August 29September 5, 1996
The Tenor Of His Times
Richard Troxell: AVA grad, hot young tenor, movie star.
Richard Troxell had to miss the Paris premiere of Madame Butterfly. While le tout Paris was seeing his first film role, singing Pinkerton in Frederic Mitterrand's screen version of the Puccini opera, he was bicycling across the stage of the Academy of Music, playing Alfred in the Opera Company of Philadelphia's production of Die Fledermaus.
He's still biking in Philadelphia. But today his route has taken him from the home he shares with his wife, dancer Lisa Lovelace, in the Art Museum area, to the Four Seasons Hotel, where the young tenor is undergoing one of those rites of passage for a rising star, the lineup of interviews. Butterfly opens in Philadelphia this Friday.
Philadelphia has been Troxell's home since he came here in 1992 to study at the Academy of Vocal Arts. Though his blossoming career takes him far afield these days (Paris, Monte Carlo, a U.S. tour of La Traviata), he plans to stay here, at least for the foreseeable future.
"This is a great city for dance, which is Lisa's field, and, between trains and jets, I can be anywhere I need to be in a matter of hours."
Troxell, 34, has also maintained close ties with the Academy of Vocal Arts, particularly with Christofer Macatsoris, its music director, for whom Troxell has "total respect" and whom he still turns to for advice and guidance in his career.
"I'd never done the role, so when my agent first told me I'd been asked to audition for the movie, I immediately called Chris to ask him whether I could sing Pinkerton. 'Who wants you to do it?' he asked me. 'A movie company,' I told him. 'In that case, yes, you can sing Pinkerton.'"
It was at the AVA that Troxell first discovered he could sing a lot of things. During his four years studying there, he was able to sing principal roles in Albert Heering, La Boheme, Barbiere di Siviglia, "all the Mozart roles," and Fenton in Falstaff, a role he will repeat later this season for OCP. He credits his years at AVA, and the exacting preparation for roles that is part of their discipline as the reasons for any success he's having.
"I never knew exactly what I wanted to sing, except that I wanted to sing all the leads," he chuckles. "I'm what a friend of mine calls an 'audio necrophile,' listening to all the historic recordings of singers and their roles."
Once he had Macatsoris' stamp of approval on singing Butterfly, he set about landing the part which he didn't know. He located a vocal score in French while on his way to Paris for the audition, and learned the role on the train. Still, the audition was a very nervous "cold" reading, but good enough to keep him in the running.
"They wanted to see some footage of me in performance, which I didn't have. We contacted the AVA, which keeps tapes of all the performances, and were able to put together a reel. Then they wanted close-up shots of me in performance. Lisa and I borrowed a camera and shot those ourselves."
Their homemade audition tape did the trick, and the tenor found himself on his way back to Paris, then on to Tunisia, where location shots were to be filmed. Since the opera was shot in sequence, Troxell was able to explore North Africa with Lisa.
When I complimented Troxell on his convincing lip-synching of the pre-recorded score, he explained that all the singers sang their roles full voice along with the blaring playback of the soundtrack.
"It was very important to us that our faces and our throats looked like we were actually singing."
Troxell also had clear ideas of how he perceived the role of Pinkerton.
"I didn't want to do the big, boorish American who just takes what he wants and then dumps Cio-Cio San. He starts out very naive, but he gradually comes to at least try to understand her and the Japanese culture. Some of those photographs you see later in the house, in the background, are of Pinkerton in Japanese dress."
Richard and Lisa Troxell will meet his youngest fan sometime around September 15, when their first child is due.
The upcoming addition to the family has already demonstrated marked musical tastes.
"Lisa tells me that every time the baby hears me sing those notes from 'The Star-Spangled Banner' in Butterfly, the baby goes crazy kicking. It did it again when I sang the national anthem for a baseball game," he chuckles.
"I don't know if the kid is going to be a singer or a politician."