Thursday, April 15, 2010

Tenor Ta'u Pupu'a Makes a Touchdown in Master Class

Ta'u Pup'ua once played for the Cleveland Browns and the Baltimore Ravens, tackling his opponents.  Now on the cusp of a magnificent career in the arena of opera, Pupu'a is tackling the music of composers such as Verdi and PucciniThe Kennedy Center Examiner spoke to Pupu'a about his portrayal of Tony in Terrence McNally's Master Class, currently running at The Kennedy Center.
KENNEDY CENTER EXAMINER:  You are portraying the role of Tony.  Could you tell me more about his interaction with Maria Callas in the play?
MR. PUPU'A:  Sure.  Tony is a jock and play sports.  He has it all;  the voice and good looks.  At Julliard, he meets his match in soprano Maria Callas who is not pleased with his voice and lets him know that he is not all that.  His interaction with Callas is different then from the women who sing her literature.  Callas allows him to be 'goofy,' but serious when it come to the music.  I always heard that tenors had their own passport and got special treatment.
KENNEDY CENTER EXAMINER :  Yes!  I have heard that very same thing.   What have been your performance experiences at The Kennedy Center before this production of Master Class?
MR. PUPU'A:  This is my first professional engagement. 
KENNEDY CENTER EXAMINER:  Really?  So this is your Kennedy Center debut?
MR. PUPU'A:  Yes!  I am very new to this, walking into Julliard not reading music.  I simply walked in with the voice that God blessed me with.  I am in the Artist Diploma program, which generally is one to three years.  I have been invited to study for a fourth year.  I now sing in German, French and Italian.  This summer I will be singing  Strauss' Ariadne auf Naxos with James Levine at Tanglewood.  It is truly a blessing.
KENNEDY CENTER EXAMINER:  That is truly an amazing word of encouragement, especially for a young music student.    I understand that you discovered your 'calling' as a singer after you left the NFL with the Cleveland Browns.  How did that come about and what does it mean to you today?
MR. PUPU'A:  I discovered that I had a voice in church.  Even when I was with the Cleveland Browns, I still attended church.  Often during the singing of the congregation hymns people would turn around and my voice.  At that time I did not know, but it was God's way of showing me the greatness of the world..  My family moved here to America to pursue a dream.  Everybody needs a little push.  I try to give back, especially to my family.  When I got one of my first signing bonuses from the NFL, I bought my brother a five bedroom home, because he was raising his family in a small apartment.  He is now doing very well and has a good job.
KENNEDY CENTER EXAMINER:  That is a blessing!
MR. PUPU'A:  I moved to New York City because I wanted to start my singing career, but did not know how.  A friend of mine encouraged me to audition for a performance of Rigoletto for a performance at a church.  I was unfamiliar with the Italian, so I learned it the best the I could because of the similarities with my native language Tonga.  But it really all started when I saw a poster advertising that soprano Dame Kiri Te Kanawa was signing autographs at the Metropolitan Opera House bookstore.  I was waiting in line with my CD's, only to be told that she would not be signing any personal autographs.  When I finally got to her, I place my CD's on the table and she looked down at my name recognizing it to be Polynesian (Te Kanawa is Maori and Caucasian and I am from the island of Tonga. ) and then she looked up at me and said "It's hard isn't it." I said 'yes'.  She then asked "Do you have anyone helping you?"  I said no.  She then replied "I would like to help."
KENNEDY CENTER EXAMINER:  I am speechless!  Dame Kiri Te Kanawa?  Wow!  I just reviewed her Final D. C. Recital last December.  Wow!  This is some story!
MR. PUPU'A:  Yes.  She gave me her number and I called her.  And now, she is my mentor.  Through her contacts, I auditioned for Stephen Wadsworth, who had only hear me sing prior to this on Youtube.  He encouraged me to enroll at Julliard and so now, here I am.

KENNEDY CENTER EXAMINER: There have been in recent years several singers that share a similar background as you.  I think immediately of bass Morris Robinson, who was a football player during his days at the Citadel and now sings at some of the world's greatest opera houses, including the Metropolitan.   Could you perhaps discuss a role model for you that helped you transition from football to opera?
MR. PUPU'A :  I had not met anyone that played football before they sang opera until last year.  Keith Miller who is a singer as well played football and I have a wonderful sense of comradely with him when we see one another.  We have a special bond.  But you know, when you loose the playfulness of football, you either love it or you don't.  It then just becomes a job.  I never feel that way when I am singing.  I love opera!.
KENNEDY CENTER EXAMINER:  You just were in this area recently, singing Mahler with the Alexandria Symphony Orchestra.  On a larger scale, what would you like to accomplish professionally?
MR. PUPU'A:  What I am doing right now!  The Kennedy Center has been a tremendous blessing to me.  And I can not say enough about Tyne Daly, who embraced me and is an inspiration to me.  I recently lost my mother and she did as well, thus we share a special bond.  Working with her is incredible!  And to walk out and see all of those people in the is amazing!   Right now, with the consistency of performances, things are really happening and I am so grateful. 
KENNEDY CENTER EXAMINER:  My deepest sympathies to you and your family.  I am glad that you are able to share your gifts.  That is beautiful.  What literature do you enjoy singing the most?
MR. PUPU'A:  Thank you.  Oh gosh, that is a hard question!  I love singing Puccini, Verdi....Lets just say Bel Canto.  But I really enjoy singing hymns and spirituals.  They are the root of my foundation.  They always seem to bring me back to earth.  I really love spirituals!
KENNEDY CENTER EXAMINER:  When you are not singing, what do you enjoy doing
MR. PUPU'A:  Well, I am a late bloomer in this, so music is what I like to do.  Even when I am off, I enjoy listening to music.  My favorite singer is the great soprano Leontyne Price, who was said "sing on your vocal interest, not your vocal principal."  She is so amazing!   She is also Kiri's favorite singer
KENNEDY CENTER EXAMINER:  Now that is just incredible!
MR. PUPU'A:  Yes it is. I really love the voice of soprano Indra Thomas.  But I also listen to 
Broadway and old classics.  I was just listening to Kate Smith . And of course I love all sports.
KENNEDY CENTER EXAMINER:  What advice would you give to a male singer in particular who may be torn between a career in sports or a career in music?
MR. PUPU'A:  Dad told me to choose one or the other.  I would say carry both torches.  Which ever torch  dies out first, you still have the other torch.
KENNEDY CENTER EXAMINER:  That is great advice!  Thank you so much for speaking to us about this awesome journey.  Best wishes to you for a bright new career in the world of opera.
MR. PUPU'A:  Thank you and I will see you at the performance!
Remaining performances of Terrence McNally's Master Class are April 15-16 at 7:30 P.M., April 17 at 1:30 P. M. and 7:30 P. M. and April 18 at 1:30 and 7:30 P. M.

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