Recently, I had the chance to sit down with Bass-Baritone, Seth Carico. He will be appearing next in GIORDANO’S ANDREA CHENIER – A cast of some of today’s most exciting dramatic opera stars highlights this revival of John Dew’s colorful, surreal 1994 production of Giordano’s verismo masterpiece. Aleksandrs Antonenko takes on the title role, with George Gagnidze as Gérard and María José Siri as Madeleine. Seth appears as Schmidt, with Ivan Repusic on the podium.
My understanding is your from Chattanooga. One doesn’t usually think opera singers when you think of Tennessee. Tell me about that.
I grew up in a typical Tennessee family. Dad’s a dentist and my mom was a stay at home type. I was expected to play sports and do the whole thing. But for some reason when I was 7 or 8, I became obsessed with theater. I begged and begged my parents to let me perform. They didn’t want me to because they didn’t like the theater lifestyle. But eventually, they let me do it in church. I was hooked. I knew this is what I wanted to do.
I then convinced my parents to let me do community theater which would do family-orientated productions over the summer. When I was 9 years old, I played one of the children in the King and I. I will never forget it. Each of the kids had their little bits when they come in to meet Anna. My thing was to trip and fall down the stairs. The audience loved it. 700 or so people laughed. I knew then that I wanted to do this the rest of my life. I want to make people laugh.
When I hit my teens, I thought musicals were pretty stupid. People breaking into song for no reason. So, I started to do plays instead. I just thought I’d be an actor. Which I am really grateful for now. It means I have a skill set that a lot of other opera singers don’t have. I focus on that element first.
When I was 17, I wanted to impress my girlfriend. What do fancy people do? Fancy people go to the opera. So, we went to the opera and I was hooked.
What did you see?
Pagliacci. The perfect first opera. Short. Dramatic. Never boring. I saw how effective singing and acting can be. I went to the voice teacher at the school and said, “What do I need to do?”
From there I went to college and did a Bachelor’s in Music with a focus on Voice Performance at Middle Tennessee State. Then I did my Master’s at the University of Michigan. Then I bounced around. I was an apprentice at the Michigan Opera Theatre, then Fort Worth and a year here in Berlin in the studio. I have been here full time since 2012.
Obviously, I know the film but tell us more about Dead Man Walking.
Dead Man Walking has become one of the most successful American operas written in the last 50 years. There are a great Mezzo Soprano roles for Sister Helen and the killer’s mother, Lucille. The mother’s aria is just unbelievable. One of the best scene I’ve ever seen, especially dealing with working class Americans. The scene where she comes to give her testimony to basically beg for her son’s life. It captures the mindset of an uneducated person, who is not stupid, but not well educated, and the pain of what that life can be. The guilt of not being able to take care of her son and prevent the course of his life.
What’s particularly interesting about the production next year is the casting of the mother. This character is basically a white supremacist. In every production, it is always done where he has these tattoos, swastikas and all this Nazi stuff all over him. The woman who will be playing the mother is African American. It will be interesting to see how they handle that.
I am curious to see how it will be addressed. In my mind, I’m already trying to make that work. Maybe she adopted him as a baby and he grew up around black kids and they mistreated him. He was beaten up. He’s developed this hatred except for his mother. I making a back story to make this work because that’s what I do.
Tell is about Death in Venice. I’ve heard it’s a difficult opera. What does that mean to you?
It is. On the first day of rehearsal, the director said, “OK, this is an impossible opera.” The subject matter of an old man lusting after a young boy. Difficult to present. Difficult to make sympathetic. But I think many folks won’t know the story, so they won’t be biased going in. It is also difficult because of the way the music is written. You have to have great singers and great actors. So much of the night is him philosophizing about life.
Who is the audience for this?
Well, there are the diehard Britten fans. There will be those interested in new productions. But we are also marketing directly to the gay audience. The production was sponsored by Siegessäule. They also sponsored Edward II. While there was the typical opera crowd, in the row in front of them was a row of leather bears. It was great.
What is your favorite role?
My favorite role is Leporello in Don Giovanni. There is so much to dig into in the character. He can be played countless different ways. And I like characters like that. Every time I do it I can find something new in it. The great thing is no matter how many times you do it, the audience is always seeing it for the first time.
The dream role. Joseph in Dead Man Walking and Nick Shadow in The Rake’s Progress have been high on my list for years. So, I am excited about next year. Someday I’d like to sing Alberich in Wagner’s The Ring Cycle and of course Scarpia in Tosca. It’s hard to narrow it down. Another dream role of mine is Sweeny Todd.
If you could sing with anyone, who would it be?
Barabara Hannigan. She is just about the most amazing thing in opera these days. She sings, she conducts.
We were both nominated for the Faust Prize, basically the German version of the Tonys. We nominated in the same category and I was so excited I’d get to meet her. Unfortunately, it was the same day there was an attack on a Paris Mosque. She was in Paris and the airport was closed, so she had to skip the event. She won of course. I would love to meet her.
I understand you like Karaoke. What is your favorite song?
Who told you that? It’s true. My favorite song – American Trilogy by Elvis Presley. It pisses off the karaoke guys. It’s 6 minutes long and they figure you’re some loser who can’t pull it off. And of course, I’m a bit of a jerk when it comes to Karaoke. I pretend like I’ve never sung before. I have fun with it.
What was your craziest role?
A piece we did here. Kassandra in Iannis Xenakis’ ORESTEIA. I was screaming in Ancient Greek in a giant artichoke covered in blood in a loin cloth. It was done on the top level of our parking garage. That changed my career. They looked at me differently after that.
Be sure to check out Seth’s upcoming performances.