Morgan Packard and Sarah Ravits, photos by Greg Miles PhotographsThere’s something to be said about opera lyric tenor Paul Groves – who most recently starred as the title role in the New Orleans Opera Association’s presentation of Faust – but it’s not that he lives the life of a diva; he doesn’t have quirks that many performers do and he doesn’t demand attention.
You might never guess it after seeing him belt out dramatic solos from myriad operas (he’s performed all over the world at all of the most lauded opera houses) but Groves’ local roots are strong and sturdy.
In fact, one of his proudest accomplishments is that he recently caught a 300-plus pound marlin in the Gulf. And that he hosted a party for his Faust castmates (whom he refers to as his “good friends”) at his New Orleans home following a Louisiana State University win. Groves prepared jambalaya for the occasion.
Born in Lake Charles, Groves grew up in a musical family; in fact, his father was head of the music department at McNeese. “Everyone in my family sang,” he says. As a teen, Groves sang in rock ‘n’ roll bands and sometimes even at weddings in New Orleans. (Here’s a hint: If you really want to see Groves sing, bring him on stage and play something by Journey.)
He packed up for LSU after high school, where he modestly auditioned for a part in the chorus. But forget the chorus – he quickly discovered “early success” as an opera singer. Soon he was off to Juilliard to study opera at the behest of his professors and in 1996, he made his debut as Tamino in the opening night performance of Die Zauberflöte at La Scala where he has returned several times. In fact, Groves is the only non-Italian tenor ever invited to La Scala for his role as Nemorino in L’elisil d’amore.
Groves hasn’t just been playing key roles in operas, however. He has also been a major player in the revitalization of the New Orleans Opera Association. In March 2006, he brought his friend, the world famous Plácido Domingo, to the star-studded gala which marked the return of opera to the city that was its gateway to the U.S.
Groves says Domingo, despite all his fame, is one of the “nicest guys in the world” and someone whom he can easily approach. The two have been friends for years.
Jack Belsom, archivist for the New Orleans Opera Association, writes that “the company now is poised to continue building on a rich tradition and history of opera which are unique to the country.”
Says Groves, “I live here. I want the New Orleans Opera to be great.”
Groves is set to perform in the New Year’s Eve Gala for the New Orleans Opera Association. After that it’s off to New York to perform at the Metropolitan Opera. But don’t worry he’ll always return here – unless he’s catching fish in the Gulf.
Age: 42 Profession: Opera Singer Birthplace: Lake Charles Place of residence: New Orleans Education: LSU, Juilliard Favorite book: Moby Dick Favorite restaurant: Picholine Restaurant, New York Favorite food: Seafood (the stranger, the better). Favorite movie: Blazing Saddles Favorite musician(s): Plácido Domingo and Led Zeppelin Awards: Richard Tucker foundation winner 1995; Metropolitan Opera winner 1991.
For how many companies have you performed? All of the major opera houses in the world.
In how many countries have you performed? Most European opera houses and many other countries (Argentina, Canada and more).
Do you have a favorite stage on which to perform? I enjoy performing on the Met [Metropolitan Opera in New York City] stage most of all.
Do you prefer performing a full opera or a recital? I enjoy both for different reasons. I get to lose myself in a character for the operas and I usually lose myself in the music in recitals. Both are very fulfilling when everything goes well.
Do you have a favorite opera or a favorite role? I love Puccini operas; probably because I don’t perform them very much. I usually enjoy romantic opera much more. I’ll sing anything as long as I get to entertain people.
Is there a role you’ve always wanted to play or one that you hope to sing later in your career? Verdi’s Otello is my favorite opera but it’s written for a dramatic tenor, which I‘m not. I always say, as soon as we use wig microphones, I’ll sing it!
When you’re performing on stage, whom do you have to trust more, the conductor or your fellow musicians? The conductor! People just don’t realize how much a conductor has to do with the performance. A good conductor can make an average singer wonderful and vice versa.
What is the most difficult language in which to sing? Slavic languages are tricky to learn but nice to sing. Although I did have problems in Polish – too many consonants!
Do you have any “diva” requirements when you perform? No. I’m an easy going tenor – which is rare – but probably because I love to perform.
Have you ever been recognized by someone you’ve never met? Yes. Many times.
Number of CDs on which you’ve appeared? Do you have a favorite? I’ve been on lots of CDs, but my favorite was my recital CD. I did all the Henri Duparc songs. It was the first time it had ever been done by a tenor.
Are there any solo recordings available? Yes. A few. [There are over 30 of Groves’ appearances on CD and DVD available on Amazon.com alone, including recordings with Plácido Domingo and another of Groves’ good friends, the late Luciano Pavarotti.]
Are you attached? I have a fantastic girlfriend named Allison. [The couple met in San Francisco; Allison was working in administration for the San Francisco Opera.]
Do you ever get to travel together when performing? Yes, we do and it’s great!
What advice would you give aspiring opera singers just starting out? Listen to as many recordings as possible and learn languages.
We hear you’re a huge Saints fan? Yes. Even this season. I’ve always been. I am also a huge LSU fan.
How do you see the state of opera in Louisiana? Opera is very difficult to produce anywhere in the U.S. but I think the New Orleans Opera has a chance to become a major player in the U.S. opera world. It’s very easy to get singers to come enjoy our city for a few weeks. My friends love it here so I will keep them coming!
How do you feel about the future of opera in mainstream entertainment media? The new general director at the Met has made some huge strides in this department in the last two years and I think the rest of the companies should hop on board. Opera is not sold by title anymore. It’s sold by personalities. If you get the great performers to come, you’ll get the audience.
True confession: [laughing] I’d like to be a Bass. Then I could have more fun and not have to baby my voice.