It's not just because of his barechested good
Nathan Gunn can sing, too.
performed half-in-the-buff for the
recent production of "An American Tragedy," has won the
inaugural Beverly Sills
Artist Award at
nation's premier opera house.
The $50,000 annual prize goes to a U.S. singer,
25 to 40, who has appeared
in solo roles at the
and is building a major career.
'This is the fellow,'" Sills told
The Associated Press
Gunn in "Tragedy."
On Monday, the Brooklyn-born soprano handed
check to the native of
South Bend, Ind., backstage
at the Met while he was rehearsing Mozart's "The Magic Flute."
That happens to be the first opera he ever saw as a youth." I thought it was
absolutely incredible," said Gunn, who grew up singing in musical theater
church choir, while listening to Sting and Led Zeppelin.
His voice will be heard in Mozart's masterpiece this Saturday on the Met's weekly
live opera broadcast— the same show that carried Sills' voice decades ago.
Her high-octane career helped put Americans on the international map of opera
stars. And now, at 76, she said she's "interested in promoting and protecting a
young American artist who has arrived— to enhance and facilitate a career.
Gunn fits the bill perfectly."
He's 35. He has a smooth, warm voice, singing with heart and so each word is
clearly understood. And Gunn is part of a growing group of college-educated
American singers who also can act.
After his shirtless bedroom scene with soprano Patricia Racette in "Tragedy," he took his bows while admirers ripped programs into confetti that rained down
"America is a can-do country. If a director wants something,
singers say, 'All right, I'll try it.' I'm game for just about anything," Gunn said.
For him, "anything" involved baring himself in two operas directed by
Zambello — "Tragedy," a contemporary work by U.S. composer
Tobias Picker, and
Gluck's 18th century work "Iphigenie en Tauride" at the 1997 Glimmerglass festival
in upstate New York. In the latter, Gunn played the mythical Greek hero Orestes,
who was tortured, chained and stripped to a loincloth.
He's mystified — and amused — by the public attention paid to his
"I think it's so funny," said Gunn, who lives
Champaign, Ill., with wife Julie Gunn, a pianist, and
their five children,
ages 3 to 10. "And it's a strange thing. We Americans have a weird reaction to
nudity. I'm not even that nude in the operas. I'm just looking the part
characters." With a bachelor's degree in music from the University of
Gunn started out at the Met more than a decade ago, winning the 1994
National Council Auditions and joining the company's Lindemann Young
Development Program. After his 1995 Met debut in John Corigliano's "The Ghosts of Versailles," he appeared in about 10 more works, from
Benjamin Britten's"A Midsummer Night's Dream" to Puccini's "La Boheme."
Gunn has also sung with big-name orchestras and at other major opera houses
across the U.S. and Europe, while performing solo recitals with his wife. To
stay physically fit on the road, he tries to box at local gyms — or imitate
the exercises his 8-year-old gymnast daughter taught him.
The Sills award was endowed with a $1 million gift from Agnes Varis, founder of a pharmaceutical trading company who is on the Met board, and her husband,
The judging panel for the award is chaired by Sills, who retired from the stage in 1980 and went on to become an arts executive, serving as chairman of both
Lincoln Center and the Metropolitan Opera.
When Gunn stepped onto the stage, Sills saw something special: "There are
performers, when they come on stage, they need a spotlight.
there's the other kind, who brings his own spotlight."