Six Questions with Daniel Shirley

Six questions with…

Daniel Shirley, tenor
Candide in Candide


1. My favorite thing about being a singer is:  That my colleagues and I are part of a 400+ year-old tradition of singing.  Even though opera is and always will be relevant, the craft defies the modern world, which is so obsessed with instant gratification.  We purvey a tradition that is bigger than all of us.  And there is a weird comfort in accepting that it cannot be “mastered,” only gradually understood over the course of a lifetime.

2. The greatest challenge in being a singer is: Being away from the ones you love.  Others have given the same answer to this question, and they are absolutely right.  That, and also wearing a heavy woolen costume previously worn by someone with B.O.  That’s pretty rough, too.

3. A live music performance I’ve attended that I will never forget is: Alison Krauss and Union Station at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville.  When the whole band sang, the tuning was so precise that the pews shook.  (Yes, you sit in pews at the Ryman, the “Mother Church of Country Music.”)

4. My favorite American Opera is:  Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street.  It’s an opera, it’s a musical, it’s everything, from the sublime to the horrible.  Sweeney is one of my “desert island” pieces, along with the Matthew Passion and The Marriage of Figaro.  This is a completely honest answer and not an intentional plug for our production in February… but since I’m on the subject, Madison Opera is doing Sweeney in February and I am SO EXCITED I CAN BARELY STAND IT.  [Ed. note:  Daniel will sing Anthony Hope in the Madison Opera production.]

5. People would be surprised to know that:  I did not go to college with the intent of studying music.  I wanted to go to law school and then practice entertainment law.  Could not have named you three operas until the age of 19.  Though I had been singing and playing bass for many years, I had no professional musical aspirations until my 20s.

6. Describe your favorite moment on stage.  My answer here is less a specific moment, more an experience.  My middle school choir director was a brilliant musician who inspired fearless singing from all of us knuckleheads.  Those performances are some of my most cherished memories from my entire life, musical and otherwise.  Watching people react, cry, laugh, rise to their feet because of singing – this is when I first discovered that there is power in music, in particular the music made by the human voice.

Bonus: One question you wish someone would ask you (and the answer).

Q:  Where are you from?
A:  Despite sojourns in Tennessee, Indiana, Florida, Illinois, and North Carolina, and no matter where on this Earth I will ever live, I will always be a Mississippian.  My lovely Yankee wife, on observing my enjoyment of the brisk Midwestern fall temperatures, has on occasion mislabeled me a (shudder) Yankee.  But this, actually, can never be so.

Come hear Daniel in excerpts from Candide as part of American Kaleidoscope at the Overture Center this Saturday and Sunday.  Tickets at or 608.258.4141.

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Benjamin Taylor

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