You can add Elliot Madore to that ever-growing list of “only in the age of Obama.”
Madore is a “half-black” (his phrase) Canadian former hockey player who now sings opera (baritone) in leading roles on the world’s major stages.
He has a paid position in the Lindemann Young Artist Development Program at the Metropolitan Opera in New York, and for the Saturday matinee at Opera Theatre of St. Louis he will close the curtain on his performance in the title role of Mozart’s Don Giovanni.
The Opera Theatre of St. Louis production (directed by James Robinson and Michael Shell, with choreography by Sean Curran) is so rich in physical comedy it verges on slapstick. It makes the most of the vital athleticism of this former hockey player, who has leading man looks reminiscent of former NBA star (and fellow Canadian) Rick Fox.
In addition to staging an incredibly athletic production, Opera Theatre of St. Louis’ casting is as ethnically diverse as it gets. The leading lady who has been abandoned by Don Giovanni, Donna Elvira, is played by Kishani Jayasinghe. The beautiful soprano hails from Sri Lanka, an island nation off the southeast coast of India, though from the seats at the Loretto-Hilton in Webster Groves, she is easily mistaken for an African American.
Another critical role, that of Donna Elvira’s father, is played by a South Korean bass, Andrew Gangestad. One of the company’s Gerdine Young Artists, the African-American dancer Louis A. Williams Jr. (a St. Louis native), has a stand-out role in the Corps de Ballet, where his literally statuesque physique occasions a delightful surprise when the statue begins to move.
Such diversity in casting, Madore said, has become commonplace in the opera business.
“It’s absolutely normal for there to be color-blind casting,” Madore told The American recently after a sold-out performance of Don Giovanni that drew standing ovations.
“Opera has become more modernized. Audiences don’t see color as much as they used to. The color barrier is changing in the right direction.”
In fact, Madore replaced another actor in the lead role just a week before rehearsals commenced, and the switch from a non-black lead to a “half-black” lead required no changes whatsoever in conceptualizing the production.
Madore plays one of the baddest bad guys in the operatic tradition. Co-director James Robinson describes Don Giovanni as “opera’s most legendary murderer and serial rapist.” Madore, costumed (by Bruno Schwengl) as something of a retro American gangster, relishes playing the villain. “Some part of everybody’s being wants to access the dark side,” he said. But the diversity in casting is so thorough that no equivalencies can be made between racial types and good or evil.
Madore insists opera is a very welcoming field for minority talent. “Don’t be afraid of any color barrier,” he said – “especially in opera.”
Opera Theatre of St. Louis has played a critical role in welcoming him into the field. He first came to St. Louis in 2007 as a Gerdine Young Artist. “It was wonderful,” he said. “I got my feet wet really learning the professional life of an opera singer.”
This time, Madore departs St. Louis for a music festival – the Salzburg Festival – in the city where Mozart himself was born. Not a bad gig for a “half-black” former hockey player from Canada.
Elliot Madore sings the lead role in Opera Theatre of St. Louis’ final performance of Mozart’s Don Giovanni at 1 p.m. Saturday June 25 at the at Loretto-Hilton. Call 314-961-0644 and ExperienceOpera.org.