Mark Doss sings Giorgio Germont in Verdi’s La Traviata which opens at Wales Millennium Centre on September 21 and tours to Llandudno, Bristol, Plymouth, Birmingham, Milton Keynes, Southampton
Mike Smith: Can you tell me how you first came to work with WNO and what was that experience like compared to, say, work in the US?
Mark Doss: The knowledgeable casting people at WNO heard me sing Puccini and recognized that I could sing the range and style this composer requires very comfortably, so they cast me as Scarpia in the 2018 production of Tosca. It was a very enjoyable experience to work at WNO and to tour through the country. The whole staff working at the company was so welcoming and they do a great job. The main difference of working at WNO compared to the opera companies I’ve been working at in the US is probably touring. Which I also enjoyed, since it made me discover various beautiful cities I didn’t know back then. I’m very happy to be back for this Traviata!
MS: How did this progress to other work, including this season?
MD: From my success with the role of Scarpia (an incredible number of positive reviews), and my ability to sing the part quite easily, the company determined that I could take on my first-ever attempt at singing the title role in Rigoletto. With that role being one of the most demanding Verdi baritone parts, it was easy to determine that I could successfully sing another Verdi role, namely Germont in La Traviata.
MS: What drew you and now draws you to the Verdi roles in particular?
MD: As a Grand Prize Winner of the Bel Canto Foundation of Chicago’s nationwide competition, I was extremely fortunate to study with the renowned Verdi tenor, Carlo Bergonzi (in Busseto, Italy). While there and working through the roles of Banco in Verdi’s Macbeth and Padre Guardiano in La Forza del Destino, it was only a few months later that I sang Banco’s aria, “Come dal ciel precipita” on the stage of the Metropolitan Opera (with orchestra) as one of the Finalist Winners in their national competition. The following year, I would make my Italian debut as Padre Guardiano in the Piazza Verdi in Busseto alongside Carlo Bergonzi. With a quick return to Busseto a few months after the seminar, I competed in the International Verdi Competition. I won First Prize, singing several Verdi arias on my way to the Finals. One of the many prizes I received for winning the competition included several of the Verdi piano vocal scores and an audition at La Scala, where I’ve subsequently sung the role of Amonasro in Verdi’s Aida. In quick succession, right before the pandemic hit, I sang (to great acclaim) the poignant Verdi roles of Germont, Macbeth, Nabucco and Rigoletto. Also, having studied with Nicola Rossi-Lemeni at Indiana University, he had a powerful connection to the music and drama of Verdi, and he could convey that quite well through his Opera Workshop sessions and his teaching.
MS: At what stage and how do you progress from the types of roles, such as Rigoletto, Scarpia and now Germont?
MD: I find it extremely helpful to go to the source material for these great works and to gain valuable background information that helps me to deliver the music and drama quite effectively. I like putting the words side by side from a novel and what has been chosen from that source material to go into the opera libretto. Having sung several Rossini and Donizetti roles, blending into the Italian styles of Verdi and Puccini becomes easier. Adding to that would be an upcoming orchestra CD where I also sang the arias of Umberto Giordano and Ruggero Leoncavallo, making the transition to the current Verdi role more accessible.
MS: Have you sung this role elsewhere?
MD: In 2015, it was pretty exciting to sing the role of Germont at the Hyogo Festival in Hyogo, Japan. Having been given an HD video to see myself singing in that production is also very helpful.
MS: With such an exciting career, you must have had some great and some not-so-great experiences with productions. Can you share any without necessarily revealing the not-so-great experiences?
MD: While on tour with La Scala in Israel and Japan, I noticed that the assistants of the original director (Franco Zeffirelli) differed a bit in how they described Zeffirelli’s intentions for the production and the character of Amonasro. The emotional reaction to the music and drama was different, but neither lacked focus, just a slightly different way of playing the role. Amonasro was my role debut at the Vienna Staatsoper, a remounted production of Nicolas Joël and though I recall not having very many rehearsals, they said the number was quite a bit more than normal, so I guess I had to consider myself lucky that everything went so well. The productions I did at La Scala were quite memorable with Jean-Pierre Ponnelle’s version of Rossini’s La Cenerentola, remounted by Sonja Frisell, the assistants of Franco Zeffirelli remounting his production of Verdi’s Aida, as well as a great production of Pier Luigi Pizzi’s Rinaldo (Handel). Outside of La Scala I had a wonderfully memorable production of Aida, directed by William Friedkin at the Teatro Regio in Turin, Italy, and William Bolcom’s opera “A Wedding” was brilliantly directed by Robert Altman at Lyric Opera of Chicago.
MS: What are you most looking forward to in this touring production?
MD: I enjoy sane productions where I can interact with very talented and dedicated singers and crew, and this WNO production offers that excellent opportunity, with multiple performances in different venues to highlight the pure joy of performing that I am sure to experience.
MS: Where is home now?
MD: I am now going back and forth between my residences in Toronto (Canada), Erie (PA) and Tampa (FL).
MS: Do you enjoy the touring life, and how much time do you spend at home compared with working away?
MD: There was a bit more stress for my first WNO tour with Tosca because I had never sung in any of the venues before that production, and although Rigoletto (a more demanding role) was less complicated because I knew the venues and my lodging was somewhat familiar because I was temporarily living in some of the same places I had found the previous year. Now, just as with air travel after 9/11, things that used to be less of a worry are now connected with the need to be cautious, and that makes touring a bit more complicated than it was before the pandemic. Though travel and lodging have become more worrisome than they should be, singing a great opera in different cities and venues is still an exciting concept. I am back to being away from any of my home bases about 8 to 9 months out of the year; therefore, the suitcase is currently my primary residence.
Mark S Doss was born in Cleveland, Ohio. He started training as a Catholic priest at Saint Joseph’s College, Indiana, before studying voice at Indiana University. He joined the Metropolitan Opera in 1986 and won the International Verdi Competition. He has since sung nearly 100 roles in major opera houses worldwide. Doss won the 1993 Grammy Award for Best Opera Recording for his performance in Handel’s Semele and in 2011 received Planet Africa’s Entertainment Award.
Mark Doss in Rigoletto with WNO:
Rigoletto, WNO, WMC