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Artist Spotlight: Carl Tanner

May 27, 2009

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    May 27, 2009
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    Opera Carolina News

Artist Spotlight: Carl Tanner

Come October, Opera Carolina’s 2009/2010 season will open with Verdi’s masterpiece, Otello. Based on Shakespeare’s Othello, this dramatic tragedy charts the destruction of a fatally jealous man. Promising a solid title character is Carl Tanner, the world-renowned tenor -- who used to be a bounty hunter. And before that? A truck driver.

Born in Arlington, Virginia to a family of modest means, Mr. Tanner was surrounded by country music, singing along to John Denver and Willie Nelson and only occasionally practicing his violin. One day in high school, while showering after football practice, Tanner was belting out some tunes in the shower. A neighbor popped over shortly thereafter to commend Tanner on his excellent shower singing and to urge him to join the high school chorus. Chorus didn’t work so much for Tanner; his big voice never blended well so he was a frequent soloist. He would sing the National Anthem at football games and then trot out to the field to play center.

Mr. Tanner’s friends went off to college, and he stayed around Virginia helping his parents out by taking up odd jobs. Dissatisfied, he decided to enroll in Shenandoah Conservatory of Music for a performance degree. Degree in hand, Tanner returned home to Virginia, still with no life plans. He attended truck driving school and drove semis around the country. He also took a job as a licensed bounty hunter, utilizing his intimidating burly trucker look to work for a bail bondsman in Virginia. “I was carrying a 9 mm Beretta…ridiculous weapon.” While the job was exciting and Tanner was quite good, it did not satiate him. It took gridlock on I-95 and a woman in a convertible to finally push the tenor to actively pursue a career in opera. Tanner did what he always did when bored in the cab of his truck: he began singing. Launching into Puccini’s “E lucevan le stelle” (Tosca), a woman in a convertible pulled up next to him to alert Tanner that he had missed his calling; drop the truck driving gig and head for opera.

In 1990, Mr. Tanner dropped everything and moved to New York City with a minute bag of clothes and $75. Couch surfing from friend to friend; Tanner caught his break at a restaurant in the Village. He sat down at the bar after hearing opera coming from the eatery, and ordered a Coke. The bartender denied him, saying that it was bad for Tanner’s voice. Wondering how the bartender knew Tanner was a singer, the bartender replied that he could hear it in the tenor’s speaking voice. Tanner sang that night. And dining in the restaurant was Richard Gaddes, General Director of Santa Fe Opera. A star was born. Tanner began studying voice seriously, especially after “a teacher told me that this fat guy in Italy named Pavarotti makes $6 million a year singing opera.”

The tenor boasts a resume that is impressive, even without the additional skills of bounty hunting and truck driving. Graced with a “seductive and imposing timbre,” he kicked off the 2008/2009 season with a new production of Il Trovatore in Dresden. Under the baton of Zubin Mehta, Tanner took Florence and Napoli by storm as Don José in Carmen. He also recently sang Enzo Grimaldo in the Deutsche Oper’s Berlin revival of La Gioconda and at the Teatro Real in Madrid. Of a recent Pagliaci at New York City Opera, Tanner’s Canio was “the performance of a lifetime in the unforgettable final scene.” Other European hat-feathers include Samson in Samson et Dalila at the Concertgebouw alongside Borodina, Calàf in Turandot in Tokyo (again under the baton of Mehta), and Pinkerton in Madama Butterfly in Las Palmas, Spain. He debuted at Covent Garden as Cavaradossi in Tosca, and with the London Symphony Orchestra as Chairman Mao in Nixon in China, under Kent Nagano.

His spectacular career abroad is matched by an equally arresting schedule in the United States. His Samson at Washington National Opera in 2005 was “stunning” and “powerful.” His Carnegie Hall début came with a convert version of Il Trovatore, and his Metropolitan Opera début came in Turandot, live from Central Park before a crowd of 100,000, where he was “in magnificent vocal form.” His Don José has pleased audiences at San Francisco Opera and Dallas Opera. He sang at the Richard Tucker Memorial Gala and also graced the White House with “O holy night” during the annual Christmas tree lighting at the Presidential digs.

According to a Washington Post interview, Tanner realized he had hit it big at a Virginia convenience store. He was buying a slurpee and some kid walks up -- “Hey, aren’t you Carl Tanner?” He quips, “There are a lot of other guys out there, a lot of good singers – but they weren’t truck drivers. They weren’t bounty hunters who had some juvenile on the lam fire 17 shots at them.” While his tough-guy background is a fabulous marketing device, this man’s unbelievable vocal talent cannot be denied.

This fall, Otello will enter Carl Tanner’s repertoire. Join Opera Carolina for its season-opener (October 17, 22 & 24, 2009) and say you saw him first!