Malcolm MacKenzie as Escamillo from Carmen.
We continue with our interview of Malcolm MacKenzie. As it turns out, he isn’t so much an old grouch as a father of two who has figured out a way to balance an opera career with parenthood.
Malcolm MacKenzie: “I am impressed that there are still a group of young people that still want it [opera singing]. They still want to learn it. They still want to be that person, to attain that skill. It’s not popular but they’re still there doing their thing, singing better than any kid on those TV shows, and they’re struggling to do it. There seems to be just as many young opera singers, maybe more, than there have ever been. That makes me feel good.”
SDR: "I think people want opera but it’s got to be brought to them."
MM: “Yes, they’ve got to know it’s accessible. That’s what is great about Boheme. This is the movie-length opera. This is an opera that anyone can enjoy even if you’re not a music lover you can still enjoy this opera. It’s hard not to fall into it. I think it’s the perfect first opera. You’ve got two choices for your first opera.”
“You’ve got Boheme and you’ve got Tosca. That’s pretty much it. Butterfly is too long in places for some people on their first try although I find it a fabulous piece. Tosca — I mean it’s about an opera singer and there’s death and there’s a big bad guy. Boheme — it’s about young people in love who are doomed. I mean come on, what could be better? And it’s two hours long. Go have a drink afterwards.”
SDR: What does a typical season look like for you?
MM: “I’m not a typical singer. I’m very lucky because I’ve had this kind of low-key career that I've been able to keep going. I’m a father. I have two daughters and when I’m home I’m the primary caregiver because my wife also works.”
“I used to work four to five jobs a year. Now it’s three to four jobs a year because of the shrinking of the industry. I try to stay as far west as possible so I can come home whenever possible.”
SDR: Where is home?
MM: “Sacramento area. I live near UC Davis. One of the reasons I love working for San Diego is that it’s a top flight company that is only an hour long flight away. It’s a fantastic thing for me and my family. I feel very lucky that I’ve been able to have this kind of middling career that’s lasted as long as it has.”
“These days having a twenty year opera career is pretty good. If it all stopped tomorrow I’d be sad but I couldn’t complain too much because for a lot of people that’s a long career. I’ve made a habit of singing smaller roles and bigger houses and bigger roles at smaller houses.”
“I’ve done everything from the title role of Simon Boccanegra at Kentucky Opera to Le Dancaïre in Carmen at The Met. That’s a season for me. Although in San Diego I’ve done both small and big roles. Part of that is because I was able to fill in for the small stuff when other singers stepped out.”
“I have no problem singing the smaller roles if I have room in my schedule. It makes no difference to me. I’m happy to do anything. I like my job. I don’t need to be the big character every time.”
SDR: Are your daughters into music?
MM: “Mmmm. My wife was a ballerina until she graduated college. She was quite good actually. I’m a singer — so we’re both from an arts background and neither of our daughters have taken to that.”
“Both are very athletic and sporty which neither my wife and I are. Well, ballet could be considered athletic. They both have musical talent but they haven’t been that interested. My younger daughter plays saxophone in the school band and enjoys that. They both took piano when they were younger but it hasn’t really stuck for them.”
“They both have beautiful voices but they’re just not that interested and that’s totally fine. You know I think your kids do what they do. They both have wide ranging interests that include music. They kind of have the performer gene like my wife and I but there’s no telling. Having a performer parent — does that make it easier to become a performer or harder? I don’t know.”
La Boheme opens at the Civic Theater on Saturday night the 24th of January at 7 p.m. The production is new to San Diego Opera and was first produced at the English National Opera.