Samuel Ramey, a meat-cutter’s son, came from the high plains of northwest Kansas. Now he’s performing at Kansas City Opera, his début with the company which turned him down early in his career.
Ramey, who will be 70 next year, talked to the Kansas City Star; here are his words:
On his origins
“I think about being a kid growing up in Colby, Kansas, and I think about all the places my career has taken me and sometimes find it hard to believe.”
“I did it a bit in my early years at the New York City Opera in the mid-’70s, then it went out of my repertory. It’s not a big leading role, but then the Met asked me to do it a few years ago — I think it was in 2007 — and so that’s all. He’s a very sympathetic character. It’s not a big part, but it’s an important role. He gets to do some very nice lyric singing. Mostly, I’m just looking forward to coming to Kansas City.”
On his musical roots
“My family was sort of musical. All my brothers and sisters sang to a certain extent, and my mother was always an appreciator of music, and she always encouraged me to pursue music.”
On his repertory
“Through my career I became well-known for playing the devil in various operas — ‘Faust’, ‘Mephistopheles’, ‘The Damnation of Faust’, ‘The Rake’s Progress’ — these became my signature roles. Composers seem to feel that the low voice was best for portraying evil. I don’t know why.”
“In college one summer I did Curly in ‘Oklahoma!’ and I did record a few Broadway shows — ‘Kismet’ and ‘Carousel,’ ” he said. “I did a part on a recording of ‘Man of La Mancha,’ but I’ve never gotten to do a Broadway musical onstage. I always thought it would be fun. I think I could still handle something like ‘South Pacific’ or ‘Man of La Mancha.’ We’ll see. Who knows?”
On differing productions
“‘Faust’ is probably the opera I’ve performed the most throughout my career. I’ve done more than 20 different productions of it. I’ve always found it interesting to go into a new production. You know, it’s just getting different directors’ approaches. I’ve never gotten bored doing an opera over and over, and I always look forward to getting new ideas from different directors.”
On his 8-year-old son
“My only child. I waited until I was 61.”
Photo: Samuel Ramey by Christian Steiner
Graham Spicer is a writer, director and photographer in Milan, blogging (under the name ‘Gramilano’) about dance, opera, music and photography for people “who are a bit like me and like some of the things I like”. He was a regular columnist for Opera Now magazine and wrote for the BBC until transferring to Italy.
His scribblings have appeared in various publications from Woman’s Weekly to Gay Times, and he wrote the ‘Danza in Italia’ column for Dancing Times magazine.