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Heroic Schedule: B.C.'s Lance Ryan has emerged as one of Europe's busiest tenors.

Tenor Lance Ryan was born in White Rock, B.C., but he is little known on this side of the Atlantic, having undertaken most of his serious studies in Europe. "Over there" he is quickly becoming one of the continent's tenors of choice for the demanding heldentenor repertoire--including performances this year as Siegfried with De Vlaamse Opera and Bacchus in Ariadne auf Naxos for the Wiener Staatsoper (the later with fellow Canadian Adrianne Pieczonka).


Our telephone conversation is punctuated at first with asides to his Italian wife, Viviana, as she asks him if he would like a coffee (si, prego) and as she brings it to him (grazie). He then settles down for a recap of his already fulfilling musical career, one that began at Douglas College in New Westminster as a prelude to studying music history and classical guitar ("I had a rock band in high school") at the University of British Columbia. His UBC experience included choral singing and eventually, inspired by the Three Tenors phenomenon, studies with the late vocal coach and conductor Bliss Johnson (who encouraged him to go to Europe and helped him make some contacts) and at the Music Academy of the West in Santa Barbara, Calif.

Moving to Italy, he studied with Gianni Raimondi and, at the Accademia Verdiana Carlo Bergonzi in Busseto (where Ryan and Viviana, a mezzo-soprano, met), with Bergonzi himself. "I thought it was important for me to remain in Italy and take advan- tage of what it had to offer," he explains. "We actually got married back in Canada and we lived together there for about nine months before coming back here. Then I just worked from the ground up, over the course of five or six years, making contacts, doing tiny concerts, little opera tours, working with Bulgarian and Ukrainian orchestras. And I often found myself in the right place at the right time."

As we spoke in mid-June, he had just returned to Italy from Antwerp, where he sang both Siegfried roles in De Vlaamse Opera's controversial new Ring cycle, directed by Ivo van Hove and also starring Jayne Casselman as Brunnhilde. Following a few days of repose near Rome ("We have a little place here in Abruzzo, in the Appenines"), he was scheduled to return to Belgium as the production moved on to Ghent for another four performances. "After that," says Ryan, "I go to Salzburg for Bartok's Cantata profana [his debut at the Festspiele, with the Vienna Philharmonic under conductor Peter Eotvos], then I have a little time off before the season starts up in September in Karlsruhe, where I'm doing Andrea Chenier."

Of the Flemish Opera Ring, Ryan reports that Ivo van Hove's goal was to make a "positive" Ring, a performance that "has some resonance in the modern age. And that's not necessarily that difficult because it is a timeless piece. Making it a positive piece is a little more challenging, even though at the end Wagner destroys the world and presents it to you in the palm of his hand, saying, 'Now, it's up to you, the audience, to go forward.'

"Sometimes singers can't identify with a production, where they don't believe in it. As far as conception is concerned, I always try to leave myself open. It's a two-way street and it's a collaborative art. As a singer, you have to get inside the mind of the stage director."

Karlsruhe is currently home, where Ryan, now 37, was hired as a principal artist with the Badisches Staatsheater after having made guest appearances as Cavarodossi in Tosca and Siegmund in Die Walkure in 2005. He made his debut as Siegfried in the west German city in 2006, sparking Opernglas magazine to remark, "It is not an exaggeration to say he is sensational."

Ryan recalls his move to the Karlsruhe company as "a little risky in the sense of going straight into Wagner after focusing on the Italian repertoire. I was singing mostly Cavalleria, Turandot, Pagliacci. But throughout the years I was studying, people were saying to me,'You're actually a German tenor' from the character of my voice and also from my appearance (I don't look Italian at all). It was something I had always known as well, but I'd never really tried to follow because I knew it was not something you forced; it just develops and you work yourself into it. It turned out that people needed me at the time when I seemed to be coming along. The last couple of years seem to have propelled me forward, and this has blossomed into something that I really didn't expect."

Ryan is looking ahead to reviving his Bacchus, this time with the Semperoper Dresden (Nov. 2008) and Wiener Staatsoper (Nov. 2009). Then there is a Turandot Calaf in Tel Aviv under Zubin Mehta (Oct. 2008), another turn as Siegfried with I'Opera du Rhin in Strasbourg (Feb. 2009, his debut with that company), his role debut as Lohengrin at Staatsoper Stuttgart (Mar. 2009), Florestan in Fidelio in Karlsruhe (Oct. 2009), his debut with Oper Frankfurt as Apollo in Daphne (2010), another Calaf with Netherlands Opera (2010) and both Siegfried roles, again in Frankfurt, in the 2011/12 season.

Will we ever hear him in Canada? "Nothing on the horizon just yet," he responds with some disappointment. He had to decline an offer from the Canadian Opera Company to sing Bacchus a couple of years hence, due to a scheduling conflict. Likewise, he has had to turn down offers from Los Angeles Opera and the Met (the latter as Loge in Robert Lepage's upcoming Ring cycle). "If anything comes up in Vancouver, I would obviously give that serious consideration, with family there," he says. We can only hope.
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Title Annotation:New Productions New Roles
Author:Macmillan, Rick
Publication:Opera Canada
Date:Jun 22, 2008
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