Performing the swaggering soldier-suitor Belcore in Gaetano Donizetti's charming comic opera, Elixir of Love (L'Elisir d'amore), Kentucky native Chad Sloan will take the stage for this Friday night's opening at the Brown Theater. This is Sloan's first time playing Belcore, but not the first time he's performed with Kentucky Opera. In a recent interview, he filled me in on how his training and education right here in his home state helped launch him into a successful performing career.
If there was a cool brand for musicians like the familiar Kentucky Proud logo that graces local food products, then baritone Chad Sloan would have it tattooed across his forehead. Born and raised in Fort Mitchell, near Cincinnati, Sloan took advantage of a strong band program at his high school to play French horn and then sang in the choir and performed musical theater there. His first visit to Louisville came through his experience with the All-State Choir.
“When I took that audition, the person who was judging that audition...was David Brown, who for many years was the vocal music director at the Youth Performing Arts School here in Louisville...and he pulled me aside afterwards and said, 'I think that you should audition for the Governor's School for the Arts.'”
Sloan took that advice and attended the summer course on the Bellarmine campus, studying vocal music with Edith Davis Tidwell, who taught at the University of Louisville. She made such an impression on Sloan that he was recruited to the U of L School of Music to earn his degree, going on to do graduate work at The Juilliard School in New York. He gives full credit to the early nurturing in the arts that he received in Kentucky as his stepping-stone to a career in music, especially that first, exciting foray into opera that he took while at the Governor's School.
“They brought in recordings for us to listen to and it was really the first time that I listened to it with ears like maybe this is something that I'm going to do.” Sloan particularly remembers that one of his teachers form Bellarmine, A.T. Simpson, brought in a bunch of recordings of "Largo al factotum" from Rossini's Barber of Seville . Sloan's response to it was, “I think it's awesome and definitely something that I want to do.”
(Let me just admit here, that as a youngster, my first exposure to opera, and specifically The Barber of Seville, was the classic Bugs Bunny short, Rabbit of Seville in which he creates a salad on Elmer Fudd's head. It is, indeed, awesome.)
While at the University of Louisville, Sloan got the chance to dip his toes further into his chosen career through the Kentucky Opera Chorus and by taking important small roles in its 2005 productions of Madame Butterfly as Yamadori and Zaretsky in Eugene Onegin. Now, Sloan finds himself back in a major role, his first outing as Belcore. I asked him how he prepares for a brand new role.
“It all starts with sitting down with the score and highlighting your part...translate every word and get that in your mouth, and speak through the text, speak through the text – that's the most important part....And then it's just me and the piano.” He also does research on his own and studies others who have played the same role. “Probably the most famous Belcore is Leo Nucci and I probably have at least five different recordings of L'Elisir d'amore. I listen to all the different styles, all the different tempos, all the different interpretations, and from all of that, I form my own opinion and my own voice, and go from there.”
Sloan admits that the arrogant and rather pompous character of Belcore is completely opposite from his own personality, so the challenge has come in finding his own “swagger” for the role. “Donizetti has put a lot of what he wants to say about a character in the music...it's blatant in the music.”
As far as other roles in his repertoire, a recent favorite is Count Almaviva in Mozart's Marriage of Figaro. “He's sort of a bad guy, but he gets to ask for forgiveness in the end in probably one of the most beautiful moments in opera.” Sloan loved playing the part and is eager to tackle all of Mozart's baritone roles. He loves the darkly psychological aspects of Mozart's great characters, especially Don Giovanni, who he most wants to play one day.
In addition to the classics, Sloan is very much an admirer of contemporary music. He recently took part in a collaborative program between Kentucky Opera, the University of Louisville, and the Academy of St. Francis called the Composer Workshop, working with Ben Moore, who has written a new opera, Enemies: A Love Story, based on the I. B. Singer novel. Sloan and Moore went on to work on a new song cycle that just premiered in New York.
Since Sloan is the second baritone I've talked to recently, I had to ask a rather cheeky question about the relative attitudes of baritones to their tenor counterparts. It is after all, often the tenors in the spotlight with many of the big, iconic roles and famous arias, not to mention the “supergroups” of tenors such as Pavarotti, Domingo, and Cabrera.
Sloan assured me that he loved his own musical repertoire in opera and that much of the great contemporary music he is so interested in is well-suited to baritones. He then added, “The tenor gets the girl on stage – the baritone gets the girl off-stage.” Ah, well played, sir!
Below, you can watch Chad perform (and woo the ladies) in a little snippet from Kentucky Opera's Patron's Circle Event:
Kentucky Opera will perform Donizetti's Elixir of Love this Friday, October 22 at 8:00 p.m. and October 24 at 2:00 p.m. Tickets range from $35 - $95, available from Kentucky Center's box office or by calling (502) 562-0100.