The Operatic Homecoming of Jeffrey Buchman

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Jeffrey Buchman with his wife, Rosa Mercedes. Buchman is directing a production of “Il Barbiere di Siviglia” next week at the Lyric Opera House. (Provided)
Jeffrey Buchman with his wife, Rosa Mercedes. Buchman is directing a production of “Il Barbiere di Siviglia” next week at the Lyric Opera House. (Provided)

Jeffrey Buchman’s return to Baltimore is a homecoming in more ways than one. It’s true in the literal sense — he is a Charm City native and still has family in the area — but it is also the moment of his  career coming full circle.

Buchman’s career as an opera singer and director started at the Baltimore School of the Arts and continued at the Peabody Conservatory of Music. Now, on March 11 and 13, he will be back in his old stomping grounds to direct a production of “Il Barbiere di Siviglia” (The Barber of Seville) at the Lyric Opera House.


“It’s really exciting to be back,” Buchman, 47, said. “You know, it’s not just that I grew up [here], but all my training was [here]. To go off for so many years and be working so many places and not have your hometown be part of that is  always a little sad.”

In fact, Buchman’s love for music is steeped in Baltimore tradition. From the resonant voice of Cantor Melvin Luterman at Temple Oheb Shalom in Pikesville, where Buchman’s family were members, to Sunday brunches spent with his father at Louie’s Bookstore Café in Mount Vernon listening to live classical music, Buchman’s musical style has a definite Baltimore influence.

But it was the trumpet, oddly, that led Buchman to opera. He started playing while attending Baltimore County Public Schools and later joined the Greater Baltimore Youth Orchestra. He went on to attend the Baltimore School for the Arts, and it was there, in an early music literature class, that a teacher played the trio from “Madama Butterfly.” It was life-changing.

“Go just  knowing you’re going to  be entertained. The music and the  presentation will be super charming, and then, in the end, you might find that you really do enjoy opera.”
— Jeffrey Buchman

“When I heard that, I was just overwhelmed,” Buchman said. “I cut my classes for the rest of the day, I went to the  library — and that was back when we used records — and I just played that trio over and over again.”

At that point, Buchman didn’t even know if he could sing opera. He just knew he wanted it to be a part of his life. He soon learned from joining the choir that, lo and behold, he had the talent.

That talent carried him all the way to the Pavarotti International Voice Competition, which he went on to win. Buchman was singing baritone at the time, but Luciano Pavarotti himself, one of the most well-known tenors in the world, thought Buchman should be singing tenor — and worked with him to make the switch.

“It really is a surreal moment. You try not to get caught up in it, but at the same time, it has this electricity to it,” Buchman said about singing with Pavarotti.

Buchman sang opera for nearly 20 years and discovered his love of directing along the way. It helps to have the singing background, he said, because he knows exactly what he is asking of his performers — how difficult it is, but also, hopefully, how trying something new can lead to great results.

These days, Buchman and his wife, Spanish dancer and choreographer Rosa Mercedes, travel about eight months out of the year, staging productions across the country. They come most recently from putting on “Carmen” at Indiana University. He is excited to go from the intense drama of “Carmen” to the light comedy of “Il Barbiere di Siviglia.”

“What I really love [about opera] is the variety and journey that you can take going from work to work,” he said.

Just don’t ask him which opera is his favorite — it’s all  of them.

“It’s the kind of thing where it’s a little bit like your children,” Buchman said. “Whatever one you’re working on at the time is your favorite, but I love them all. You get so immersed in whatever you’re working on at the time that that really is my favorite.”

With “Il Barbiere di Siviglia,” Buchman wants to keep the production of such a well-known opera felling fresh. And, ideally, get people excited about coming to the opera.

“The great thing about “Il Barbiere di Siviglia” is that it’s so easily accessible. It’s tunes you’ve heard a lot anyway and they just pull you in. It’s fun, and it’s not the kind of opera you need to do any preparation for,” Buchman said.

Even those who are not regular opera attendees can enjoy this night at the opera.

“Go just knowing you’re going to be entertained,” he said. “The music and the presentation will be super charming, and then, in the end, you might find that you really do enjoy opera.”

hjohnson@midatlanticmedia.com


 

“Il Barbiere di Siviglia”
(The Barber of Seville)
Lyric Opera House
March 11, 7:30 p.m.
and March 13, 3 p.m.
For tickets, go to
lyricoperahouse.com

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