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    Atlanta-born singer Derrick Parker will take on the iconic aria "Ol' Man River" in Kentucky Opera's Showboat this weekend. Parker is making his debut on the Louisville stage in the brief, but showy role of Joe, which is something of a departure from his usual fare.

    Parker's vocal range suits him for roles that offer lots of dramatic opportunity in the operatic repertoire. Dark heros and villains are the usual type for bass voices, who can hit both the deep, resonating lows and the lighter, higher tones of the baritone. At well over six feet tall, Parker's powerful, imposing figure enhances his stage presence. Starting out, he participated in several of the prestigious young artists programs around the country but got his big break while at the Glimmerglass Festival in upstate New York. Parker turned heads in his role of Antinoo in "Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria," a Baroque opera composed by Claudio Monteverdi. 

    "Typically you hear the basses that sing a lot of Baroque opera have a lighter sound...a more baritonal versus a full rich bass sound. Having that and being able to sing all the runs -- the melismas...with the color of my voice, was unique." Parker readily admits that he was hired in his first roles for just those qualities, and it helped that the Baroque (the period from around 1600 to 1750) was having a "moment" of sorts in classical music during the early part of his career. He won positive critical notice in the role of Claudio in Handel's "Agrippina" and as Lucifer in "La Resurrezione."

    But it's not all Baroque, all the time. Parker's favorite roles to dig into are in the Bel Canto style. "I love Mozart. I think it's fabulous...the storytelling, the music, the way he wrote for the voice." His favorite roles are Leporello in "Don Giovanni" and Figaro in "The Marriage of Figaro." Parker recently sang his first Mephistopheles in Gounod's "Faust" and is eager to continue building on that foundation with the great bass-baritone roles of Verdi, Donizetti, and Puccini. "The meaty roles, the devil roles -- that's what you aim for."

    Parker was first introduced to classical music while he attended a performing arts high school in Atlanta. That's where he first realized that his voice was better suited to opera rather than pop or R&B. He also sang and played the organ in church, sometimes to pay the bills while in college and graduate school. While attending Florida State University, his first ambition was to become a music teacher. His voice teacher had different ideas. "Noooo," Parker mimicked in his impressively deep bass, "you must SING!" He switched to vocal performance, and the rest is history.

    Tackling the role of Joe for the first time on stage, Parker says it carries its own sort of pressure, even though he's not the star. "The aria ["Ol' Man River"] is the role....everyone is waiting for that aria and you have to nail it. Making sure you have the low...and then it goes really high." The song is reprised several times in the story, so Parker said he also found a challenge in making each one of those moments different and engaging. As one of the classic entries in the Great American Songbook, artists from Paul Robeson to Judy Garland have tried to put their unique stamp on it.

    Kentucky Opera presents Showboat in four performances this week, beginning on Thursday, February 18 at 8 p.m. followed by two more evening shows on Friday and Saturday and a 2 p.m. matinee on Sunday at the Brown Theatre. Directed by David Gately, conducted by Joe Mechavich, the show also stars Keith Phares as Ravenal, Emily Albrink as Magnolia,  Alyson Cambridge as Julie LaVerne, and Angela Renee Simpson as Queenie.  The story is based on an Edna Ferber novel set on a Mississippi River show boat from 1887 to 1927. The music was composed by Jerome Kern with book and lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein.

    Buy tickets online now, at the Kentucky Center box office, or by calling 502-584-7777. Ticket prices start at $34.

    Selena Frye's picture

    About Selena Frye

    I'm a writer and editor living in Louisville since 1996. I'm originally from the Blue Ridge of Virginia.

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