Love is in the air at Seattle Opera, assuming the laughs of The Wicked Adventures of Count Ory don’t drown it out. While most of the men from a French village are away fighting the Crusades, noted lothario Count Ory spends his days comforting local women. When the count and his page become embroiled in a love triangle—battling for the affections of Countess Adèle—Ory’s plot to sneak into her castle becomes an operatic, cross-dressing, madcap farce. It's hard to think of a more fun way for Seattle Opera to kick off its 2016–17 season.
And perhaps no one has more fun in Count Ory than Eric Neuville. Playing the role of the "young nobleman," the tenor basically gets to just pop in and sing ensemble pieces with the male leads. A local veteran of Seattle Opera and its Young Artists Program, Count Ory marks Neuville's sixth role with the company (he'll also appear in this season's productions of La Traviata and The Magic Flute). When not tied up with opera productions across the country, he's also a member of the Grammy-winning Austin-based choral ensemble Conspirare. Catch Neuville in action at McCaw Hall as The Wicked Adventures of Count Ory runs through August 20.
For our latest Fiendish Conversation, we chatted with Neuville about being married to an artist spouse, mastering microwave cooking, and why Count Ory is the best summer job ever.
What are your favorite aspects about Count Ory?
It’s kind of like one of those really good Pixar movies, where the kids laugh at all of the puppets, and the funny colors, and things like that, and the adults get to laugh at really sophisticated jokes— or in this case—a lot of the innuendo.
Do you have a favorite moment in the show?
My favorite moment is when all of the guys in the chorus and all of the principle men are completely dressed up in drag, just getting wasted in the basement of this noble woman’s castle. The Seattle Opera Chorus is a hoot to begin with, so we just have a good time. There’s a lot of really fun people in the show, and we cut loose in that scene.
There aren’t a lot of times in opera when you get to be the wild crossdresser.
That’s right. And this show really embraces that. I mean the climax of the whole show—pun intended, I suppose—is the threesome at the very end between a woman, a man, and a woman who’s playing a man. So it’s good.
You came up through Seattle Opera’s Young Artist Program. How did that program help your career grow?
There’s a pretty wide gap between graduate school as a classical singer and an actual career as a classical singer. That program stepped in [to help bridge that gap]. First of all, it holds the bar really high. So we had these people in place: musical directors, the dramatic sort of acting director, and executive director Aren Der Hacopian, who would just hold the bar really high and just watch us all jump and kind of swat at it.
Simultaneously, every day we were being exposed to the absolute pinnacle of performers coming through Seattle Opera to do their mainstage productions. In my second year, they started using the young artists as principle performers in small and medium roles. So that [gives you] exposure. And then secondarily, they honed our business practices. Things as simple as a resume, all the way up to audition protocol and how to engage with the professional world. Things that you just don’t get anywhere else.
And you mentioned grad school and actually making a career of it. The career path for somebody who does classical singing and performs in opera seems like one I don’t have a grasp on totally. Kind of the day to day, keeping prepared, and having to travel the different cities to do opera because there’s not that much. What’s are some of the things about your job that people might not realize is part of the daily grind for you?
There’s sort of a romantic perception of being a classical singer, when in fact the reality of it is very similar to running a self-employed business. So upfront you have to have the money to invest in the business, and for us that would be traveling to auditions for all of these different companies—all over the country all over the world—or when you’re younger going to audition for all the young artist programs and all the training programs. So that’s the upfront investment, alongside training, school, and what we call coaching—where we would hone our languages and our musical execution. Self care is extremely difficult, because when you’re traveling that much and you’re living out of hotel rooms, you start to really learn how to use a microwave, and whittle things down to a mini fridge, and things like that.
You become the sous-chef of the microwave.
[Laughs] You have no idea. I have found some of the most wholesome microwavable meals on the planet. And it’s tricky, because most of those things are sodium bombs and really bad for you. But there are some out there that are really tasty.
Your wife Liora Reshef is a former Pacific Northwest Ballet dancer. How does having a partner who also has an artistic energy help you as a performer?
It’s a lot easier to come home and not have to explain how certain situations at work affect you during the day, like frustrations you encounter. She immediately knows, how things played out. She faced her own struggles in very much the same way that I did. So it’s actually super fun.
Your role of “young nobleman” in Ory is kind of that of a utility player. What do you enjoy about what you’re asked to do for this show?
Oh man, this is like the best summer job ever. So Rossini wrote a whole bunch of almost barbershop quartet-style ensembles, but there are really only three big principle male roles, so he had to just make one up to go in and sing these little barbershop quartets. Every show I get to sing with three of the best singers in the world. So I just get to spend my summer singing ensemble pieces with these superstars. It is a great summer job.
The directors and castmates were sad that I didn’t have an actual name in the show, so they came up with one. They call me Omelet. [Laughs]
Is there a story behind that?
No. [Laughs] We just tried to come up with something. The opera’s in French, and I think that was the first word that came out.
The Wicked Adventures of Count Ory
Thru Aug 20, McCaw Hall, $25–$272