Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Malcolm MacKenzie in Conversation with Christian Baldini

On November 9, the Camellia Symphony Orchestra will present Ein deutsches Requiem (A German Requiem) by Johannes Brahms. Below is an interview with our baritone soloist, Malcolm MacKenzie:

Christian Baldini: Malcolm, welcome back! It was some years ago that you and I first worked together, and though our schedules not always line up, I am so excited to welcome you back to the Camellia Symphony Orchestra for this beautiful work of music. Please tell me, how does a piece like the Brahms' Requiem fit within the operatic repertoire that you typically sing more frequently?

Malcolm MacKenzie: I'm so excited to work with you again!  Actually, this will be my first time singing this piece, and as your question implies, a rare opportunity for me musically. Interestingly, I've had a love of Brahms' since I sang a duet of his while still in college.  I'm delighted to be able to return to him.  

CB: Besides the beautiful baritone solo movements, what are some of your favorite moments in this piece?

MM: This is a difficult question, but I suppose I would have to say the 5th movement.  It's message of comfort for the living, I find especially moving. 

CB: One could say that Brahms' is an unusual Requiem, not only in the choice of language, but also because of the fact that the composer himself carefully chose the texts that represented the message he wanted to communicate. What are your feelings about this message, and about the general atmosphere and feeling of this piece?

MM: Yes... being a Catholic school educated, Secular Humanist myself, I have a great affinity for Brahms' point of view when composing this piece.  As a religious work, it is very unusual, with its focus on the comforting of those left behind after a death.  The piece really does have a unique, some might say radical, point of view for the time.   Choosing to abandon the liturgical elements of the traditional requiem, and picking only verses that spoke to him, personally, was very unusual.  Interestingly, I see this specificity, this concentration on an individual's personal relationship with God, as a way to broaden the reach of the message of consolation within the work to those outside of the Christian faith.  I wonder if that might have been his aim all along.  

CB: You've recently started teaching voice lessons at UC Davis, and I hope that many of your students in the music department will come to listen to you sing this marvelous piece. What are some of the things you enjoy the most about teaching?

MM: Yes!  One of the neat things about teaching at UC Davis is the wide variation of students I see.  I have everything from first time singers, to those with advanced degrees in vocal performance.  One lesson, I'm teaching a student ear training, the next we're working on polishing a Mozart aria.  That variation keeps me thinking!  

CB: Thank you so much for sharing your wonderful gifts with us, we very much look forward to the performance!

MM: My pleasure!  I'm so looking forward to working with you and the other wonderful musicians who'll be performing!  

With a voice described as having a “rich vocal range full of inviting nuance,” Malcolm MacKenzie continues to attract attention in the dramatic baritone repertoire. Opera News recently praised him as a “confident, commanding Count di Luna…of robust tone, ardent address, arching phrases and genuine baritonal squillo.” Of his recent role debut as Baron Scarpia they wrote: "His rich, warm, and dark tone was bolstered by a relentless legato line which amplified the sensuous sleaziness of his Scarpia."

Mr. MacKenzie has been heard at leading opera houses throughout the U.S. and Europe, appearing at the Metropolitan Opera, New York City Opera, Paris Opera (Bastille), Finland’s Savonlinna Festival, Washington National Opera, Los Angeles Opera, Glimmerglass Opera, San Diego Opera, Arizona Opera, Fort Worth Opera, and Pittsburgh Opera, in roles including Simon Boccanegra, Iago, Tonio, Baron Scarpia, Don Giovanni, Count di Luna, Renato, Jack Rance, Marcello, Germont, and Count Almaviva.   

Recent engagements for Mr. MacKenzie have included returns to North Carolina Opera as Baron Scarpia in Tosca, Colorado Opera as Germont in La traviata, and to Pittsburgh Opera as Stubb in Jake Heggie’s Moby-Dick; as well as role debuts in North Carolina Opera's Rigoletto in the title role, Baron Scarpia in Opera Omaha's Tosca, and with Opera San Jose as Don Alfonso in Così fan tutte; returning to Dayton Opera as Tonio in I pagliacci; creating the role of Roger Chillingworth in Colorado Opera's world premiere of The Scarlet Letter by Lori Laitman; returning to LA Opera as Stubb in Jake Heggie’s Moby-Dick; Enrico in Lucia die Lammermoor with Eugene Opera; Giorgio Germont in La traviata with Virginia Opera; and Schaunard in La bohème  with San Diego Opera; a return to the Metropolitan Opera as Dancaïre in Carmen; the title role in Simon Boccanegra with Kentucky Opera; Belcore in L’Elisir d’amore with San Diego Opera; Iago in Otello with Nashville Opera; Count di Luna in Il trovatore with Arizona Opera; Alfio/Tonio in Cavalleria rusticana/I pagliacci with Arizona Opera; and Jack Rance in La fanciulla del West with Nashville Opera.

Other performances have included La traviata with Glimmerglass Opera, where Opera News described him as “a stentorian Germont, singing with a steely beauty that matched the character’s resolve;” Schaunard in La bohème for San Diego Opera; Figaro in Il barbiere di Siviglia, and Count Almaviva in Le nozze di Figaro with Sacramento Opera; Sharpless in Madama Butterfly for San Diego Opera; the baritone soloist for Horatio Parker’s  rarely performed Hora Novissima with the Pacific Master Chorale; and Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony with the Reno Philharmonic.

On the concert stage, Mr. MacKenzie has performed frequently as the baritone soloist for Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana, most recently with the Alabama Symphony, Los Angeles’ New West Symphony, the Symphony Orchestra of the University of California, Davis and the Savannah Symphony.  The UC Davis performance is available on YouTube and has received over 19 million views.  He has also appeared with the Los Angeles Master Chorale, the Pacific Chorale, the Los Angeles Mozart Orchestra, and the Madison Symphony.

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