Out barihunk Jonathan Beyer braves the cold to make his debut as Marcello in Dallas Opera’s production of ‘La Boheme’
As a Chicagoan, Jonathan Beyer is used to harsh winters. Still, he thought he’d dodged a bullet this year … only to be sorely disappointed.
“My last gig was in Miami — I was living in SoBe with an ocean view,” Beyer brags. “Then I was coming to Dallas, where I thought I would miss winter entirely. But it was lies, all lies!”
The extreme weather in Dallas for the last few weeks, especially the snow and ice storms that effectively shut down the city, actually forced Beyer — an opera baritone appearing in the Dallas Opera’s current production of Puccini’s La Boheme — and the rest of the cast to miss several rehearsals. “I actually sang in Alaska twice and never had a rehearsal canceled,” Beyer says.
You might think that not being able to fully rehearse would have given Beyer some jitters. Opera singers typically have a repertoire: A canon of roles they have performed in numerous productions over their careers. But Beyer is making his full-production debut in the key role of Marcello in Boheme … a role he knows but has never performed. But the night before opening, Beyer was as cool as the backside of a pillow … and not just because of the weather.
“It’s totally fine,” he says dismissively. “I’m almost too relaxed. I’ve sung Schaunard [a smaller baritone role in Boheme] in six different productions, so it feels like I’ve graduated a bit into the big-boy part. And the music is ingrained in my ear, so it’s been a really easy first-time out with this role.”
Judging by his performance on opening night, Beyer had nothing to be concerned about. He was one of the strongest elements of the production, which continues at the Winspear Opera House through March 29. What does give him some pause is realizing how many people will actually see his performance on March 21. That’s when the DO airs one of its simulcasts, with the live production streamed directly to thousands of opera fans at AT&T Stadium in Arlington.
“It’s like The Met — [you just do the performance], and it’s only later that [it sinks in] how many people just saw you,” he says.
Most people who see Beyer onstage will take note of him. At 6-foot-5, he’s a towering, handsome fellow with a powerful voice (opera devotees know him from his photos on the BariHunks.com fan page). When he was last in Dallas, he performed the part of Ping in Turandot, probably making him one of the tallest Asians in history. He also had a small role in the world premiere of Jake Heggie’s Moby-Dick. But this is definitely his biggest chance to impress Dallas audiences.
From Puccini to Heggie, Beyer is comfortable in both classical and modern opera and even Broadway… especially where there is crossover. And his dream roles indicate the diversity of operas available to a singer.
“I find modern opera covers such a large range [of styles]. A lot of Jake Heggie’s music is accessible — Moby-Dick is very tonal with singable melodies — as is John Adams’ Nixon in China. I tend to sing Figaro all the time, and I always enjoy doing Figaro because I like doing shtick. But on a more intellectual level, I am dying to do Nixon in China as Nixon. I like that it’s the best combination of old and new. All of these standard operas are amazing, but I like relevant concepts and cool new contemporary ideas. But also, especially with a lot of older musicals, there’s a crossover [with operatic styles]. I’d rather hear an opera artist sing Oklahoma [than a pop singer].”
The person Beyer probably would most like to hear sing, though, is his partner of nine years, Brandon Cedel, himself an opera singer.
“Brandon is a bass-baritone, so we don’t go up for the same parts, but we love it when we can perform together,” Beyer says. Dallas Opera tried to get Cedel to appear as Colline in Boheme, but he was already contracted to perform in The Met’s production of Don Carlo. But they’ll be seeing each other before too long. He likes mixing work with pleasure, when possible.
“My gig after this is in St. Louis, and Brandon’ll be there … but singing in a different opera. And we’re doing The Barber of Seville together in Pittsburgh later this year,” he says. “For us it is kind of a balance. We run in the same circles, so it doesn’t feel like one person is tagging along. It’s good for the relationship.”
There’s another bonus to being an out opera singer: Unlike many gay men lament aging, Beyer revels in it.
“Ballet dancers are in their prime in their youth, but the male voice continues developing until your late 30s/early 40s,” he says. “I have friends who panic about their birthdays; But I think, ‘Phew! I’m getting more legitimate! I can play father roles!’”
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition March 13, 2015.