Meet the Artist: Dale Travis of The Italian Straw Hat

Over the course of his decades-long career, Dale Travis has sung in some of the most prestigious opera houses in the world and become one of the most sought-after American bass-baritones working today. After several acclaimed Minnesota Opera performances, including his company debut in 2009’s The Barber of Seville and his turn as Count Waldner in 2013’s Arabella, he returns to the Ordway later this month as Nonancourt, the meddling father-in-law in Nino Rota’s comic farce The Italian Straw Hat. Recently, Dale was kind enough to chat with us about his role, the music in this hilarious show, and his advice for young singers.

Describe Nonancourt in three words.

Provincial, proud, protective.

What are some of the joys and challenges of performing this role?

The joys are many. I have made a career of singing most of the big basso buffo roles and this role falls right in that category. There is so much material to work with: loud blustering, rapid patter, and a large palette of emotional colors. The challenges are to negotiate the sophisticated 20th century harmonic language; it sounds simple, but I can assure you the moment you get comfortable, he throws you a curve. It constantly keeps the singers on their toes! The other challenge is to stay ahead of the breakneck pace of the production and to get comfortable on the raked stage with entrances and exits through trap doors! Flexibility and versatility are musts.

What aspects of this opera do you think will resonate most with audiences?

First off, the immediate likability of the music. Rota’s music is simply and humbly created to be heard. It is to be enjoyed, to please the listener, and to stir the soul with its authenticity. There are a multitude of tunes you end up singing hours and days later. It also has characters and scenarios that are totally relatable to all of our lives. There is a sophistication in the harmonies as well as representations of many different styles and sounds. The other brilliant aspect of the score is the orchestral coloring —so smart and witty. It constantly curls the edge of the listener’s mouth upward.

When did you fall in love with opera?

I fell in love with opera my senior year in high school. We did a production of Amahl and the Night Visitors by Menotti and I sang Balthazaar. It wasn’t until I went to college that I first studied classical music and then I was really hooked! I liked the challenge of operatic singing —I am a bit of a masochist that way —I also like golf and fly fishing. All three can never be mastered!

What advice would you give to a singer just starting their career?

To all young singers I would say this: go slow, work on your piano skills, learn and study all romance languages for diction, and BE PREPARED. This means know your music backward and forward; know every word—not just what you are saying, but what is being said to you, because to act is to react. Having said that, look at the score and listen to what the composer is saying to you—the phrasing of the libretto, the clues above and below the vocal line and the orchestral colors used to create an emotion, a feeling, an atmosphere. The score is the bible and the constant factor to create all your motivation. Last, but not least, always remember this: it is a great honor and privilege to do what we do.


The Italian Straw Hat opens on Saturday, January 26 at Ordway Center for the Performing Arts for five performances, running through February 3.

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