The Young Tenor

Interview by
Owen Myers
Video by
António Da Silva


Just 25-years-old, opera singer Adam Torrance is still ten years shy of his best singing. He sings a light lyric tenor repertoire, which makes him what opera enthusiasts call a tenor leggiero. Like if George Michael sang opera, he'd probably be a tenor leggiero. In the video, Adam sings 'Dein ist mein ganzes Herz!', a total heartbreaker from the German operetta 'Das Land des Lächelns'. I met Adam at bear bar, The King's Arms, in London to talk about gaynesss at the opera house and some other pressing matters... Like how people are always asking him if he dyes his beard because it’s a distinctly brighter shade of red than his auburn hair.

Owen: As a younger singer, at what point does your voice mature?
Adam: Men don’t stop growing until they’re twenty-five, so men’s voices will not settle fully until then. A singer’s peak years, when they are at their absolute best, will be between thirty-five and forty-five. And if you sing well during that decade, you should have another good one. I’ll be singing a light tenor repertoire for the next few years. In ten or fifteen years time, my repertoire will be completely different.
Is your stocky build an advantage to you as a singer?
There are classic builds for each type of voice. I mean, I look like a tenor. I’m quite broad across my shoulders and I have a relatively small head. It is something that’s contested. Some teachers think having a bit of weight on will help you release your breath. And then there are other teachers that think you should be at your absolute fittest.
Do you train at the gym?
Yeah, but I’m not going to the gym because it think it’ll help my voice. I’m going to the gym because I’ve put some weight on and I really want to lose it. But also, I want to be more physically fit to cope if a director wants you to do something insane. Like Simon Keenlyside was in a Benjamin Britten production, I think it was ‘Billy Budd’, and he sang one of his arias hanging from a bit of scaffolding with one arm and one leg. And he’s completely ripped.
‘Billy Budd’, that’s a really gay one, isn’t it?
I think all the Britten operas are. ‘Peter Grimes’… That’s kind of creepy-pedophile, really. It depends on how you read it. With Britten there’s always this kind of — people can be uncomfortable about his reputation. But he never laid a hand on any children. He seemed to have a really lovely relationship with Peter Pears, his partner. He also wrote loads of fantastic tenor roles for him.
What percentage, do you think, of opera singers are gay?
Oh god… I couldn’t put a percentage on it, but I would’ve expected it to be more. It’s nowhere near as many as you would think. Like a friend of mine is singing chorus for a company in the summer and there must be like thirty to forty guys throughout the whole company, and he realized there’s only him and one other gay soloist. He was gutted… Well, the chorus master’s gay, but that’s about it.
What about when you go to see an opera, can one expect to find a lot of hot gay guys in the audience?
Hot guys at the opera are the hottest guys you’ll ever see. The crowd is hotter at opera than ballet.
Why is that?
I don’t know. Part of it is that I personally like the idea of a guy at the opera. I like the idea of people being culturally involved. Even the student who clearly got their tickets cheap, seem to have made…
An effort?
Maybe it’s all in my head, but at the opera, everyone seems to be kind of prepossessing, like they make the most of themselves.
Why do gays love opera?
I think it’s because it’s really dramatic. If you think about cult gay films, they’re usually either slightly tragic or incredibly campy, and that’s exactly what opera tends to be. There are plenty of happy operas as well, but the happy operas tend to be really camp.
Is it because of the diva figure?
That’s also a big appeal to a lot of gay men. You want to go see a star. It’s exciting! And I think it can be quite addictive. I always ask people who think that they don’t like opera, I always ask them if they’ve seen one, like in the theatre. Because it’s not the same as on television. HD broadcasts are quite interesting, but they’re problematic as well.
Why is that?
Well, the sound quality is amazing, but HD is encouraging Hollywood-style photo casting which isn’t necessarily good for the musical quality. A director recently said to me that opera shouldn’t be in close-up. If you go to the theatre to see an opera, even if you pay for the most expensive seats, you’re never going to be six feet away from someone while they are singing. The panorama is the point of it.
I see…
Also singing opera is completely unnatural. It is a weird thing to do with your body. Even the best actor-singers, if you’re seeing them up close, they’re going to look strange. The TV makes you want it to be real, and yet opera is essentially artificial. There has to be a suspension of disbelief.
Is that why gays love it? The fantasy of it…
I think so. Plus, you know, costumes and big sets… I went to see a triple bill, Puccini’s ‘Il Trittico’, and I saw the most gorgeous bear couple.
Is that your type?
Not strictly, but they were beardy and so handsome and immaculately dressed. I kept on looking at them during the interval as they sat there snogging away. It was a bit much, but on the other hand, they were gorgeous. They left after the second opera.
Have you ever heard of opera pants?
Opera pants are trousers that had a discreet hole in the back, so that men could get buggered in the slips while watching the show. The opera house became this place of convergence for homosexuals who would gather in the standing room at the top tier.
Oh my… That sounds like a lot more fun than any experience I’ve had watching opera.
What do you do to maintain your voice? Is there anything you must avoid?
I wouldn’t drink alcohol for a few days before a big audition or a big performance. I don’t smoke because that’s not ideal, but then I know lots of really successful singers that do. People say you shouldn’t have chocolate, or you shouldn’t have spicy food. There are vaguely scientific reasons for all of those things, but I just think life’s too short.
Are you allowed to deep throat?
In college, I had this racy lesbian teacher who was talking about singing high notes and she said you had to learn to open the back of your throat and keep it open. It’s hard because your brain thinks you’re going to choke. Essentially, you’re fighting the gag reflex. I would be surprised if a good tenor couldn’t deep throat.

Adam will be singing in Strauss’ ‘Intermezzo’ at the Buxton Festival, that is, as the understudy for the character Baron Lummer. The festival takes place every summer in lovely Buxton which is sitting pretty in the Peak District of the UK, about an hour southeast of Manchester.

Published on 06 July 2012