September 19, 2022

Russell Thomas on Verdi

Tell us about your first experience singing Verdi. Did you find Verdi, or did Verdi find you?

My first experience singing Verdi was in the chorus of Florida Grand Opera as a student. I was in the chorus of Macbeth. Justino Díaz was the Macbeth, Deborah Voigt was Lady Macbeth, and Eric Halfvarson was the Banquo. I remember those performances like it was yesterday. Being a part of the "Patria oppressa" chorus of Act 4 was a moving experience. The first Verdi aria I recall singing is "Questa o quella" from Rigoletto. People that heard me sing it, seemed to be impressed by what they heard so I sought out more.

What has been your greatest challenge and greatest reward as a Verdian tenor?

The primary challenge is the technical demands of the repertoire. You must be able to do everything with your voice from the daintiest trills to big fortissimo high notes. All while making some very unrealistic or convoluted stories believable.

The reward is being able to sing some of the most beautiful music ever written. It just doesn't get any better for Italian opera.

Joshua Moaney as Ernani's Father and Russell Thomas as Ernani in Lyric's 2022/23 production of Verdi's Ernani. 

As you prepare for this role debut as Ernani, how has the process been similar or different from how you prepare for other performances?

Role preparation is the same for me no matter the role. I translate the score and mark dynamics and phrasing. I learn the notes, then listen to as many recordings of the work as I could possibly find. The issue I found with Ernani was finding a through-line to the storytelling. There's a lot happening and I'm often asking myself why and not being able to find an answer.

Which Ernani aria (or duet, trio, etc.) are you most excited to perform?

The number I was looking forward to sing was the added aria at the end of Act 2, that was written for the tenor Nicola Ivanoff at the personal request of Rossini. Unfortunately, we won't be performing that added aria in this production. The opening aria is fun and starts the show with a beautiful cavatina and cabaletta.

Christian Van Horn as Silva and Russell Thomas as Ernani in Lyric's 2022/23 production of Verdi's Ernani

Is there another Verdi role you are eager to learn after this?

The next Verdi roles I'm learning or refreshing are the title role in Don Carlo, which I will perform in NYC, and Don Alvaro in La Forza del Destino, which I will perform in Paris, both in the later part of the fall season. The next new Verdi will be Don Carlos (the French version in 5 acts) and Riccardo in Un Ballo in Maschera.

You closed our 2021/22 Season in Tosca, now you’re opening the 2022/23 Season with Ernani. How does it feel to return to Lyric, and to another production with director Louisa Muller?

As always, it's a high honor to be invited to perform in this theater with so much history. Giants have performed here. It's not an opportunity I take lightly. Also, to open the season of an opera company shows the faith the leadership of this great company has in my abilities as an artist. I hope I won't disappoint.

Tenor Russell Thomas and soprano Tamara Wilson in Lyric's 2021/22 Verdi Voices concert. 

A veritable Verdi dream team has been assembled for this production, including Maestro Enrique Mazzola and Tamara Wilson who you recently performed with in our Verdi Voices concert. What do you think sets Verdians apart musically, technically, or dramatically and why are you excited to share the stage with these artists?

The beautiful thing is I've known all of my singing colleagues for a long time. Tamara is a frequent collaborator, I've probably sung more Verdi with her than any other soprano. It's amazing to get to work with old friends. There's a great atmosphere and collegiality.

Singing Verdi requires an attention to detail that is only possible with technical assuredness. You have to be able to do everything in the score and make it look easy. I think a cast of musicians has been assembled that strive for that attention to detail in a way that will make the performances percolate with excitement. What more could you ask for?

September 09 - October 01, 2022



The 2022/23 Season opens with a thrilling continuation of Lyric's acclaimed early Verdi series. This "love quadrangle" inspires grand-scale arias and ensembles, bursting with the unique energy and drive that were Verdi's own. Music Director Enrique Mazzola leads a quartet of world-renowned Verdians in Lyric's sumptuously beautiful production that is designed to bring you an exhilarating operatic experience.

Header photo: The Company of Ernani at Lyric Opera of Chicago. Credit: Cory Weaver

All other photos: Cory Weaver, Kyle Flubacker