James Held, baritone
Madison Opera Studio Artist
1. Where were you born / raised?
Born and raised in Waukesha, Wisconsin.
2. If you weren’t a singer, what profession would you be in?
I would love to be a pilot. But unfortunately I don’t have perfect vision!
3. The first opera I was ever in was…
…Albert Herring by Benjamin Britten. However, I didn’t sing – it was an acting role only. The first opera I ever had a singing role in was a new chamber opera by Jerry Hui called Wired for Love, about an email scammer, his target, and the online avatars they created to fool one another. The first standard opera I had a singing role in was Puccini’s La Bohème.
4. My favorite opera is…
Engelbert Humperdinck’s Hänsel und Gretel.
5. My favorite pre/post-show meal is…
A burger at Dotty Dumpling’s Dowry in downtown Madison (if only I could get one anywhere in the world).
6. People would be surprised to know that…
I recently married and my wife plays the oboe. We met in an opera.
7. A few of my favorite books are…
The Dark Tower series by Stephen King. All of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories. The Kingkiller Chronicle by Patrick Rothfuss (I’m still eagerly waiting for the third book to come out).
8. If we were to turn on your music-listening device right now, what five artists/songs would we see on your recently-played list?
Guster, Nat King Cole, Bryn Terfel, Switchfoot, Chris Thile.
9. What is the best costume you’ve ever worn?
The best costume I‘ve ever worn was in high school when I was the Teen Angel in Grease. My mom handmade a white suit for me and I bought white high-top Converse Chuck Taylors to go with it. I felt so cool singing “Beauty School Dropout” and I still have the suit and the shoes!
10. Everyone should go to the opera because….
There are myriad reasons. As Wagner proclaimed, opera is a comprehensive artwork. It really is where all art forms collide. You have artists working on costumes and scenery, technicians working lighting and building sets, dancers, choreography, acting, a director, musicians in the orchestra and singing on the stage, and a conductor. The mastery it takes in each of these professions to put a complete production on stage is simply incredible. All of these elements come together to form these beautiful works of art that tell timeless stories of love, tragedy, comedy, politics, intrigue, fairy tales, adventure, etc. You name it, there’s an opera about it (or someone will write an opera about it). The variety between composers is infinite, and their music is endlessly complex. One could study it for decades and still not know why it tugs at our heartstrings the way it does. That’s why people should go to the opera.
Bonus: One question you wish someone would ask you (and the answer):
Q: How does one become an opera singer?
A: Years of study and hard work. I’ve been training since I was 14 years old. We spend years honing our craft by taking lessons and learning hundreds of songs and arias before we even sing on a professional stage. We practice every day. We take classes in Italian, German, French, English, and other languages. We take classes in music history and music theory so we can understand the context and the construction of the music. We don’t get “discovered” on America’s Got Talent. The voice of an opera singer isn’t fully mature until our late 20s or early 30s, sometimes later. Yes, it takes a certain amount of natural talent, but we spend countless hours learning music and improving our voices and ourselves so we can give our audience the best show possible and do justice to our art form. It doesn’t happen overnight, but we put in the work because we love the art and can’t imagine doing anything else.
Don’t miss the chance to see James all year long, on our mainstage and in our community. Visit madisonopera.org for more information.