It is always a pleasure to be able to note the rise of brilliant young singers, and Nicholas Spanos is a case in point. It is the rise, or revival of certain genres that almost instantly creates new artists responding to new opportunities. The rise of Baroque and Ancient Music in general over the course of the last 25 years has been a thrilling and inspiring artistic experience for those of us who esteem the music of the past so highly. Over half the operas ever written were written before 1800, and those earlier operas are a wonderful field, ripe for mining. Opera is returning, slowly but surely, to its pre-verismo roots. Thank God. Don't misunderstand—there are wonderful late romantic and even a few "verismo" operas that are just plain good listening any day. One must be sensible. However, the slow return to a period of greater elegance and refinement, of art for its own sake, is most welcome. Like literary "naturalism," "verismo" is a misnomer to begin with. What exactly is "real" or "true" about Commedia dell'arte clowns having an emotional meltdown and murdering a rival in the audience in a fit of wild-eyed rage? Not a typical daily newspaper item, certainly.
Nicholas Spanos was born in Greece and began his studies as a young man in his early twenties. Studying first in Greece, he came to the U.S. in 2000 to study at the University of Maryland, where two years later he graduated with an M.A. in Voice/Opera Performance. Since then he has sung widely in Greece, and additionally with the Bach Sinfonia in the United States. In 2002, he was named "Best Young Artist of The Year" by the Theater and Music Critics' Association of Greece for his interpretation of Arsamene in Handel's Xerxes with the National Opera of Greece. His exposure and recognition have, since then, grown apace. From an occasional presence on Youtube a year ago, the numbers of videos showcasing him have increased exponetially. He clearly is a young artist on the rise. Here is his rendering of "He Shall Feed His Flock," from Handel's Messiah. His English is excellent:
That is simply beautiful, and very artistically rendered! I immediately notice that while a few of his low notes, coupled with the piece chosen, clearly spell "alto," in point of fact he is not far from a soprano. This augers well for the future, because there is altitude to spare in his voice. His stylistic and musical sensitivity are also immediately apparent. He has been extremely well trained, and has an absolute grip on the music he is singing. This is inspiring.
Here is a classic warhorse that one must approach with great care, because it has been sung and recorded by some of the greatest singers in the world, including the nonpareil Marilyn Horne:
Beautifully done, I think you will agree! Notice the floating line, the beautiful legato, and the extremely controlled nature of the vocalization. One has the feeling that there is much more there in reserve, and this lends an air of assurance and controlled calm to the presentation. Very, very well done!
Finally, we hear Spanos in what is possibly the best known piece of opera music from the 18th century, "Ombra mai fu," from Handel's Xerxes:
Smooth as silk, and absolutely correct in style and intonation. Here we see evidence of what I mentioned earlier about Spanos' voice. There is an F natural in this piece, which he handles very intelligently. That is high for a male alto, but he knows what to do. He does NOT try to over-support the tone. This kind of male singing is the one instance I can think of in classical music where support is not a good idea, because the tensing, the opening up of the laryngeal passages generally, and the increased volume that will result, all invariably thicken the voice at the top. Far better to sing as a choir boy does, and approach it gently and clavicularly—that kind of approach has a vocal future, witness Gigli!
This is a young man to keep an eye on. From all appearances, he has it all: a beautiful, pure, and uncommonly high alto voice, superb musicianship and innate musicality, and he is a very good looking young man—not an inconsiderable factor for public performance. We wish him well!