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On stage Nathan Berg.

Since his debut singing Messiah in Paris in December 1992, Nathan Berg has become a busy singer on the international scene. His richly expressive bass-baritone, together with impeccable musicianship and a strong stage presence, have made him a favorite of audiences and critics alike. Until recently, the European-trained Berg had sung little on this side of the Atlantic, and consequently didn't have quite the media profile that fellow baritones Russell Braun or Gerald Finley do. That is about to change: Berg is now front and centre on the concert and opera stages in the U.S. and Canada, while maintaining a significant presence in Europe. He was chosen to sing at the opening of the acoustically renovated Roy Thomson Hall in Toronto last fall, and, last St. Patrick's Day, he made an auspicious New York solo-recital debut in a program of Mussorgsky, Mahier, Ibert and Vaughan Williams, with a heart-tugging Danny Boy as encore. Those present commented on his gorgeous timbre, warm stage presence and interpretive dep th.

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."



Don Giovanni (Masetto)

Opera Bastille

June-July 2003


Rinaldo (Arg ante)

Munich Opera

July 2003


Les Indes Galantes

Palais Garnier

Aug.-Sept. 2003


Samson (Manoa)

Netherlands Opera

Oct. 2003



National Arts Centre

Orchestra, Ottawa

March 2004


La Boheme (Schaunard)


Apr.-May 2004


9th Symphony

Toronto Symphony Orchestra

June 2004
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Title Annotation:Biography; a profile of the Canadian bass-baritone opera singer; includes scheduled appearances to 2004
Author:So, Joseph
Publication:Opera Canada
Article Type:Biography
Geographic Code:1CANA
Date:Jun 22, 2003
Previous Article:Opera new productions/new roles: Richard Margison sings Otello in the Opera Australia production.
Next Article:Debut Yannick Nezet-Seguin.

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