Since graduating from Juilliard, Michael Slattery has enjoyed an exciting international career. He has worked with the New York Philharmonic, the Philadelphia Orchestra, the Los Angeles Philharmonic, Lincoln Center’s Mostly Mozart Festival, the French National Orchestra in Paris, the Akademie für Alte Musik in Berlin, with Bernard Labadie and Les Violons du Roy, and with the Orchestra of St. Luke’s at Carnegie Hall. Career highlights include Peter Sellars’ Tristan Project at Lincoln Center, the title role in Bernstein’s Candide at Royal Festival Hall in London, and Monteverdi’s L’Orfeo at the Châtelet Theater in Paris, the Staatsoper in Berlin, and at Glimmerglass. He was recently included in The Spectator’s list of tenor “Heroes of the Concert Hall.”
His solo discs The Irish Heart, and Secret and Divine Signs, received critical acclaim from Gramophone Magazine and Five Star ratings from BBC Music Magazine and ClassicFM. Other prize-winning recordings include Mozart’s Bastien und Bastienne, Scarlatti’s Cecilian Vespers, Handel’s Atalanta, Acis and Galatea, Saul,Solomon, and Samson, Britten’s Curlew River, and Bernstein’s Candide. His voice has been recorded for films and for television, and several other projects are currently in development.
Last season he performed at Lincoln Center, the Kennedy Center and Carnegie Hall. Outside his musical activities, Michael Slattery devotes much of his spare time to painting and writing. His paintings have been published in the French art magazine ORAOS and exhibited by Glimmerglass Opera in conjunction with the launch of its new website. They can be seen at www.michaelslattery.com.
1) Which of your parents do you resemble (what’s your nationality / ethnic background)?
I like to think that I’ve inherited some of my best qualities from both of my parents. Our ancestry is Irish. My grandfather came to America in 1920, and we still have relatives in West Clare. The family farm and home, which is several hundred years old, is now owned by my cousin Aine. We also inherited a beautiful piece of land on the bay of Shannon, which used to be a part of the English land owner’s estate. It’s a beautiful location and would be a wonderful place for a home, but right now it is home to several horses.
2) What is the BEST thing / worst thing about being a singer?
The best thing about being a singer are the rewards that you enjoy for sharing a gift that that is God-given. The worst thing? Getting sick.
3) who do you like to listen to?
We recently got a new turntable, tube amp, and speakers. I’ve been enjoying listening to old LPs of great singers, from Ella Fitzgerald and Sarah Vaughan to Rosa Ponselle and Fritz Wunderlich. The great tenor Robert White recently joined us for dinner and brought with him as a gift some of his RCA red seal records including “Songs my Father Taught Me.”
His father, Joe White, recorded for Thomas Edison and later for NBC in the 20‘s and 30’s as the “Silver Masked Tenor.” We particularly enjoyed Robert’s rendition of “Just A-Wearyin’ For You” with the National Philharmonic Orchestra.
4) what ability or skill do you wish you had, that you don’t have?
I wish I were better about writing letters. It’s more and more rare to receive a hand-written letter these days.
5) when you’re just relaxing (and not working) what is your favourite thing to do?
I enjoy discovering new spots in New York City. I enjoy spending time with my family, and especially enjoy getting together with my cousins.
Five more concerning Michael Slattery’s new CD Dowland in Dublin.
1) how did singing these songs on the Dowland CD challenge you?
This project was challenging in many ways. The main challenge was to keep an open mind during the collaborative process. In the end I think we managed this quite successfully. Our aim was to present these songs in a completely new way, without being influenced too much by the way these songs are traditionally performed. To achieve this, we first needed to choose the right songs for the project. We sat and read through every song Dowland ever wrote. During that process we found ourselves drawn to many songs that are often overlooked, for there were particular songs which seemed to have a more “Celtic” flavor than others.
The next challenge for me was in figuring out how to treat the text. I knew that I wanted to let go of the trappings of tradition, including the formality of a traditional concert hall presentation, with elegant phrasing, rolled r’s and intense attention to dynamic choices. I also knew that I wanted to allow the study that I had done in Ireland to influence the way I approached the text. I was very careful to retain my authentic American voice and accent; however, I absolutely wanted to steal as much from the Irish tradition as possible. These influences manifest themselves in two ways- ornamentation, and text declamation. The ornamentation comes directly from the bagpiping classes that I took in Ireland, my favorite ornament being the “dirty note” which has a direct relation to “blue notes” in jazz. The style of declamation arises directly from my classes in traditional Irish singing, most notably in the casual approach to phrasing, where breathing is allowed absolutely anywhere in the phrase, as well allowing myself to sing on the consonants, resisting the bel canto tradition of singing only on the vowels. Often in this recording you will hear me singing on “N”s and “M”s, “NG”s “R”s and diphthongs.
2) what do you love about Dowland & this type of composition?
Well his mastery of composition goes without saying. What I love about him is his attention to detail, with complicated inner voices in the lute accompaniment reminiscent of Bach. But that’s not what you’ll be hearing on this disc. We’ve stripped all that away and treated these songs as though the melodies had been compiled in an anthology of Irish fiddle tunes. Dowland’s songs by no means require this sort of meddling, but the point was to allow the listener to hear these songs in a new way. We did, however, retain a few moments of fidelity to Dowland’s settings, for example the first verse of “Come Again, Sweet Love” and the entire performance of “Me, Me and None but Me,” which we included to express our respect for the original settings.
3) was there a favourite among the songs?
My favorite song is track 3: “Behold, A Wonder Here.” I think it our most successful setting. When the voice sings the first solo verse over the drone it reminds me of how the project began, by stripping the accompaniment down to its most fundamental form. Throughout the subsequent verses, you begin to hear the contributions of each of the musicians individually. These improvisations then develop into a properly orchestrated realization. In a way, this song is a microcosm of the entire project.
4) how do you relate to Dowland’s songs as a modern man?
Songs are songs. Whether they were written 400 years ago or yesterday my approach is the same. For me it all begins with the text. Once I’ve discovered the reason the words are there and internalized what the poet is expressing, I try to get out of the way and serve the music.
5) is there anyone out there whose approach to Dowland you particularly admire, or who has influenced you?
I have to admit, I was surprised to hear Sting’s CD of Dowland songs. We had already begun working on this concept, so I was disappointed to think that there would be many out there who might think his CD was the reason we decided to do this. As much as I resisted it, his CD ended up influencing me, because it confirmed for me what I didn’t want to do. I found some of his settings very successful, and interestingly enough, they were the tracks where you could hear Sting’s influence most strongly. Less successful for me were the times that he approached the songs in a more traditional way. Hearing his CD gave me the courage to let go of the tradition completely and bring more of myself to our project.
Michel Slattery’s new CD, Dowland in Dublin, is now available. Clearly this project has been a labour of love. It will be interesting to see just what listeners think.