Friday, April 16, 2010

Portmanteau word of the day

I haven't posted about opera lately, but I'm completely obsessed with Nathan Gunn right now. He has a great sound, but he's more famous for being a "barihunk." For more on barihunks, see this fellow's blog. I discovered it years ago when he first featured my friend Lee Poulis as a new young barihunk. And I can say with great affection that Lee is most definitely hunky, but also is a really good person, ever since college, and a constantly developing and improving singer and performer. I still remember in college when I heard him rehearsing La Boheme while I was duct taping the backdrop; I hadn't heard him since the year before, and I turned around with my jaw dropped, just like a sitcom. From 19 to 20, he had just made a vocal leap, and he's been leaping ever since.

It's both good and sad that looks have become of increasing interest in opera casting. Audiences are demanding more realism and the celebrity culture has leaked even into opera's world. Gunn has managed to cross over on the strength of his acting and looks; this youtube clip of him singing "If Ever I Would Leave You" from Camelot in a Live from Lincoln Center! production is pretty jawdropping itself.

Baritones have an advantage in hunkiness, though. The conventional wisdom is that baritones tend to be taller and leaner (James Morris, Thomas Hampson, John Relyea, Gunn... the list is endless), and tenors shorter and stouter. Something about the vocal column and the diaphragm and all that. There are certainly exceptions to the rule, like the six-foot-plus superstar tenor Placido Domingo, but then again he started in his youth as a baritone.

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