a journal of observations, obsessions and inspirations

Passion & Glory at the Opera – The Tenor Book


Maestro Edoardo Müller, to a young tenor:

“The voice is fifty percent. The rest is attitude, understanding and physicality. Go to concerts, recitals, operas. Watch. Understand. Read the poetry without singing. If you don’t understand, there is no reason for you—the words don’t need you.”

This is my most ambitious and personal work yet, a complex, multi-generational exploration of the opera world as shaped by its charismatic high-wire acts: the tenors.

What is it about the tenor voice that makes such a palpable impact on an audience? What does it take to be an operatic tenor and what are the rewards—and perils—of succeeding?

Opera is simultaneously perceived as elitist and yet irresistible to the first-timers of any age. Why? and how? The audience in a darkened theatre waits for the figure spotlit on a stage and, like a shaman illuminated by long-ago firelight, the tenor is no ordinary member of the tribe. There are only a handful of men in any generation—on the whole planet—who can do what they do.

What is it about the tenor voice? What spell is being cast here?

coaching-1I wanted to find out what makes an audience anticipate the excitement of the tenor’s sound… what inspires a tenor to sing and how does he learn to do it… and what does it take for him to risk everything each time he steps out on stage. So I started asking questions. And listening to the stories.

More than 15 years in the making, The Tenor Book is a testament not only to the magic of opera, but to my own tenacity, chronicling a personal journey of discovery that frequently mirrors the stop-and-start road to success traveled by my subjects.

The result is a complex, captivating, sometimes contradictory view of the operatic profession. Neither technical manual nor tabloid tell-all, it looks honestly at the rigors of a singing career and the nature of success. It examines the potent sense of artistic legacy and tradition which passes from one generation of performers to the next, articulating in words and images something which may just defy description: the sheer visceral thrill of opera as embodied in the sound and persona of the tenors.

Come along—it’s quite a journey.


conductor Donald Runnicles in his office

bass-baritone Keith Miller (right) coaches a young singer

tenor Scott Wyatt on stage as Idomeneo, King of Crete

conductor Karen Keltner rehearses with her orchestra

baritone Hector Vasquez, tenor Fernando de la Mora and conductor Richard Bonynge on a break in the rehearsal room for La Bohème