The “thrilling” (Orlando Sentinel) singer talks innovating in the age of COVID-19 while juggling the roles of performer, administrator and for now, home school teacher…
Life during quarantine hasn’t slowed down for GRAMMY® Award-winning baritone Gabriel Preisser, the newest member of the Athlone Artists roster . Praised by Opera News for his “handsome voice, charismatic energy, and timbral allure,” Preisser has made a name for himself as a versatile cross-over performer with over forty operatic and musical theater roles under his belt, from the title role in Aldridge’s Elmer Gantry to Harold Hill (The Music Man) to Il barbiere di Siviglia’s Figaro. He has done this while maintaining a full concert and recital schedule and serving as Executive Director of Opera Orlando, a position he’s held since the company’s re-establishment in 2016. These past few months have added a new role to Preisser’s resume – acting the part of stay-at-home schoolteacher for his son Grayson (6) and daughter Cora (4).
“My primary goal during this time is to stay engaged with the audience and to create opportunities that keep the arts going,” says Preisser. “Opera Orlando has moved to an online format, and so far it has been positive. Experiences can become even more intimate when artists are communicating with the audience in real time, from their own homes. It has been really rewarding to find new ways to share the arts with people.”
This month, Preisser performed his own solo recital, singing some of his favorite musical theater pieces and opera arias, and even taking audience requests. He also featured selections from his role as Farmer Bean in Tobias Picker’s Fantastic Mr. Fox, which earned Preisser, along with the Boston Modern Orchestra Project under conductor Gil Rose, the 2020 GRAMMY® Award for Best New Opera recording. In the free, hour-long performance (which can be viewed HERE), Preisser talks about his audition for the role, which he first performed with Opera San Antonio and Odyssey Opera of Boston.
Preisser is looking forward to upcoming on-stage experiences, like singing the role of Eisenstein in a socially-distanced concert version of Die Fledermaus with his home company in mid-December that will be rebroadcast online on New Year’s Eve. He is also set to perform the Brahms Requiem with the Canterbury Voices in Oklahoma (with a masked choir), and is hopeful that he’ll get to perform one of his dream roles, the title character of Sweeney Todd with the Helena Symphony in May.
Growing up just outside of Orlando, FL as the youngest of six kids, Preisser is “used to trying to get attention.” Though also excited to follow in the footsteps of his football coach father, he always wanted to be the lead in the school show. “I was the kid who sang the national anthem in my football pads,” he recalls, as he credits his high school drama and theater teachers for pushing him to audition for the opera program at Florida State. “I was a musical theater kid, and opera was this whole new world. In my big family, we are all very competitive, and I was attracted to how athletic and competitive opera can be.”
After graduating summa cum laude from Florida State University with degrees in Vocal Performance and Commercial Music and furthering his studies with a Masters in Voice at the University of Houston, Preisser was accepted into the apprentice program at Des Moines Metro Opera. There he met husband and wife voice teaching team Brenda and Braeden Harris. Always pushing himself, Preisser studied with Braeden – at times taking multiple two to three hour lessons a week – until he felt his technique was performance-ready. After enjoying positions in the resident artist programs of Minnesota, Kentucky and Pensacola, extensive networking, and a great many auditions, Preisser was offered the once-in-a-lifetime chance to create the role of Lt. Gordon in Kevin Puts’ Pulitzer Prize-winning opera Silent Night at Minnesota Opera, a production that was broadcast nationally on PBS in 2013 and 2014. His “wonderful” (New York Times) portrayal of Lt. Gordon led him to subsequent performances at Opera Philadelphia, Cincinnati Opera, and Michigan Opera Theatre.
It was around this time that Preisser and his wife Christina, a registered nurse, decided to move back home to Orlando and start a family. Preisser was eager for opera in his own community, but Opera Orlando had been shuttered in 2008. Preisser recognized that the opera audience was still there waiting for the art form to return and he knew it would take someone like him to make it happen. “I have all of this free time, I thought naïvely,” says Preisser, jokingly. Preisser helped to reopen and reinvigorate Opera Orlando in 2016. ”It’s not at all standard for a company to increase its programming so dramatically in such a relatively short time,” said Marc Scorca, President and CEO of Opera America. “They are obviously creating different programs for the expansive audience in Orlando. I think that’s wonderful.”
While Preisser continues to engage with his own community, he is grateful for an Opera Orlando Board that encourages him to continue his busy performance career and allows him to work with industry leaders to hone his talent. “I’m always going to perform,” says Preisser. “I love performing, and I’m looking forward to a great future with Athlone Artists!”