First-Year Considers Debut in Harvard Opera
Lee Poulis '02
After turning down one of eight prestigious vocal openings at Juilliard, Lee Poulis '02 decided to come to Harvard where he has already been busy as the lead in this month's Ethan Frome. Despite a long weekend of Ethan Frome performances and rehearsals for the upcoming Gondoliers, Poulis remained enthusiastic as he told The Crimson about his beginnings in the fabulous world of opera.
THC: How did you get interested in opera? Were your parents singers?
LP: My parents didn't have any affinity for opera, though they do a bit now since I sing. It's not clear how got interested. I guess I started listening to classical music on the radio when I was little-- just by chance. I remember coming across vocal music later and finding that more pleasing [than purely instrumental music]. I liked the individual achievement, the idea of one person singing there with an entire orchestra.
THC: Did you have any favorite roles at that point?
LP: I liked to imitate roles according to my voice, like Rigoletto. I would play a CD and start singing along.
THC: Did you ever sing in a choir? How did you get started?
LP: I didn't sing outside of my house until I was in ninth grade. By that time, I'd been singing opera around the house for a few years and my parents thought that I had some sort of voice [a worthy voice], so they had me go sing for the school chorus teacher. He had good things to say and I started taking lessons with his father, who was a well-known local voice teacher. I started doing opera productions with the local [Long Island] company, Island Lyric Opera. The first opera I ever did was Bruno's Faust, where I was in the chorus. After that, the director asked me to do a small solo roll in La Traviata.
THC: When did you get your break?
LP: There was an episode when I was in 10th grade [with the Island Lyric Opera] and in 2-3 weeks La Boheme was supposed to open up, and the director came up and said 'Lee--do you think you can learn Schaunard in 21/2 weeks. My baritone can't do it, he's cancelled on me.' So I was like, 'yeah sure, why not?' so I learned that role--it's a great role. I was nervous initially, but afterwards I was pretty confident. I got a lot of compliments from the audience.
THC: How did you decide to apply to Juilliard'
LP: I was interested in the Columbia-Juilliard Program, where if you go to Columbia, they pay for your lessons at Juilliard. You have to apply to each school separately and they both have to say yes. There were a total of five people accepted and of the five, two of us came here. After I sang, one of the panelists for my audition was like- "Why are you going to a university?" The other panelists told him to be quiet, which is good because I didn't want to explain my whole schpeal about going to a liberal arts school again.
TCH: What roles would you like to sing in the future?
LP: I want to sing Verdi baritone roles like Rigoletto, Don Carlo--every opera has a baritone role. He was pretty big on that.
THC: Can you make a living in the opera circuit as a "Verdi Baritone?"
LP: You wouldn't sing only Verdi, but it's the tenor of that voice, the whole pictureof the voice that people describe as "VerdiBaritone." The typical Baritone range in modernopera goes no higher than E. In Verdi the top isG, and a show-off note at A. The top of my rangeis B, B flat, but I stick with A for performance.
THC: Am I missing any good stories?
LP: In my junior year I e-mailed a bunch ofopera singers whose e-mail addresses I found,including a man named Peter Kazaras who is a busyopera singer in New York. So I e-mailed him andasked "Are you the real Peter Kazaras?" and hewrote back, "Yes, I'm the real Peter Kazaras, andwhy would anyone want to imitate Peter Kazaraswhen they could imitate Pavarotti or PlacidioDomingo." So the next I emailed him and asked himif he would hear me sing. He said yes, and so Iwent to sing there, and he gave me a great, greatresponse and invited me to see a dress rehearsalfor Billy Budd at the Met the next day. So thenext day I went in the backstage door and walkedthrough the back hallway into the Met. There'snothing I could have done that would have moreimpressed me more at that time in my life. Atlunchtime we all went to the cafeteria and sat atthis 10-person round table. There were all thesefamous singers at the table and talking over me--Icouldn't eat my sandwich because I was sooverwhelmed by the supreme talent of these greatmusicians. This was my first taste of what wasgoing on backstage. When I came back for Act IIthe next day, they all remembered my name. Thosethree days were the turning point, going from LongIsland and to knowing people in the real OperaWorld. It just made me see that I could do it andit became a tangible goal. Before that I didn'twant to go to music school because I wasn't sureI'd make it. Now I don't want to be limited bymusic school. My decision to go to a liberal artsschool (ultimately Harvard) has remained the same,but the reasons for that decision have changed