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Daniel Taylor: a countertenor wins high marks on the international scene.

COUNTERTENOR DANIEL TAYLOR'S BEAUTIFULLY burnished voice is the perfect conduit for the music that flows through the operas of George Frederic Handel. And Taylor was getting ready to achieve success in this medium--singing in oratorios and concerts--when success was suddenly thrust upon him. He kept auditioning for small parts and getting lead roles instead.

It happened first with world-renowned opera director Jonathan Miller. "I went to Europe and auditioned for Nicholas Kraemer, who is perhaps best known for the soundtrack of the film The Madness Of King George," recalls Taylor. "It was for a small part in Handel's Rodelinda." In due course, along came that oh-so-polite British rejection slip in the form of a phone call informing him that, sorry, "the part didn't come your way." "Oh, that's too bad," replied Taylor in his oh-so-polite Canadian way, and that seemed to be that. A week later a fax arrived that said: "You have been forwarded to the lead and Jonathan Miller would like to meet you."

Miller happened to be in New York, so off Taylor went. They discussed Quebec separatism, Quebec politics and then talked a bit about the 28-year-old Taylor's training. He had studied not only music but also literature and theatre as an undergraduate at McGill University in Montreal, then had done graduate work at l'Universite de Montreal. The Ottawa-born Montreal resident had his entire resume ready for delivery. The son of a doctor and nurse, Taylor had played trumpet "badly" as a child and sung in choirs. After his voice broke, his countertenor grew stronger, even though he did some singing as a baritone.

Taylor was also poised to tell Miller--with appropriate modesty, of course--how, once he had decided to become a professional singer, he performed with everyone from Toronto's Tafelmusik and Vancouver's Bach Choir to Montreal's Violons du Roi, as well as groups such as the San Francisco Philharmonic and the Dallas Symphony. European triumphs had followed.

None of this was necessary, however. "There was no audition as such," Taylor remembers. "I think Miller just wanted to see if he liked me, if I was interesting and if I was capable of expressing what he wanted the character to express. I don't really know."

But something obviously sets Taylor apart. Miller was so pleased with the young countertenor that he invited Taylor to appear in his semi-staged version of the St. Matthew Passion in New York once Rodelinda had finished its run.

While the Rodelinda cast, which included Catharine Robbin, crammed a month's worth of rehearsal into a mere days, they were told the hall was sold out and 16 international newspapers would be sending critics. Happily, the critics rose as one to chorus Taylor's praises. London's Daily Telegraph called his voice "a burnished trumpet," while The Times thundered about his "astonishing purity of tone and musicianship" and The Financial Times writer maintained that Taylor's was "the best-knit voice in this genre I've ever heard."

Then luck struck again. Having had a successful season, Taylor had accepted--after his agent's urgings--the role of Didymus in Peter Sellars' production of Handel's Theodora at this year's Glyndebourne Festival. He popped down to Covent Garden to try for the small, one-aria role of Nireno in Giulio Cesare and instead, was offered the lead of Sesto, opposite Jennifer Larmore's Cesare.

Making the right choices at the right time is important to Taylor. He was already slated to record the lead role in a Jommelli opera with Frieder Bernius in Stuttgart in December, and in addition, he was assisting Sellars to direct a semi-staged performance of Bach cantatas in Paris. "To learn two major opera roles a year is enough. To make the movements and expressions organic takes time," Taylor says. In the end, he felt he had to turn down Covent Garden. "That role would be perfect for me in a year's time," he says. Instead, this season he will perform Love and Death in Venice with Stephen Stubb's Teatro Lyrico at the Handel Festival in Karlsruhe, sing Hercules with the San Francisco Philharmonia and appear in a recital with Emma Kirkby.

Taylor's success has not, of course, been achieved overnight. His opera auditions followed performances with Ton Koopman and the Radio-Chamber Orchestra of the Netherlands, with Bernius and the Kammerchor Stuttgart at the Stuttgart and Gottingen Handel festivals and La Stagione Frankfurt. That came after a North American career with over a dozen recordings in his discography and performances with every major Canadian group from Tafelmusik to the Vancouver Bach Choir and Les Violons du Roy, plus working in the United States with such orchestras as the San Francisco Philharmonia and Dallas Symphony.

However, Taylor quickly points out he doesn't have to be in some foreign field to be part of a brilliant performance. And he pays a price for these European sojourns. "Already," he says, "I miss performing at home."

Hugh Taylor is music critic of The Hamilton Spectator
COPYRIGHT 1997 Opera Canada Publications
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Copyright 1997 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Fraser, Hugh
Publication:Opera Canada
Date:Sep 22, 1997
Words:821
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