June 17, 2021

Spotlight on Russell Thomas

Russell Thomas is American through and through, yet he sings Italian opera to the manner born. At Lyric he's already starred in two of his signature roles from that repertoire, Pollione in Bellini’s Norma (debut, 2016/17 Season) and Manrico in Verdi’s Il trovatore (2018/19 Season), and he also makes his role debut as Canio in filmed performance of Pagliacci at Lyric, to be released in August. Now we can look forward to his mainstage return in 2021/22 in one of our audience’s favorite operas, Puccini’s Tosca, in which he’s appeared as Cavaradossi opposite Sondra Radvanovsky at LA Opera. At Lyric on March 12, 2022, he and his debuting colleague, Michelle Bradley, will make history as the first artists of color to sing Cavaradossi and Tosca together on the Lyric stage.

Russell Thomas as Pollione in Bellini’s Norma at Lyric (2016/17)

Thomas is a true spinto tenor, the category poised between lyric and dramatic. That means that a great many of the most passionately romantic roles in the repertoire are made for Thomas’s voice. It’s big, warm, and full, with an emotional pull that draws any audience into his orbit whenever he’s onstage.

Russell Thomas as Pollione and Sondra Radvanovsky in the title role of Norma at Lyric (2016/17)

This career has been built with tremendous care and intelligence. Once it became clear Thomas had a truly special instrument, he went from the Florida’s New World School of the Arts and the Florida Grand Opera chorus in his native Miami to the most prestigious young-artist programs in the country, culminating in his tenure with the Met’s Lindemann Young Artists Development Program.

In Thomas, the international operatic scene rapidly discovered a young tenor whose voice, musicianship, and versatility were ready for the major stages of the world. In addition to every important North American company, he’s starred with the Deutsche Oper Berlin, the Palau de les Arts in Valencia, London’s Royal Opera House, and Oper Frankfurt. Stylistically speaking, his successes encompass everything from Mozart (La clemenza di Tito, Los Angeles, Salzburg, Amsterdam; Idomeneo, Salzburg) to Philip Glass (A Flowering Tree, Vienna, London).

Tamara Wilson as Leonora and Russell Thomas as Manrico in ll trovatore at Lyric (2018/19)

Thomas’s ascendancy to the top rank of Verdi tenors has been a hugely exciting development in his career. One of the most eagerly anticipated role debuts in recent seasons has been his Otello, which he added to his repertoire in concert in Atlanta, subsequently singing it onstage in Toronto, Berlin, and Washington. With his triumphs in that role, as well as in Nabucco (Met, Seattle), Simon Boccanegra (London), Don Carlo (Berlin, Washington), Il trovatore (Cincinnati), Stiffelio (Frankfurt), La forza del destino (Berlin), and Aida (Houston), Thomas is reassuring audiences that Verdi’s formidable tenor heroes will be in the best of hands for many seasons to come.

The hallmark of any Thomas performance — whether in opera, concerts, or recitals — is, above all, sincerity. He’s all about the music and his desire to share it with the public. His generosity onstage and his connection with the characters he portrays are matched by the sheer beauty of his music-making. From the moment he sings Cavaradossi’s first phrase, Tosca audiences at Lyric next season will be in for nonstop thrills.

Russell Thomas’s portrayal of Manrico in Lyric's Il trovatore can be streamed here. He returns to Lyric next season to star as Cavaradossi in Tosca and can be seen as Canio in Lyric's film of Leoncavallo's Pagliacci  in August 2021.

Assistant conductor Jerad Mosbey goes over the Pagliacci score with Russell Thomas during recent recording sessions onstage at the Lyric Opera House.

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Header photo: Russell Thomas as Manrico in Verdi’s Il trovatore at Lyric (2018/19) Credit: Todd Rosenberg

All other photos: Todd Rosenberg, Cory Weaver, Kyle Flubacker