Brandon Jovanovich: From Linebacker to Acclaimed Opera Tenor, Appearing in Don Carlos
Six-foot, three-inch Brandon Jovanovich had a football scholarship at the University of Mary and was set on being a linebacker. Problem was, UM is located in Bismarck, North Dakota, and even though Jovanovich, who grew up in Montana, was no stranger to cold weather, this was just too tough.
Photo by Peter Dressel Brandon Jovanovich makes his role debut as Don Carlos in the HGO production.
"It was 80 below with windchill for three days. It was just so horrible," he recalls. So he opted out and decided to move to a different climate. "I thought of Arizona, warmth." What he didn't realize was that Northern Arizona U, located in Flagstaff, is in a ski town up in the mountains. As it turns out, it all worked out.
Northern Arizona wouldn't give him a football scholarship. But it did give him a music one (he'd grown up singing with his mom and in choirs). And he thrived on it. Eventually he moved to New York City and opera.
The winner of the 2007 Richard Tucker Award will be singing the title role in Houston Grand Opera's upcoming performances of Don Carlos, playing the princely son who sees the woman he loves instead marry his father, Prince Philippe II. And after he rejects the professed love of Princess Eboli (sung by Christine Goerke), she gets her revenge by tattling on him to the king, which ultimately results in the Spanish Inquisition being brought in.
"Don Carlos is such a fantastic acting role," Jovanovich says. "He's this tragic figure that has been shunned by his father. And he has this burning love for Elisabeth; it's such a heartbreaking story that he's got to hear about her every day and she ends up marrying his father. And there's so much depth to the character from his heartache, from the love in the first scene and then his heart is just broken and how ultimately it breaks him."
Jovanovich, who lives on a small farm about an hour west of Chicago with his wife, two sons and a daughter (one son has a good arm, the younger appears to be linebacker material, he says), says he avoids listening to how singers before him have sung the role, and if he does so, it's late in his preparation process.
Photo courtesy HGO Hearts and more are broken in Verdi's Don Carlos
"Mainly I like to read the novel, the poem, the story that it was based on. Then I like to work alone for quite a while. And then I take it to a coach," he says. "Once I get it to a certain spot, that's when I'll start listening to other recordings. I don't want to be influenced by what other people have done. I think it's an easy trap to fall into. I prefer to come to my own conclusions about it. I work with the dynamic markings, the guidelines that you're supposed to follow, instead of falling into the trap of doing it a certain way because that's the way it's always been done."
Jovanovich says his favorite scene comes at the end of the second (there are five) act. "He sees Elisabeth alone for the first time. He's decided he's going to go to Flanders. He's asking her for her help. It devolves into this remorseful confrontation -- 'I can't believe what you've done to me.' Then it morphs into this love song. She says, 'I've accepted my duty in life and I'm doing this for my people' and it sends him over the edge and he says, 'I love you.' It's just packed with so many different levels of emotion. Verdi capitalizes on it and just uses it.. These outbursts of love; these violent denials. It's my favorite."
Performances of Don Carlos (in French with English subtitles) by Giuseppe Verdi are 6:30 p.m. Friday, April 13, Thursday, April 19 and Saturday, April 28 as well as 2 p.m. Sunday, April 15 and Sunday, April 22 at the Wortham Theater Center. For ticket information, call 713-228-6737 or go to HoustonGrandOpera.org.