By Bill Kennedy
In his own words, Brenton Ryan may have once been "super shy," but he has emerged as not only an outgoing, confident young tenor but as an artist with an unusually focused view of where he is headed.
The Domingo-Colburn-Stein Young Artist's emergence began 19 years ago, when his family moved from St. Louis to Sedalia, Missouri, and his mother and stepfather thrust their nine-year-old onto the community stage as a way to gain confidence and make friends.
The play was Oliver!, and, in an informal interview in the office of LAO's Senior Director of Artistic Planning Joshua Winograde, "Brent" unhesitatingly slaps on a cockney accent and repeats his first lines onstage: "Books you ordered from the bookseller, sir."
The stage, singing and the performing arts in general were in his sights from then on. At the suggestion of his father, Brent went to DePaul University in Chicago to study Performing Arts Management. First-year students were required to take a semester of training in their instrument of choice. Brent's was his voice and his instructors there led him to opera and eventually to Rice University's Shepherd School of Music, from which he graduated in 2011.
The slim, energetic young man's greatest inspiration has come not from musicians but from his father, mother and stepfather, all of whom never wavered in their support of a career track that isn't exactly standard in Sedalia (pop. 21,387).
Brent credits Joshua Winograde as the force that brought him to L.A. "He heard something in the Musto and Berg I sang during auditions and his enthusiasm" won Brent's commitment.
Brent's focus as a singer is on roles that require the voice to be fully integrated into the drama, rather than simply showpieces. He is grateful to have been brought into "Rossini-ville" to sharpen his technique, but his passion is for roles like Alwa in Alban Berg's Lulu and Peter Quint in Benjamin Britten's The Turn of the Screw, parts he hopes to sing one day, that draw on intelligence and emotion in a fully dramatic context.
In a similar vein, he admires artists such as Graham Clark, Jon Vickers, Rosa Ponselle and Maria Callas for the skill of their "vocal acting."
Brent points to the unique improv component in the Young Artist program as an important contributor to his development as a singing actor. Since so much of opera is tightly timed and staged, it's important, he feels, to be able to "fill in the gaps...in order to take control of your character in time and place." Improv is great training for character development and interpretation, reinforcing what Brent first found in the early theater experiences that helped him shed his shyness. He says: "You have to be open and vulnerable and deal with levels of discomfort. It helped me to get to know myself."
In a busy debut season with LA Opera in 2014-15, Brent sang Gastone in La Traviata, the Spirit/Sailor in Dido and Aeneas, Léon in The Ghosts of Versailles and three roles in Hercules vs. Vampires.
In June he took on the most important role of his life, marrying Irish mezzo-soprano Naomi O'Connell, whom he met in New York, and spending the summer visiting their respective families.
BRAVO readers can look forward to seeing and hearing more from this skilled, intelligent artist this season as he sings Beppe in Pagliacci under the baton of Plácido Domingo and Monostatos in The Magic Flute, conducted by James Conlon.