And you thought Tyler Joseph of Twenty One Pilots was something, crowd-surfing in that human-sized hamster ball. Opera singers have the real adventures. Here are 10 that tenor Sean Panikkar has chalked up.
• Shalimar in “Shalimar the Clown,” based on the novel by Salman Rushdie. This is Panikkar’s most recent role, on stage at Opera Theatre of St. Louis through June 25. The title character is a Muslim tightrope walker who, after his Hindu wife deserts him, is radicalized and becomes a murderous jihadist determined to kill his ex. Shocking as it sounds, the plot is not much different from Bizet’s “Carmen.” Panikkar describes it as “very operatic.”
• Narraboth in Richard Strauss’ “Salome.” In this biblical drama, Narraboth is a soldier in love with Salome. Based on a work by Oscar Wilde, this opera is notorious for its famous striptease, and the finale, which has Salome fondling the severed head of John the Baptist. “She is singing to this head,” Panikkar said. “It’s grotesque.”
• MacDuff in Verdi’s “Macbeth.” He was joined in this opera by his young daughter, Maria. “I was singing MacDuff, and she actually had to die. I held her and sang my aria,” he said. “It was fantastic and horrifying.”
• Adam in Giorgio Battistelli’s “CO2” at La Scala. Panikkar played Adam – as in Adam and Eve – in this global warming opera based on Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth.” “This was my first world premiere,” Panikkar said. World premieres are challenging, he adds. “Things are constantly getting revised. Things get cut. Things get changed.”
• Molqi in John Adams’ “The Death of Klinghoffer.” This performance in the 2014/15 season of the Metropolitan Opera was greeted by protesters because of its controversial subject – a 1985 Palestine Liberation Front hijacking in which a disabled Jewish-American was murdered. Panikkar’s character is one of the hijackers.
• Tamino in Mozart’s “The Magic Flute.” Panikkar’s Asian good looks went well with the role of Tamino, a Japanese prince. “There are times I think I’ve gotten jobs because of my skin,” he said. In one production of this popular opera, his young daughter, Maria, joined him. She played a tree frog, one of the animals Tamino tames with the flute.
• The Leader in Kurt Weill’s “Lost in the Stars,” in 2012 at Cooperstown’s Glimmerglass Opera. The critic for DC Theatre Review praised Panikkar’s voice and described him memorably: “In a white jumpsuit, he stands heroically proportioned, dominating the stage.”
• Count Almaviva in John Corigliano’s “The Ghosts of Versailles.” Set in the afterlife, this opera has historical figures Louis XVI, Marie Antoinette and the playwright Beaumarchais mingling with the characters of Mozart’s “The Marriage of Figaro.”
• Tybalt, Juliet’s hotheaded cousin, in Charles Gounod’s “Roméo et Juliette” at the Metropolitan Opera. Panikker sang this role several years ago under the baton of another great tenor, Placido Domingo. He will be reprising this role at the Met in March 2017.
• Rudolfo, the hero of Puccini’s “La Boheme” the opera about bohemians living in a Parisian garret. In college, Panikkar was in the chorus of this opera, and was so new to the opera world that he had no idea of its tragic ending. At the dress rehearsal, he and a few friends, their work in the chorus finished, decided to stick around and see how the opera ended. “I was crying my eyes out,” he said.
– Mary Kunz Goldman