Eric Owens

With a voice and stage presence as big as his personality, Eric Owens is among the most celebrated bass-baritones in the opera world.


About Eric Owens

Bass-baritone Eric Owens has a unique reputation as an esteemed interpreter of classic works and a champion of new music. Equally at home in orchestral, recital, and operatic repertoire, Mr. Owens brings his powerful poise, expansive voice, and instinctive acting faculties to stages around the world.

Mr. Owens has created an uncommon niche for himself in the ever-growing body of contemporary opera works through his determined tackling of new and challenging roles. He received great critical acclaim for portraying the title role in the world premiere of Elliot Goldenthal’s Grendel with the Los Angeles Opera, and again at the Lincoln Center Festival, in a production directed and designed by Julie Taymor. Mr. Owens also enjoys a close association with John Adams, for whom he performed the role of General Leslie Groves in the world premiere of Doctor Atomic at the San Francisco Opera, and of the Storyteller in the world premiere of A Flowering Tree at Peter Sellars’s New Crowned Hope Festival in Vienna and later with the Los Angeles Philharmonic. Doctor Atomic was later recorded and received the 2012 Grammy for Best Opera Recording. Mr. Owens made his Boston Symphony Orchestra debut under the baton of David Robertson in Adam’s El Niño.

Mr. Owens’s career operatic highlights include Alberich in the Metropolitan Opera’s Ring cycle directed by Robert Lepage; his San Francisco Opera debut in Otello conducted by Donald Runnicles; his Royal Opera, Covent Garden, debut in Norma; Vodnik in Rusalka at Lyric Opera of Chicago; the title role in Handel’s Hercules with the Canadian Opera Company; Aida at Houston Grand Opera; RigolettoIl Trovatore, and La Bohème at Los Angeles Opera; Die Zauberflöte for his Paris Opera (Bastille) debut; and Ariodante and L’Incoronazione di Poppea at the English National Opera. He sang Collatinus in a highly-acclaimed Christopher Alden production of Britten’s The Rape of Lucretia at Glimmerglass Opera. A former member of the Houston Grand Opera Studio, Mr. Owens has sung Sarastro, Mephistopheles in Faust, Frère Laurent, and Aristotle Onassis in the world premiere of Jackie O (available on the Argo label) with that company. Mr. Owens is featured on two Telarc recordings with the Atlanta Symphony: Mozart’s Requiem and scenes from Strauss’ Elektra and Die Frau ohne Schatten, both conducted by Donald Runnicles. He is featured on the Nonesuch Records release of A Flowering Tree.

Symphonic highlights of Mr. Owens’ recent seasons included performances of Verdi’s Requiem with the New York Philharmonic conducted by Alan Gilbert and the Toronto Symphony Orchestra conducted by Sir Andrew Davis, Ravel’s L’enfant et les sortileges with the Swedish Radio Symphony and Chicago Symphony Orchestra, both under the baton of Esa-Pekka Salonen, and Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra conducted by Riccardo Muti. He also performed a duo recital with soprano Susanna Phillips under the auspices of the Philadelphia Chamber Music Society.

Mr. Owens has been recognized with multiple honors, including the Musical America’s 2017 “Vocalist of the Year” award, 2003 Marian Anderson Award, a 1999 ARIA award, second prize in the Plácido Domingo Operalia Competition, the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions, and the Luciano Pavarotti International Voice Competition.

A native of Philadelphia, Mr. Owens began his musical training as a pianist at the age of six, followed by formal oboe study at age eleven under Lloyd Shorter of the Delaware Symphony and Louis Rosenblatt of the Philadelphia Orchestra. He studied voice while an undergraduate at Temple University, and then as a graduate student at the Curtis Institute of Music. He currently studies with Armen Boyajian. He serves on the Board of Trustees of both the National Foundation for Advancement in the Arts and Astral Artistic Services.

Connect with Eric Owens


Transcript

Eric Owens is one of the most celebrated bass-baritones in the opera today but he's aware that sometimes what he hears and what the audience experiences can be very different.

Eric Owens: There is almost no self-awareness as to sonically what's going on out there. There've been times when I thought, “Oh my God, that was terrible.” And people say, “Ah! That was amazing.”

Happily, Owens understands that a great performance requires him to transcend his surroundings.

Owens: I'm aware of when I am and I'm not in the moment and I know when you get into that zone and you're listening and not worried about some note that's 20 minutes down the pike. You're just, someone's talking and they're talking to you and you're listening to them. But you've got all that other stuff going on, too. It's like, you know, it's like I'm listening to the orchestra, too. I make sure I got my eye on the conductor in my periphery and you have to, I mean, the multi-tasking that goes on while you're up there would just, like, totally blow people's minds.

AJC: There's an effortless quality to what you do. And I'm not saying that you don't have to put a lot of effort into sounding the way you sound, but you sound like you don't have to. You can do this first thing in the morning. When does that come along?

Owens: Oh goodness, I'm still tryin' to get that together.

AJC: No!

Owens: Oh, I mean it's, that feeling of it being effortless in the right places in your mechanism, that was a long time. That was a long road, just the idea of everything being as free as possible all up here and all of the work was happening here. And it took me quite a while to sort that all out.

AJC: But you are naturally, you're singing in your natural speaking range. I mean, I've spoken to—

Owens: Right.

AJC: There are basses who walking around who speak—

Owens: Higher.

AJC: Well, they speak tenor and they sing basso.

Owens: Right, right. Right.

AJC: But you're...

Owens: But I'm—

AJC: This is your natural place.

Owens: This is my voice. And all I need to do is slow this down to start singing. There's not really a gear shift that needs to take place. I tell students sometimes, I said it's like in The Music Man, it's like: ice cream. Yes, singing is just sustained talking. And it's easier for, I guess for lower voices, but—

AJC: Yeah. Because also there's less energy, right? To hit a really high note on a high range?

Owens: I think one needs to not feel like it's something that they have to hammer away at or that it's a struggle to get up there because if you think it's a struggle it's going to be and then you start doing all of these things and you take this breath that's, “Okay, damn it, I'm gonna.” You know, and the best thing you can do is just, and just let it out.

AJC: Let it out.

Owens: And that's one of the hardest things, though. I mean, in life. Being simple. Simplicity doesn't mean easy.

AJC: It's not easy.

Owens: And it doesn't mean uninteresting either.

And if contending with the sheer volume of full orchestra seems daunting, you're right. It took some time for Eric Owens to evolve his technique.

Owens: The natural tendency is to try to—

AJC: Sing over them.

Owens: Right. And that's the worst thing ever, especially if it's something dramatically intense and if your character's angry and you have to convey that anger through the text without it going to your voice and becoming a shouting match. And that's hard to accomplish at times. I mean, even now I'm still trying to. It's like, Eric. The worst thing you could try to do is try to—

AJC: Out-sing an orchestra.

Owens: Right, “Bull in a china shop” your way through this orchestra.

AJC: So how do you do it, then?

Owens: The best thing to do—

AJC: You go low and let them react to you.

Owens: Well, I tell ya… The more you just let it flow unencumbered and sing it like you sing Mozart or Bach, it's gonna carry over the orchestra and it's counterintuitive. You know, where less is more.

But Eric Owens is well aware that in this day and age his artistic obligations don't end when he leaves the stage.

Owens: Here lately I think you need to go above and beyond, not simply because you're trying to further career, but simply because the arts are in a state where, you know, the status quo isn't going to cut it.

And so, Eric Owens continues to devote all of himself to the art form he loves.

For the full experience, watch the video at the top of the page.