Nathan Gunn’s Journey with GRAPES

Superstar baritone Nathan Gunn has performed on the greatest stages in the world, acclaimed for his work in opera as well as musical theater. Lucky for us he’s also a great fan of choral music – he’s been singing with MasterVoices since before it was MasterVoices, and even made his Carnegie debut with our founder Robert Shaw!  We caught up with him to ask about his upcoming performance in The Grapes of Wrath.

Do you remember reading Grapes in school?

I sure do. It was one of my first “life-changing reads”. It was right around the time I was getting introduced to Mozart, and to poetry… basically learning what art could do. I remember a line about Ma Joad – how when she moved, the whole house shook. And I deeply got that metaphor – not just about her being big but being this huge spirit, basically the soul of the household. That really resonated for me. I also remember being struck by the notion of mass migration – how people were willing to risk everything, put everything on their backs, even their own children, in hope for a better life. Something we’re seeing a lot of today.

What did you think when you first heard Ricky Ian Gordon had written an opera version?

That I wanted to do it! I love Ricky’s music, and have been fortunate to perform it often. He’s got such generosity as a composer; he doesn’t just translate material but actually channels it and remakes it in musical form. Like with Grapes he helps us feel and understand what Steinbeck meant. Also, while it’s very much an opera, Ricky’s music isn’t hemmed in by genre. So each character can make whatever sound is the right sound. It s incredibly freeing. He treats the voice the same way as I do – not just an instrument, but a way to tell a story. He keeps it so alive! Of course I have the best seat in the house, with the full Chorus and full orchestra right there. I’m surrounded by beauty.

So in our 2010 production you played Tom Joad and now you’re playing Pa… what’s that like?

Lately I’ve been realizing how often my work on stage maps to what’s happening in my life. It’s a natural transition, from son to father – I’m the father of my own family now. And to some extent the other women in my family too, my sisters and my mother – now that my own father has passed they sort of look to me. I feel my role is more about protecting now, especially the young. How do I fix things that are broken and make their time a bit easier? I have more life behind me than ahead of me now, that’s just a fact. I didn’t know anything then! [laughs] But with Grapes, it’s not really Pa who knows. Ma knows.

What will make this a successful night for you?

If I can be part of an evening that takes people outside of themselves. We have so much going on in our heads and our lives – if this can be a moment where people just become absorbed in the beauty of the story and swept up by the words and the music and the ideas… that’s what it’s all about.

Don’t miss this incredible night! Experience Steinbeck’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, The Grapes of Wrath, transformed into a breathtaking opera by Ricky Ian Gordon and Michael Korie. Brought to life by a stellar cast from opera and Broadway, alongside the MasterVoices chorus and Orchestra of St. Luke’s, under the direction of Ted Sperling.

Join us on April 17th at Carnegie Hall!