Interview with Scott Belluz, The Shadow

Scott Belluz, Countertenor © V.Wells 2009

I had a meet-up after the press night for Tapestry’s The Shadow with that role’s artist, countertenor Scott Belluz. We had an engaging conversation about new opera works, music education and his performance in this new opera by Omar Daniel and Alex Poch-Goldin. [What follows is my paraphrase of our discussion and any errors or omissions are entirely mea culpa.]

I commented that I knew a teenager who was totally hooked on Tapestry Opera, and wondered what was the appeal of this company that it could be considered a cool entertainment option for the partying demographic. Scott felt that it was twofold in nature. The subject matter of Tapestry’s productions is very current which is atypical of what we usually think of as opera, so the content is automatically appealing. He also pointed out that the youth of the composers and librettists and performers involved also contributes to a common, current worldview, and the material is therefore very much of this time.

Chatting about music education and the pitfalls of the more traditional system—such as the potential to be pigeonholed and therefore restricted from growth in new directions—we segued into a discussion about stereotypes. We tend to think of tenors as playing the love interests/protagonists, so I asked why the countertenor’s range fits the malevolent Shadow. It works, but it seems contradictory. Scott offered several enlightening reasons. If we take the Jungian idea about the totality of the human being the sum of the feminine and masculine in us, then the countertenor as male in body and “female” in range is actually very á propos. And, as he pointed out, the humanity is really the essence of the matter, not the gender or its implications—and if we are unsettled by any of this countertenor stuff, it’s really our issue and a result of our socialization. Finally, the singer also said that because more roles are now being written for countertenors, which are inherently going to be different and new to our sensibilities, this will break the mold in some areas.

Speaking of sexuality etc., I asked Scott if he had intentionally crafted his performance to be very sexy or if that was a result of direction. He said he had been surprised to have this reaction from others as well, because it was not a conscious creative decision but came from the music itself. Interesting how greed and covetousness go hand in hand with seduction….

Promoted as "an allegory for our time," The Shadow centers on issues around guile, hidden identity and other dark secrets. I asked if the singer thought the century-old setting and the archetype of the disguised man trying to win a woman over still had resonance today. He answered that definitively it did, internet dating being a prime example. One goes online—an anonymous forum to start with—and creates a "profile" which is, more often than not, a description of what one wishes one were or would like to be; the idea is to make oneself appealing to seekers. Just like the main character, one can create an alter ego that a) strangers can’t contradict and b) one can convince oneself is one’s true identity. I thought the debt aspect of the story line was particularly relevant to identity and the roles we play out in front of others; if we are to believe the stats on personal debt, most of us are faking our social status and financial security big time. As the Shadow says, "…secrets make a man into a myth…."

Scott Belluz has ideas germinating about where his voice and acting can take him in the future, particularly in the space of new opera. He is going to be a major player in the development of the countertenor repertoire, both here and abroad. I am grateful to have the opportunity to watch a very fine artist mature and flourish.

Hmmm. New wine in old wineskins {Matt 9:17; Mark 2:22; Luke 5:37-39}... I’m liking it.

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