Opera Singer Alek Shrader
Name: Alek Shrader
Occupation: Opera Singer
Currently Living: Nomad (I don’t have a home residence anywhere – I follow the gig!)
Geek Sheek: For those who aren’t aware of your amazing talent, please share with us what you do and how you came into it.
Alek: I’m not so sure about this “amazing talent” you speak of, but I do sing opera for my day job. Honestly, I sort of reluctantly stumbled into it. Both my parents are former opera singers, but when I was growing up, that fact actually made me want to do ANYTHING but sing opera. I’m stubborn like that. I have to do my own thing. I had a rock band in high school just for fun, and joined choir because my friends were in it. That evolved into having a rock band in college and being a music education major (teacher by day, rockstar by night was the plan). We had a lot of fun, but the truth of the matter was that we weren’t really going to make it as rock legends. Coincidentally, I had begun to sing art song and opera arias in my college education, and the more I sang, the more I liked it. Success bred motivation, and I’ve been a lucky opportunist ever since.
Geek Sheek: What kind of exercises do you do to develop that operatic style of voice?
Alek: A bunch. Physically, I walk a lot (and quickly) and I do some light stuff at home. I think about going to the gym several times a week. Vocally, for me it sort of depends on the day. Obviously, using your voice every day (at least a little bit) is beneficial to keeping it “in shape”. (Singers are constantly making little noises; sometimes it becomes involuntary. hehe) I don’t mean singing an opera every day; there is a daily limit. It’s very similar to professional athletes - practice a lot and then perform. There are specific vocal exercises I do, but it might be super boring to write them into word form. Here’s the abridged version: There’s the one that gets the breath going… The one that goes fast… The one that goes high… And then I sing snippets of arias that work specific zones (like certain notes or vowels). I discovered the hard way that singing operatically is really like competing at the Olympics, in that – for best results – you shouldn’t roll out of bed one day and go perform. The actual performance is really only an extension of the preparation/practice. You have to keep in shape.
Geek Sheek: As I understand, Opera singing isn’t just about singing but also acting or being extremely animated whilst singing. Explain the importance of this and what your process is to achieve this level of performing.
Alek: Acting is one of the vital components of opera (the other being singing). Some people like to debate which is more important to the art form itself or the longevity of opera, but I think that’s a waste of time. I’m of the opinion it should be a perfect blend of both, in which the singing and acting complement each other to increase the overall effect the performance. We sing in treacherous times, you see. Opera is fighting for life in the United States, and thank goodness there are opera performers out there who are up to the task. In a fairly obvious way, when you go to the opera, you expect to hear good singing. I think you should also expect to see good acting. Why wouldn’t you? And why should you expect one to suffer for the sake of the other? As for my “process”… Remember when you were a kid and you would play make-believe? That’s it. That’s acting. The dedication you had to the game and the lack of inhibition in whatever fantasy you were bringing to life are the only basic tools you need. Of course, then it becomes a refined thing, working with coaches or directors. As a fundamental starting point, I just try to keep everything in the reality of the character (after I really, thoroughly know who that character is). You don’t need to add anything – if it feels right, it probably is. One thing I really shy away from is making my characters into versions of Alek. Inevitably, there will be little pieces of me in my characters, but I want to base my portrayal on sympathy and fantasy rather than my own experiences or personality. In the end, I’m not supposed to be me on stage. Opera offers other obstacles (four o-words in a row!) for convincing/realistic/”method” acting. Foremost, your character (probably) wouldn’t be singing if it were reality. Secondly (and sometimes more importantly), some actions you just shouldn’t really do in performance (such as, for example, murder). So, for me what works best is simply pretending – dedicated, uninhibited, well-thought-out-so-it-feels-natural-and-looks-real pretending.
Geek Sheek: How many languages can you sing in? Is it difficult to learn a song in the various languages they are performed?
Alek: Singing in a variety of languages is practically unavoidable for opera performers. I have performed operas in Italian, German, French, and English, and I’ve also sung in Spanish and Latin. While I’m only fluent in English (usually), I can speak the basics of Spanish, Italian, German, and French, enough that I could at least ask directions or order a sandwich. Singers are typically trained to learn and understand these and other languages (often Russian, for example), and the more fluency you gain would obviously be a great benefit to your performance. However, in eight semesters (average length for the first degree), you simply might not have enough time to become fluent in four or five languages. Fear not! Singers also (typically) take language diction classes to at least sound like they know the language. We learn how to pronounce the words properly, and hopefully the vocabulary and grammar will soon follow. In a perfect world, you are fluent in the language you sing in; in the meantime, you must at least know how to pronounce the words correctly and at bare minimum know the meaning of the words you sing.
Geek Sheek: What has been your favorite play to do so far and why?
Geek Sheek: I became a fan of you after seeing The Metropolitan Opera documentary: The Audition in which you won. What was that experience like?
Geek Sheek: The documentary to me was more like what American Idol is like with the dwindling down of each performer to get to the final 15 and then it was the final 5 (I think). What opportunities opened up for you after you won?
Geek Sheek: To me it’s a preposterous assumption to even think but what do you say to people who tend to write Opera singing off as a dying art form?
Geek Sheek: What are some activities that you enjoy that are outside of the Opera profession?
Geek Sheek: Lastly, what are some things you Geek out over?
*Where you can find Alek NOW*Alek is currently in rehearsals for Mozart’s The Magic Flute at San Francisco Opera. They open June 13, and the show runs through July 8.
Visit the website here for ticket information.
Make sure you join his Facebook fan page HERE and his Twitter HERE . Also, go HERE to see a clip of The Audition featuring Alek, and where to buy the DVD.