[BWW Interview:] Will Liverman: from Dizzy Gillespie to Rossini's Figaro
Will Liverman is a true "crossover" artist with a distinctive range of roles in a number of unusual genres. The Norfolk,Virginia, native has sung classic repertoire such as Rossini's Figaro and Tarquinius in Britten's The Rape of Lucretia. But his range includes Dizzy Gillespie in Charlie Parker's Yardbird, a chamber opera composed by Daniel Schnyder with libretto by Bridgette A. Wimberly, in which the jazz icon confronts his demons as he composes his final masterpiece.
After delighting Seattle Opera audiences in his debut as Raimbaud in last season's Count Ory, Will Liverman brings his unique personality, style and artistry to the role of Figaro in Rossini's The Barber of Seville this month.
Erica Miner: Where are you based? Where did you grow up?
Will Liverman: I am based in Wrigleyville, home of the Chicago Cubs! I was born in Norfolk, Virginia and raised in Virginia Beach, Virginia.
EM: How did you come to opera?
WL: I attended the Governor's School for the Arts, an all arts high school, in Norfolk, Virginia. The Governor's School is a highly competitive program made up of students coming from all the major cities in the Hampton Roads Area. I auditioned for the piano and voice program, and was accepted into the voice program (I had hoped for piano). I originally thought the "voice" program was going to be a place where they taught popular styles of music such as pop, r&b, etc. The voice program was essentially an opera program for young singers and I knew nothing about opera. However, it was there that I had my first voice lessons, performed fully staged operas, learned how to sing in different languages, etc. Having strong roots in gospel music, it was quite different than anything I had ever done before. When the program was said and done, I came out wanting to pursue a career in opera.
EM: Clearly you had an unrecognized talent for the art form. What are your favorite roles?
WL: Some of my favorite roles so far have been Figaro in Barber of Seville, Marcello in La Bohéme, and Le Mari in Les Mamelles di Tiresias!
EM: Le Mari has got to be one of the most fun roles ever. What approach do you take to the well known, iconic role of Figaro?
WL: I always learn something new about Figaro each time I step into the role. I try to keep an open mind to different character possibilities and motivations for each scene. The role becomes uninteresting and you bypass the opportunity to learn anything new the moment you fall into the "this is how I do this role" mindset.
EM: Do you sing recitals and in concerts with orchestra?
WL: Yes! Recitals and concert work are two imperative aspects of my career.
WL: Having the chance to create the role of Dizzy Gillespie from nothing and bring it to life is one of the coolest and most exciting things I've ever done. The opera itself is quite exciting as well. It is a 90-minute jazz-infused chamber opera about the life of Charlie Parker with some riveting music. It premiered in Philadelphia and made its way to NYC, Madison, Chicago, and London. I was fortunate enough to be a part of every production. One of the coolest moments about the whole thing was taking the opera to the historic Apollo Theater in Harlem. It brought in a very diverse audience to the opera, and was also the first opera to ever be performed at that theater. I used to grow up watching "Showtime at the Apollo", so I felt honored to be a part of history!
EM: The first opera performed at the Apollo sounds as exciting as it gets. Please describe Chicago Lyric Opera's Unlimited Initiative and your connection with that project. Likewise, ENO's Hackney Empire.
WL: Both the Lyric Opera Unlimited Initiative and ENO's Hackney Empire share a mission to bring opera to new and diverse audiences. Being a part of Charlie Parker's Yardbird for both of those companies was so meaningful because it brought in so many first timers to the opera. Most people were really excited after their experience and wanted to come back to see something else.
EM: What is coming up next for you?
WL: I'll be returning with the Lyric Opera Unlimited in their production of Fellow Travelers. I'll also be making my role debut as Papageno in Magic Flute with Florentine Opera and returning to the role of Figaro with Kentucky Opera. I'll be coming back to my hometown to appear as the baritone soloist for Carmina Burana with Virginia Symphony as well. In addition to the opera and concert work, I'll be releasing my first full album next year featuring Russian and English songs!
EM: Your new album sounds intriguing. Please keep me posted. And thanks so much for letting us know about you. I look forward to your Figaro!
Seattle Opera's The Barber of Seville runs at McCaw Hall from Oct. 14-28.
Photo credits: Steve Henry, Opera Queensland