HomeOperaKey'mon W. Murrah on Hope, Heroism, and what a Countertenor might be

Key’mon W. Murrah on Hope, Heroism, and what a Countertenor might be

Key’mon Murrah as Orpheus in Orpheus and Eurydice. Credit score: Philip Newton

Keymon W. Murrah, a countertenor heralded for his big selection and “sizzling coal core of tone” by Schmopera.com, is a local of Louisville, Kentucky. In 2021, he was heard on the stage of The Houston Grand Opera as the first Place Winner of the thirty third Annual Live performance of Arias, because the Grand Prize winner of the Premiere Opera Basis + NYIOP Worldwide Vocal Competitors, and Finalist and Encouragement award winner of Operalia. He makes his Seattle Opera debut as Orpheus in Orpheus and Eurydice and stays on for an Artist Recital on February 4.

Key’mon just lately sat down with Seattle Opera over Zoom for a dialog that coated his journey to changing into an opera singer, the challenges of creating a profession as a countertenor, his interpretation of Orpheus, and his upcoming recital.

Seattle Opera: I wished to start out by asking you about your background. How did you get began singing and when do you know you wished to make operatic singing a profession?

Key’mon W. Murrah: I assume I began singing by my mom—she’s additionally a singer. However she sings extra gospel music, and I imagine she used to have a gaggle that did soul and R&B approach again when she was rising up. By that work, my mom discovered a gaggle known as the West Louisville Performing Arts Choir, which on the time was a boys’ choir made up of individuals from the lower-income space of Louisville, KY. She received me concerned with that group, the place we did all the things from spirituals to [George Frideric] Handel and [Wolfgang Amadeus] Mozart—all the things. In order that’s how I received launched to classical music. After which I received into the Youth Performing Arts College, which was an identical introduction to a complete bunch of latest types of classical music. However I did not actually take it severely.

However then I received into this summer season program known as the Governor’s College for the Arts, which is the place I met my “music father,” A.T. Simpson, Jr. And that is once I began to fall in love with opera. This system had nice lecturers, nice school, and I loved my time there. That is once I determined to audition for the College of Kentucky, and I received a full experience there for voice. I really didn’t graduate with a music diploma—I graduated with an arts administration diploma. However now I am again on the College of Kentucky attempting to complete the vocal diploma that I by no means received to complete.

Seattle Opera: When did you discover that you can sing as a countertenor? Did somebody level you in direction of that voice sort, or was it a register that you just naturally gravitated in direction of?

Key’mon W. Murrah: I began singing in my head voice once I was in boys’ choir, and I used to be a soprano all the best way up till I graduated highschool. Once I got here to the College of Kentucky, I switched to being a tenor, and I sang as a tenor for about seven or eight years. However then I made a decision simply to completely swap! I at all times felt extra at house as a countertenor, singing in my head voice; whilst a tenor, I’d go house and replica Leontyne Value or Maria Callas, or different singers like that. In order that sort of singing was at all times with me and I at all times discovered pleasure with it. I may have had a profession as a tenor, however I simply felt happier and extra at house as a countertenor.

Seattle Opera: Did it take any main shift in your vocal manufacturing or coaching, or was it only a pure match?

Key’mon W. Murrah: It was each: it was a pure match, however it was quite a lot of work. It additionally took quite a lot of analysis, as a result of I used to be already in my late twenties by that point. I actually did not have time to start out over if I wished to make a profession. So I needed to put in thrice the work to get to the place I’m in the present day, and I am nonetheless studying.

Seattle Opera: Did you discover that individuals have been stunned that being a countertenor was an choice that was accessible to you? Have been the folks round you unfamiliar with it?

Key’mon W. Murrah: Countertenors weren’t completely unfamiliar to them, however I believe that most individuals by no means actually labored intently with one as a result of the college I went to makes a speciality of bel canto music. Countertenors simply aren’t as frequent within the kinds of music they usually do at my college. Even my trainer, who I nonetheless work with in the present day—on the time she wished me to remain as a tenor. Which I perceive, as a result of it’s totally laborious for a countertenor to seek out constant work. There’s not quite a lot of work on the market. So if you wish to have a profitable profession, perhaps the tenor choice would’ve been higher. However she noticed that I used to be placing within the work and she or he was like, ‘okay, I assume we’re doing this.’ After which we labored and received to the purpose the place I received the Encouragement Award my first time on the Metropolitan Opera competitors.

Seattle Opera: What has it been like looking for these sparser alternatives, versus working as a tenor?

Key’mon W. Murrah: I knew that standard audition coaching for different singers simply was not going to work out for me. Even now, if an organization is doing Handel or [Claudio] Monteverdi or one thing like that, they might most likely select a mezzo-soprano. So I needed to be proactive. I needed to put stuff out on social media. I used to be the little annoying singer sending emails to everyone, saying, ‘Hello, that is who I’m.’ You recognize? As a result of irrespective of how nicely I sing, I’ve to vary the notion of what roles might be achieved by a countertenor. However now that I have been networking for so long as I’ve, issues are beginning to come to me, which is nice. However I nonetheless must preserve that community and preserve assembly folks.”

Seattle Opera: You talked about folks’s perceptions of what roles a countertenor can sing. What do you suppose are among the greatest misconceptions about countertenors?

Key’mon W. Murrah: That countertenors can solely sing early music, or solely sing music with an orchestra of 12 folks. Or that they’ve a shorter life in music, a shorter singing profession. We’re put in a field too usually, and I am attempting my greatest to interrupt that field.

Seattle Opera: Let’s speak somewhat bit now about Orpheus and Eurydice. Orpheus is a personality that is been reinterpreted and introduced in so many various methods—in opera, in musicals, on movie, in all types of issues. What’s it like for you getting into a task that has like such an intensive efficiency historical past? What units your Orpheus aside?

Key’mon W. Murrah: I really feel that mentally, Orpheus and I are very related. We love laborious, and we go to the fullest—even to the underworld—for what we love. Discovering that zeal by the music and thru the physique, his mannerisms, and bringing that aspect of him to life is what attracts me to the character.

Key’mon W. Murrah (Orpheus) and Shelly Traverse (Eurydice). Credit score: Sunny Martini.

Seattle Opera: How a lot did [stage director] Chìa Patiño’s imaginative and prescient for the story have an effect on the way you approached the function?

Key’mon W. Murrah: I believe her imaginative and prescient stays true to the character, to the entire characters. She’s not altering who the character is or something like that, it is extra like she’s creating the world round them. The one distinction between my interpretation of the character and hers was that she sees Orpheus as a warrior, the place I am somewhat bit extra gentle-hearted. So discovering that power in that sort of individual is one thing that I needed to work towards. She introduced that out of me.

Seattle Opera: One of many major components of her imaginative and prescient for this manufacturing is her stance that she does not see Orpheus as a hero—that it is not a heroic act to attempt to rescue Eurydice from the underworld. I wished to listen to your ideas on that. Do you see Orpheus as a hero? What do you consider his mission to deliver his beloved again from the afterlife?

Key’mon W. Murrah: I believe we each agree that it is not a heroic act, however that Orpheus believes it’s in his head. It is his likelihood to point out the gods that he can do one thing as highly effective as altering destiny. Which ultimately, he does not! He cannot try this. So it is not in regards to the heroic act itself, however the truth that it is all in his thoughts to do it.

Seattle Opera: Do you have got a favourite a part of the opera to sing?

Key’mon W. Murrah: I believe my favourite half is true after Orpheus meets Amore and has his lengthy recitative the place he is like, ‘what the hell did she say? I may go to underworld?’ He is questioning Amore, questioning the gods, questioning himself. And all through all of that, he finds the braveness to say, ‘I can really do that. I am going to do that. Watch me do that.’ So defining that change of emotion is my favourite half.

Credit score: Sunny Martini.

Seattle Opera: Let’s speak about your upcoming recital. How are you conceptualizing your program?

Key’mon W. Murrah: For this program, we’re considering alongside the traces of “songs of hope.” It will be all of the songs that impressed me to develop into an precise opera singer. They’re songs that I grew up with, that my household has taught me, that my church has taught me, that being within the American Religious Ensemble has taught me. They’re songs that I’ve stored with me all through my entire profession. There might be songs by Moses Hogan, Jacqueline Hairston, Corridor Johnson, and a brand new composer, Shawn Okpebholo, in addition to a number of different items. It is simply going to be some spirituals and a few African American artwork songs. I get pleasure from all these songs and I simply hope that the viewers will love them as nicely.

I am additionally doing a set of two songs from Duke Ellington’s Sacred Concert events: “Heaven” and “Come Sunday.” They’re extra jazzy they usually’re going to be one thing enjoyable. After which there’s “Spherical ‘bout the Mountain” by Roland Hayes—that is the primary religious that I ever sang as a countertenor. So I’ve stored that with me by all the things I’ve achieved. 

Seattle Opera: Are you able to inform me extra about what “hope” means to you on this context?

Key’mon W. Murrah: Once I determined to develop into an opera singer, I sort of made like a pact with God. I used to be like, if I need to do that, I need to deliver hope. I need to encourage folks to do no matter they need to do, to do it with love, and do it their greatest—simply preserve going and by no means quit, since you by no means know what is going to occur. As a result of my profession has not been a straight line—it has been quite a lot of zigzags. If I had given up, I would not be the place I’m.

Seattle Opera: Let’s zoom out now and speak extra typically about opera and the humanities. Why you suppose opera issues? What can folks get out of opera as an artwork type in 2022?

Key’mon W. Murrah: I imagine you may get quite a lot of feeling out of opera and classical music. You possibly can expertise feelings that you just’re not going to have the ability to expertise listening to widespread music. You see a full vary of artwork, as a way to stroll out of opera feeling modified. And I believe that is why I adore it a lot.

Credit score: Sunny Martini.

Seattle Opera: What has been essentially the most difficult second of your profession? How do you discover the sort of hope we have been speaking about earlier that helps you persist?

Key’mon W. Murrah: One of many greatest challenges that I believe quite a lot of performers have been coping with is COVID. As a musician, you have already got the highs and lows of your profession—you have already got instances when you understand you are simply not going to be working. However with COVID, it actually stopped my profession fully. I felt like was nearly to start out transferring after which it was like, ‘nope, go sit down someplace.’ However even by COVID, I felt like I needed to preserve going. I needed to push by, I needed to continue to learn new music. I needed to preserve speaking to folks, continue to learn, taking classes. And it confirmed me that I actually love this and I am actually keen to do the work to do that.

As for what received me by it, it was the people who supported me. It was my friends. It was my lecturers. It was my mentors. It was my household. It was these people who mentioned: ‘Preserve going! Do you want a lesson? I will provide you with a reduction!’ All these people who mentioned, ‘you are able to do this, we do not need you to go.’ In order that gave me quite a lot of the power.

Seattle Opera: And what would you say has been the proudest second of your profession?

Key’mon W. Murrah: I believe proper now! That is my debut at a significant opera firm. I am extraordinarily excited for lots of the experiences that I am having proper now and I am residing my best time.



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