Hooked on opera
“Don’t try it unless you plan on being addicted,” says opera singer Larry Clawson. He’s talking about attending the opera.
“It’s multi-media,” he says. “Where else could you go get a live orchestra, sets, chorus and sometimes even dancing?” In the case of Nevada Opera’s upcoming Tosca, he points out that audience members also get to learn some Italian. (The lines are sung in Italian, and English translations are projected above the stage.)
The silver-haired, goateed Clawson, rehearsing for the first act, doesn’t match the stereotype of the imposing male opera singer with the deep-as-a-grave voice. He’s a broad, tall guy, but as he walks down the stairway of an almost finished, gothic-looking set, the grandiose scale of the opera makes him smaller.
Clawson sings in a conversationally-paced baritone. (Technically, he’s a lyric/baritone, a tenor minus the lower registers. “I’m bi-sectional,” he jokes.) His delivery is confident, and he rolls his R’s (sometimes luxuriously, sometimes humorously) and stretches out the Italian O’s as he practices his aria. He plays the sacristan—"kind of an aging priest/ custodian,” he explains—in the tragic story’s only comedic role, and his concerned expression brightens accordingly as the music lilts.
Clawson, 57, trained as a singer in college and has sung with choruses and in churches all over the West. As most singers do, he worked in other professions to support the music habit. He’s been a Bible teacher and a real estate agent.
He’s retired now, which is more convenient, given the production’s demanding schedule. A recent weekday rehearsal lasted about 10 hours.
Clawson hasn’t formally studied acting, but he says opera singers work hard on developing acting skills in an effort to meet the expectations of opera’s modern audiences.
“In the third act, I’ll be the jailer. I’ve only got 31 notes to sing, but it’s a presence,” he says. “You can convey an awful lot through your facial expressions and body language.”
Acting is also one of the tools the Nevada Opera uses to try to attract a broader audience.
“Audiences today want entertainment,” he says. “Where the [actors] don’t weigh 800 pounds, and they want the gal and the guy to be under 90 if they’re going to be love interests—and they want you to act. You just have to be everything.
“There are four deaths in it, two by suicide, one by murder, and one by firing squad. It’s like the news at night. It has a lot of trauma and a lot of drama. Of course, it’s a love story as well, and it’s rife with politics.”
It’s a solid case for Clawson’s theory that the opera is a one-stop entertainment shop.