September 15, 2008

Singer Says Rock Opera Led to Arias

By Emily Van Cleve For the Journal

Canadian-born singer Tyley Ross was trained in classical vocal techniques during his youth, but he never sang operatic arias. He was more interested in rock music and relished the opportunity to sing in a Canadian production of The Who's rock opera "Tommy."

"I got into classical arias when I lived in New York and got a role in a 2001 Canadian film about a character who wanted to be an opera singer," he explained. "That's when I met Canadian musician Peter Kiesewalter, who was writing the film's score. The film never came out, and I'm too embarrassed to mention the name. I think it sold five copies."

While Kiesewalter and Ross were working on the score together, they began experimenting with different ways of presenting arias by adding jazz and rock 'n' roll sounds to the mix. "Both of us had worked on lots of other musical projects in the past, but we realized we felt more connected to this project than other stuff we had worked on," said Ross.

The soundtrack of arias eventually became "La Donna," the first album recorded by the East Village Opera Company, which Kiesewalter and Ross founded in 2004. While working on "La Donna," Ross spent dozens of hours listening to recordings by the world's greatest singers. He credits Luciano Pavarotti with helping him understand opera. "For me, our music is a personal expression of the operatic tradition," he said.

The East Village Opera Company presents its collection of operatic arias by composers including Mozart, Handel and Puccini at the Lensic on Saturday night as the Santa Fe Concert Association's opening performance of the season. The company has two vocalists, a four-person rock band with a keyboardist/ clarinetist, guitarist, drummer and bass player, two violinists and a cellist. Extra string and guitar sounds are projected through the speaker system.

"We would have liked to have a string quartet traveling with us, but our tour bus can only sleep 12 people," Ross explained. "We have nine musicians and three crew members."

Arias on the program have been selected from repertoire on the group's three albums. The bulk of the evening's music comes from its latest CD, "Olde School," which took 12 months and 14 engineers to record and mix.

"The album includes sounds from a full symphony orchestra," Ross said. "When we tour, we have the string trio play the reduced orchestral part."

While a few of the arias have traditional, operaticstyle beginnings, most of the songs are a blend of classical, jazz and rock sounds. In some pieces, original lyrics have been replaced with ones made up by Ross and Kiesewalter.

"This is in keeping with the pop tradition of maintaining the melody and changing the lyrics," Ross said.

East Village Opera Company made its previous New Mexico appearance last fall in Albuquerque's Popejoy Hall.

If you go

WHAT: East Village Opera Company with the Santa Fe Concert Association

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 20

WHERE: Lensic Performing Arts Center, 211 W. San Francisco, Santa Fe

HOW MUCH: Tickets: $20-$65. Call (505) 988-1234

(c) 2008 Albuquerque Journal. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All rights Reserved.