Bass-baritone Christopher Job is a Southern California native who has been busy making a name for himself in the opera world. Having cut his teeth in Orange County with Opera Pacific, Mr. Job has sung all over North America and Europe, including performances with the Metropolitan Opera, Carnegie Hall and locally with the Los Angeles Philharmonic at Disney Hall and the Hollywood Bowl. He will be making his LA Opera debut June 1st through 22nd as Dr. Grenvil in La Traviata at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. The singer took some time out of his schedule to talk about growing up in California, and his love of opera and heavy metal.
Welcome back to Southern California. In addition to appearing with LA Opera, I see that you are going to be inducted to Mater Dei High’s ring of honor. It seems like quite an auspicious homecoming.
Thank you very much. It’s great to be back. Yes, quite auspicious and serendipitous. No one at Mater Dei knew that I was coming back for this production, as I had planned on reaching out to our alumni group within a week of my arrival in L.A. Out of the blue I get a phone call from the President of Mater Dei High School, Patrick Murphy. First of all, I think back to my relatively rebellious teenage years and say to myself “How in the world did we get to this point in life where I’m getting a personal phone call from a highly revered superior at my high school? He leaves me a highly detailed message about the honor they have chosen to give me, and I was just floored; so incredible. Someone had nominated me, I was unanimously selected…just so unbelievable. Now, for those who haven’t gone to Mater Dei, it’s hard to explain how special this is. Mater Dei is truly a family, and it seems like more than just a high school..if I went on it would just sound plain arrogant. But suffice it to say, this recognition is something that I will remember, and cherish, for the rest of my life. I’m very proud to have even been in the discussion.
You’ve performed all over–with the LA Phil, at Carnegie Hall, in many productions at the Met, and this will be I believe your first appearance with LA Opera. Have you followed the company closely? Have you worked with Marta Domingo or any of the other principals before?
Yes, it’s my first appearance with L.A. Opera. To answer the first question: yes. For me, when I was first learning about opera, Los Angeles Opera was very highly revered in our community of musicians. During undergrad at Cal State Fullerton I sang in the chorus of Opera Pacific, and although we were a fantastic chorus and part of a first rate company, somehow L.A. Opera was on a pedestal. For me, thinking of having an opportunity to sing there seemed to be a pipe dream. As the years went on, and my time away from Southern California multiplied, I didn’t follow the company as intensely,because as a young singer you’re just trying to focus on preparing for your upcoming work, pay the bills, and keep moving forward, but any time I heard of something happening with the company, I would certainly reflect on my longing to return to Southern California, and indeed my desire to sing on the stage with L.A. Opera.
This is my first time working with Marta Domingo, and both she and her production are lovely, to say the least. I have sort of worked with her husband [Placido] at the Met–we sang on the same gala together to honor the 50th anniversary of The Met at Lincoln Center–and it was nice to able hear him complete his highly successful run in El Gato Montés. Beyond their artistry and years of experience, these people are kind, generous and honest as human beings. It is an honor to work with them. I have worked briefly with our Maestro, James Conlon at the Met and many years ago when I was in my first summer program in Aspen, Colorado…but I had a non-speaking role. And “speaking” of summer programs, I have worked with our prompter and coach Mia Im, as well as Peabody Southwell, our (LA Opera’s) Flora in two different programs. Our Gastone, Alok Kumar, has been a partner in crime at the Met in recent years, and a couple of gentlemen from the chorus have been dear friends since our days at Cal State Fullerton, James M. Schaefer and Omar Crook, and Mr. Schaefer happens to have a featured role in La Traviata.
The character Dr. Grenvil is integral to the drama of La Traviata, and some recent productions have given the role more prominence on stage than in more traditional productions. What can LA Opera audiences expect from this production?
Many times, when productions deviate from the norm, they can be very intriguing, or they can be distracting. L.A. Opera audiences can expect intrigue. This production never distracts from the dramatic intent of Verdi, and in fact I think it serves to enhance it, and even give it a new voice. Marta Domingo is very concerned with the relationships of the characters on the stage, and as an actor, this is imperative. As the Doctor, in this production I have been given the freedom to explore a profoundly deep personal relationship with our protagonist Violetta. Not only am I her physician, but also her dear friend, and I care about her, and for her, in ways that other characters are not afforded. If you’ll let me bring this discussion away from my character for a moment, I always say that “this opera is great, but if, as an audience member, you don’t fall in love with and/or feel immense sympathy for Violetta after her heart-wrenching words in her Act II duet with the father of her lover Alfredo, then there’s no point to the rest of the opera.” Our Violetta, Adela Zaharia, is incredible. You need to come see this show. She is a rising star and you don’t want to miss her.
Who are some of your influences and favorite opera singers?
Some big influences were Cesare Siepi, Ezio Pinza, Nicolai Ghiaurov, Bryn Terfel, Jose Van Dam and of course Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau; but my biggest influence when I was beginning to study singing and opera was Samuel Ramey. There was something about him that always inspired me. I recall being given one of his aria CD’s and listening to it all the time. One time specifically, I remember going out to my car after classes one day at Cal State Fullerton and listening to a couple of the arias he sang on that CD. I turned the car off and went right back to the music building and practiced for a couple more hours. “This guy is American. Maybe I can be like him one day,” I thought. He was always an inspiration for me. The first time I met him was after a performance of Mephistopheles in Gounod’s Faust right here at L.A. Opera and I couldn’t have been more nervous. And years later, at a Met holiday party, to be able to tell him personally just how much he meant to me and inspired me…surreal.
Before committing to opera, I understand you sang heavy metal. What singers and other musicians do you like in that arena?
I desperately wanted to be James Hetfield of Metallica. A huge influence. But when I got to my first voice lesson after joining choir my senior year of high school, my teacher said, “You can’t be a heavy metal singer. All metal singers are tenors!” He proceeded to list several metal singers who were clearly tenors, and even mentioned that a couple of them had had classical training when they were younger. Geoff Tate of Queensrÿche, Phil Anselmo of Pantera…these guys wail on the high notes. Just listen to “Cemetery Gates” by Pantera. Legit.
Funny story; after my L.A. Phil debut last year at Walt Disney Concert Hall, [Philharmonic Conductor] Esa-Pekka Salonen took us out to dinner, and here I am having a conversation with him and composer John Adams about heavy metal–see, there are a lot of Finnish and Swedish heavy metal groups, and Maestro Salonen is Finnish–As they were discussing, I decided to chime in with “Actually, if you listen to some of the more obscure metal out there, you will see that metal has some of the finest musicianship in all of the rock genres.” What?!? First of all, who am I to enter a conversation with these geniuses of the music world, let alone offer up something like that? Secondly, I still stand by that statement, however bold it may have been! What a trip.
“La Traviata.” June 1, 13 & 19, 7:30 pm, June 9, 16, 22, 2:00 pm. Presented by LA Opera at The Dorothy Chandler Pavillion, 135 N. Grand Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90012. (213)972-8001. Seats from $39-374. Visit LA Opera for tickets and information.