsky and Britten, Phan never felt the need to move to Europe. He answers immediately, “I’m very aware of being an American artist, and I feel a responsibility to be here.” Half Greek, half Chinese, and raised in the Midwest, Phan admits that the first time he identified as an American—“and what that meant”—was in 2003, at the BBC Cardiff Singer of the World competition...

...Now, at thirty-eight, Phan seems both secure and chameleonic in identity. He’s smart and well-educated, an ex-violinist (“Sometimes it’s a relief having and not being the instrument”) and a sophisticated chamber musician. Phan credits the Marlboro Music Festival, in Vermont, for offering him “a space where my independence could shine.” Over four summers at the acclaimed chamber-music festival, he says, “I sang everything from Monteverdi duets to the Britten canticles and spent five weeks—an incredible experience—working with Mitsuko Uchida on Schumann’s Dichterliebe.”...

...Storytelling and compelling communication fueled “Gods and Monsters,” and an earlier recording featured works of Benjamin Britten, one of Phan’s favorite composers. “Oddly, though, I’ve done no Britten opera roles as yet,” he says. The title role in Albert Herring...and The Rape of Lucretia’s Male Chorus are on his wish list. The tenor sees himself moving into Mozart’s Tito and Idomeneo, and he recently sang Stravinsky’s Oedipus Rex...

...When he speaks of role models for his eclectic musical career, the name Anthony Rolfe-Johnson comes up more than once. “He sang everything with such heart and such beautiful vocalism, combined with artistry,” says Phan. Like the great British tenor, who died in 2010, Phan believes that “opera and concert music serve each other.” When you mix in Phan’s artistic directorship of the Collaborative Arts Institute of Chicago, it’s no wonder he also feels a connection to John Beard, the eighteenth-century tenor who sang for Handel and Thomas Arne in a variety of theater and concert works. “He also ran an opera house and was a total business person,” Phan says.

The Chicago project reflects Phan’s commitment to chamber music and to service. The institute sponsors art-song recitals, master classes and educational opportunities in collaboration with the poetry foundation and local universities. “I love the song repertoire so much. This way we’re able to give back to the art form and the community, by providing resources to everybody...Forming the organization has taught me a lot about myself artistically and also what my priorities are. A lot of different singers sing art songs, but this has shown me how various parts of my training have come together in this moment. I’m an orchestral player, a chamber musician who sings, but who was trained in the opera house. Here it all comes together.”