Spotlight on: Jeremy HirschInterview
American baritone Jeremy Hirsch impressed me last season when he doubled up as both Bottom and Peter Quince in Britten’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream at Opera on the Avalon. Jeremy is comfortable on the opera stage, keeping busy with a mix of Mozart and new opera; he also has a great passion for song repertoire. He just finished several weeks at Songfest (hi, Martin Katz!), and he has sung recitals at New York’s Vanderbilt Manson, at the Romanian Embassy, and he even brought a tribute to Marc Blitzstein’s music to Halifax, Nova Scotia.
You can hear Jeremy in the spring of 2016, as he creates the title role in Felix Jarrar’s new opera, The Fall of the House of Usher: a Chamber Opera in Four Scenes (adapted from Edgar Allan Poe’s short story of the same name). Jeremy gave me a wonderfully frank interview about respecting composers, and respecting the self.
1. Why do you sing, and why are you pursuing it professionally?
I’d say the main reason I sing is to communicate with an audience things I’ve discovered while preparing a piece and living my day to day life. I think composers and poets spend a lot of time deciding what they will say and how they will say it. They put valuable thoughts on paper; things that can change people’s perspectives and lives. It’s to bring those thoughts and feelings alive for an audience that I sing.
2. What does “good singing” mean to you? What does it feel like when you achieve it?
There’s a lot that goes into good singing. I think technical facility and ease is vital to aid clarity and coherence of text, melody, harmony, rhythm. You also don’t want an audience worried you’re not going to make it. I hate that. But above all, it’s about communicating the purpose of the piece, whatever that may be.
3. What do young singers need to do more of? What should they do less of?
I think we could all (myself very much included) make an effort to be kinder to ourselves. I find learning and preparing music a painful process a lot of the time, especially if the music is in an unfamiliar idiom. It takes a lot of time and effort, and so it’s easy to beat one’s self up. We could all probably do without that.
4. Do you have a “bucket list” role that you’d like to sing? Why?
I definitely do. I think it’s often changing, but here are a few for now: all the Mozart/Da Ponte bass/baritones. What could be better? That’s a whole universe. I’d also like to do Sam from Trouble in Tahiti someday. There are some roles I’d like to sing but never will (some of them for soprano!), but we don’t need to talk about that (Please, let me sing “No Word from Tom”!).
5. How do you explain your job to non-music folks?
I usually just say that I’m a singer that does mostly classical music like opera and song. It can be a little hard to explain. Sometimes I feel like I’m doing my soul a minor injustice by saying “opera singer”. I love song and concert music so much. But, opera is more on people’s radar and so it’s a fine catch-all for what we do I guess. People seem to more or less get the picture I think. I always secretly hope people will ask follow up questions about “song” though. It’s just fun to talk about and I want people to be interested in the song repertoire that’s been so meaningful in my own life!