– Interview of Jason Switzer by Larry Kellum –
On Nov. 5, sandwiched between the Conn. Lyric Opera’s New Britain and Middletown performances of “TALES OF HOFFMANN”, I interviewed bass-baritone Jason Switzer, who spews his evil magic onstage four times as four different villains in Offenbach’s greatest masterpiece. After a short break, he reprises these parts again on Nov. 13 at the Garde in New London and on the 19th at the Palace in Waterbury.
What makes his story so interesting? On literally a few days notice, Switzer was summoned to replace the original singer hired for these characters. As nearly every singer on Broadway or in opera will tell you, a good portion of the career is spent covering and understudying others artists, and thus preparing roles that may never get performed onstage. That’s show biz. But, Switzer was NOT contracted as a cover artist. He falls under the category of “11th hour” last minute replacement, and his availability for this run saved the day for CLO! He is in phenomenal company — Renata Scotto and Marie Collier both rose to fame replacing Callas, and even the young Callas herself was catapulted to stardom when she stepped in for an ailing soprano in Venice in 1949. The list goes on forever.Even more astonishing was Switzer’s talent and ability to “relearn and refresh” theses roles that he hadn’t sung since 2004!
Here are some highlights of that exciting interview with this 33 year old, Alaskan born, 6’7′,’ rising baritone star……………………
LK — First we’ll talk about “Hoffmann”, then about you. How did these events unfold?
JS— “I was cleaning my house in Philadelphia when the phone call came from my agent. The tenor hero of this production, Michael Wade Lee, was the referral. I gathered some belongings together and off to Connecticut I went. As soon as I arrived, I went directly into rehearsals. It was a challenge, because there are several versions of this opera out there, all with cuts, and I had to fit in accordingly. Furthermore, while I’m fluent in German and Italian, French is my most difficult language to sing in, but I spent those four days thinking of nothing but “Hoffmann”!
LK — Of the four villains, which one is your favorite?
JS — “Obviously, Dr. Miracle in the Antonia scene.”
LK — Any favorite role?
JS — “The Count in “Marriage of Figaro”. I could sing that forever.”
LK — Any favorite baritones?
JS — “Thomas Stewart, for sure, who has actually coached me in Wagner, which is where I want to be in the future, especially in the role of Wotan. Also, Jose van Dam. Though they may not be my favorites, I admire Sherrill Milnes and Thomas Hampson who can bring so much even to a recital of just art songs.”
LK — When did you first notice your voice was destined for opera?
JS — “As a senior in high school. when I began soloing in the choirs I sang in. Then, my voice teacher, dramatic soprano Marvalee Cariaga took over from there.”
LK — How do you spend your free time, if any?
JS — “Reading books, especially the classics, and playing backgammon. Also, looking over music I’ve already sung, to keep it active. As for memorizing new material, I can do that anywhere, even while engaged in another assignment. One finds the time between rehearsals and performances to prepare for future bookings that are usually six months to over a year away yet.”
LK — Anything else?
JS — This is a great company to work for, with fine people, and I look forward to returning to the Conn. Lyric to sing again someday!”