The Gold Coin Saloon, a leftover from the glory days of this former gold mining town high in the Rockies, is not a place you’d expect to find an opera conductor. And when N.C. Opera’s artistic director Timothy Myers comes into the bar on an early August afternoon wearing a polo shirt and Raleigh Denim jeans, takes off his aviator sunglasses and orders a draft beer, it is difficult to imagine him on the podium raising his baton.
The visit was a brief respite from the eight-week program that brought him to Colorado this summer – conducting the Central City Opera for 11 performances of Douglas Moore’s “The Ballad of Baby Doe.” It was his first time conducting “Baby Doe,” though he was familiar with its arias from his days accompanying recitals in graduate school at Florida State University. “But I was very unsure about this assignment,” Myers says, “because the full score has many problems in its structure and orchestration.” However, after learning the production team’s approach and who would be singing, he decided to take it on, turning in an authoritative performance hailed by audiences and critics alike.
That’s become the norm for Myers’ career, including his six seasons with N.C. Opera, where he’s been acclaimed for leading such diverse works as Verdi’s “Aida,” Puccini’s “Tosca” and Dvorak’s “Rusalka.” Despite these being his first experiences with each, he gave them the maturity and understanding of a much older maestro.
Now he’s readying one of his greatest challenges, “Das Rheingold,” the first of the four-part Ring Cycle, based on Norse myths about love and power among gods and humans. The semi-staged production will be the first performance of this challenging work in North Carolina. It’s also 41-year-old Myers’ first complete Wagner opera. The scale and difficulty of this two and a half hour one-act doesn’t seem to daunt Myers. “I’ve worked on building the orchestra into one that can play a wide variety of styles,” he says. “Part of the plan was to train our players by first scheduling concert versions of single acts from Wagner operas.”
Myers led Act I from “Die Walküre” in January 2013 and Act II from “Tristan und Isolde” in November 2014. Opera Philadelphia’s general director, David Devan, one of Myers’ big supporters, attended the “Tristan” performance and was wowed. “The cohesiveness of the playing was first rate,” Devan remembers. “I was surprised to learn that it’s not a permanent orchestra, because it sure sounded like one.”
For this weekend’s “Rheingold” there will be 80 musicians on stage, along with 14 vocal soloists in newly designed costumes performing in front of projected scenery. Bass Adam Lau, who sings Donner, the god of thunder, is excited to be working with Myers again after previous performances here in Mozart’s “Don Giovanni” and Rossini’s “The Barber of Seville.”
“He has one of the cleanest conducting techniques in the business,” Lau says, “so singers never get lost. He’s the consummate singer’s conductor – very sensitive to each individual’s needs.” Eric Mitchko, general director of N.C. Opera, takes that thought one step further. “Opera conductors are usually oriented either toward the singers or the instrumentalists but the way Timothy is able to work equally with both is remarkable.”
Myers credits his success to having had great mentors along the way, including late renowned conductor Lorin Maazel. He also showed a willingness early on to work as an assistant conductor on various productions, helping prepare operas he wouldn’t conduct publicly until years later.
Myers’ career jumped into high gear recently with world premieres at Washington National and Houston Grand operas and his schedule for the next two years includes Ireland’s Wexford Festival, Philadelphia’s Curtis Opera Theatre and a Metropolitan Opera commission. With so much upcoming travel, Myers initially worried about balancing his career with marriage and fatherhood – his wife is expecting their first child.
“But my wife Christina is a very adventuresome woman who is completely supportive and game for anything,” Myers says. “We made the decision to travel together whenever possible. This changes the experience for me because conducting can be a very lonely career.”
The couple tried out their plan in Central City, where they celebrated their first wedding anniversary after arriving with their Goldendoodle, Jude in tow. During those eight weeks, they traveled to Montana to vacation with her family and also found secluded Colorado streams for fly-fishing.
For now, Myers will be finishing rehearsals for “Das Rheingold” at the concert hall in Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts, four blocks from his downtown Raleigh residence. He won’t be riding his beloved motorcycle there anymore, a concession after a December 2015 accident in a D.C. taxi that left him with six broken ribs and a cracked sternum, giving him pause about risky behavior. “I decided that hurting is not good for my career!” Myers says with a wink.
When his current contract runs out at the end of the 2017-18 season, Myers will have to make some decisions about the time he’ll be able to give the company, with so many offers coming his way. “We hope he’ll continue to make his home in Raleigh,” Mitchko says. “I can’t imagine N.C. Opera without him.”
What: “Das Rheingold,” presented by N.C. Opera
Where: Meymandi Concert Hall, Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts, 2 E. South St., Raleigh
When: 8 p.m. Sept. 16; 3 p.m. Sept. 18
Info: 919-792-3853 or ncopera.org