By Darlene Donloe
Nathan Granner is “addicted” to singing.
The renowned tenor, who said he dedicated himself to opera in April 1997, hasn’t looked back, and for good reason.
His voice is smooth as butter. It’s powerful, emotional, melodic, sensual and engaging — all at the same time.
“I’m really a good singer,” said Granner during a recent interview. “I’m a world-class, excellent singer that brings a lot to the stage.”
Granner will have a chance to showcase his enthralling vocals Nov. 12 and 13, when he appears as a guest soloist with his wife, soprano Jamie Chamberlin Granner, and Ben Lowe, in “A Verdi Puccini Fest” presented by the Verdi Chorus at the First Presbyterian Church in Santa Monica. The show culminates the Verdi Chorus’ 39th season.
Over the years Granner’s voice has served him well as he has achieved critical success with his distinctive shining timbre.
Today, Granner is one of only a handful of popular Black male opera stars that have managed to infiltrate the élite world of opera.
An immediately likable gent with a wicked sense of humor and a keen sense of himself, Granner has a genuine enthusiasm for his craft, which manifests when he speaks about his upcoming performance.
“The show is a celebration of the two composers,” said Granner, whose love for opera started when he was a child. “We are doing pieces from several operas. Some stuff people will know.
“For folks who have seen a couple of operas and would like to see more — there is a lot more stuff to hear. Early Verdi is my preference. I also love Puccini. The real challenge for me is to get the physicality of the Verdi sound but also use the crazy gymnastics of the bel canto era. I wasn’t familiar with all of the selections but the show is crazy beautiful.”
A life in opera hasn’t always been easy for Granner.
“It’s not lucrative,” he said. “Still, I take my art seriously. I also take the audience seriously.”
The uneasiness isn’t just about the money.
“Being a mixed-race kid is a different existence,” said Granner, who has been mistaken for being white. “I’m very light-skinned. I’ve always felt different. I’ve learned to roll with the way Black people and white people look at me and that’s all there is to that. I really wish our two and more races and ethnicities would get along. I’ve always been ‘the other.’”
Granner, whose favorite opera is “The Rake’s Progress” by Igor Stravinsky, said, over the years, being light-skinned has profoundly affected his journey into opera.
“It’s very subjective,” he said. “Opera is a weird, small world on its own. The breaks haven’t broken quite right.”
How society views him hasn’t stopped Granner’s forward movement.
“I’m just a midwestern dude,” said Granner, whose personal playlist includes the Red Hot Chili Peppers. “I just want to be the most real person when I sing.”
On a personal note, he’d like to see more Black people attend the opera.
“The reason why we don’t see more Black people at the opera is that they haven’t been invited,” said Granner. “It’s part of the system. There are some new operas coming out, though. Terrence Blanchard (“Champion”) has written one. There are operas by Black people about Black people. There are shows like “Amistad” and “Malcolm X.” This is why representation matters.”
In describing A Verdi Puccini Fest, Founding Artistic Director Anne Marie Ketchum said it includes “some of the most exciting moments from two of the greatest operatic composers who ever lived.”
A Verdi Puccini Fest will feature selections from four Verdi operas — “I Lombardi,” “Don Carlo,” “Rigoletto” and “La Traviata” — and sequences from Puccini’s “Turandot,” “La Bohème,” “Suor Angelica,” “Tosca,” “La Fanciulla del West” and “La Rondine.”
One of the selections Granner appears in is “Don Carlo.”
“This will be a chance to see the duet, in person, with Don Lowe, who is in it as well,” Granner said.
One of the original The American Tenors (Sony Classical), Granner, known for his “vibrant and flexible” voice, has earned a reputation of excellence. His talent is undeniable and his credits are impressive.
The Kansas City, Missouri, native, who went to the University of Missouri at Kansas City’s Conservatory of Music and UCLA’s Herb Alpert School of Music, honed his silky chops by training with the Utah Festival Opera, Glimmerglass Opera, Wolf Trap Opera, Tulsa Opera and Pittsburgh Opera Center.
Eventually, his operatic journey included singing Camille in “The Merry Widow” at Light Opera Oklahoma and Beppe in “I Pagliacci” with Opera Tampa under the baton of Anton Coppola.
Other credits include “Nemorino” at Lyric Opera Kansas City and “Remus” at Opera Theater Saint Louis. He also sang with the National Symphony Orchestra, Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, Irish Radio Orchestra, the Handel/Haydn Society and the Kansas City Symphony.
His versatile talents have taken him to the stage of the Met, a popular Orlando bar where he played his first rock performance, and to Sony Classical where he was signed to a recording contract.
Most recently, Granner’s works include a debut of Verdi’s “Alfredo” with both Fort Worth Opera and Opera Santa Barbara, an on-film and studio soundtrack recording of the title role in Gordon Getty’s “Goodbye, Mr. Chips,” and Rob Hall in the award-winning animated film “Everest.”
Granner’s adaptability and easy control of varying styles of compositions have led to engagements creating numerous new opera roles for a wide range of works including Kanye West in “Fair Looks and True Obedience,” to Aubrey Wells in “Today It Rains” and the Pulitzer Prize-winning Korey Wise in “The Central Park Five.”
“I was the same age as Korey Wise when it happened,” Granner said. “I heard and read about it. It only affected me esoterically. I wasn’t a hoodlum, but I was out there. There was no playing while Black as a child.”
But there was some singing.
Granner, who immerses himself in philanthropic efforts in his spare time, said he became aware of his vocal gift when he was in the eighth grade singing in spring showcases in the school choir.
“I was singing ‘Davy Crockett,’” he said. “I was given Verse 15. I didn’t know the words so I stuck the words to the back of a girl’s dress who was standing in front of me. That way I could read the lyrics.”
When he’s not singing opera, Granner, who calls himself a certified Bohemian, loves to sing karaoke.
“I call myself a certified Bohemian because I followed the Grateful Dead in the 90s,” Granner said. “Line me up with other opera singers — most of them would be in a leather jacket or suit. I’m usually in a T-shirt and a bandana. I’m the dude of opera. I’m not into the presentation stuff. I’m into, what is the dirt of it?”
A Verdi Puccini Fest performance times are 7:30 p.m. Nov. 12 and 4 p.m. Nov. 13 at the First Presbyterian Church, 1220 2nd St., Santa Monica.
Tickets are available at www.verdichorus.org.
Darlene Donloe is a freelance reporter for Wave Newspapers who covers South Los Angeles. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.