On stage Nathan Berg.
Born in Saskatchewan, Berg grew up in Camrose, Alta., the son of a Lutheran pastor. He began his voice studies in his late teens in Camrose, then moved on to study in London, Ont. In 1988, while he was there, he saw his first live opera. "Some friends and I drove through the night to the Met to see Die Walkure, with Jessye Norman and James Morris," he recalls. "It was amazing to see the sets, the grandeur of them."
Berg made the leap from Canada to Europe thanks to the Canada Council for the Arts. "I got two grants and an award from them. Without those, I wouldn't have been able to study in Europe." He landed first in Versailles, France, to study with the renowned Vera Rosza, and then followed her to London, England, and the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. Early successes included the Gold Medal at the Guildhall, and prizes in the Royal Overseas League, Peter Pears, Kathleen Ferrier and Walther Gruner lieder competitions.
While a student, Berg moonlighted in a Paris performance of Messiah, then landed a part in Rameau's Hyppolyte et Aricie with William Christie's Les Arts Florissants. It was such a success that he was invited back on many occasions, and has made several recordings with them, including Purcell's Dido and Aeneas, Handel's Theodora and Rameau's Zoroastre, the latter two due for release this year. "I never thought of myself as an early-music specialist," he says," but it worked well with my voice."
Soon he was singing in prestigious venues and working with such conductors as Kurt Masur, Pierre Boulez, Esa-Pekka Salonen, Andrew Davis, Christoph von Dohnanyi, Charles Dutoit, Clauclio Abbado, Helmut Billing and Michael Tilson-Thomas. The repertoire ranged from Bach and Handel to Mahler and Othmar Schoeck. Berg is also a seasoned pro on the opera stage. His roles include Puccini's Colline and Schaunard, Monteverdi's Mercurio, Handel's Argante and Mozart's Figaro (more or less a signature role), Guglieimo, Leporello and Masetto, the last two in the Peter Brook production of Don Giovanni. Most recently, he took on the title role in Bluebeard's Castle for the first time, in concert with the Montreal Symphony.
Berg is in his vocal prime. With maturity, his smooth-as-silk bass-baritone has gained in volume and strength, with a stronger core suitable for heavier repertoire. He is particularly enthusiastic about his first Bluebeard: "I am finding a more solid approach to my singing, and Bluebeard is very much in my voice, with nothing out of place." He has also been working on other roles in the privacy of his studio, but is reluctant to reveal them. However, he does admit to wanting to take on Don Giovanni soon, since, after a steady diet of Leporellos and Masettos, he feels he is now ready for the role.
But the recital stage remains his first love. The singers he admires most, Elly Ameling and Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, were lieder specialists. "Fischer-Dieskau is one of my heroes. I went to his last concert at the Guildhall, where he did Die Schone Mullerin. I could tell he had less options to choose from when deciding on the colors for a note, but it was still quite spectacular." For Berg, to communicate in lieder is more than making beautiful sounds. "I feel I have succeeded if I know the audience hasn't been listening to the sound of my voice--if they just heard the ideas and the feelings."
RELATED ARTICLE: DATELINE
Don Giovanni (Masetto)
Rinaldo (Arg ante)
Les Indes Galantes
National Arts Centre
La Boheme (Schaunard)
Toronto Symphony Orchestra
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|Title Annotation:||Biography; a profile of the Canadian bass-baritone opera singer; includes scheduled appearances to 2004|
|Date:||Jun 22, 2003|
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