LA Opera chorister Omar Crook has appreciated opera since he was a child, spending summers roaming the creaky corridors of his grandparents’ house.
“My grandfather had a really nice tape player. One day, I came across the iconic Decca recording of Luciano Pavarotti singing Canio in Pagliacci,” says Crook. “I had just finished playing Billy Idol’s ‘Eyes Without a Face,’ and I was jazzed up. Then, I played all of Pagliacci and the music grabbed me just as much.”
Crook did not immediately pursue opera. In fact, he spent several years narrowing down the careers he wanted, taking a variety of classes from literature to marine biology. He ultimately decided on writing and was accepted into UCLA’s creative writing program. To transfer to UCLA from Santa Monica college, he needed to fulfill one more requirement. That’s how Crook found himself in a beginning voice class.
“My teacher Sue Ann Pinner believed in me. She gave me a song to sing called ‘Granada.’ I didn’t read music, but I listened to the Three Tenors version over and over again until I learned the song. I sang it for the first time in class, standing in this little fishbowl of a spot near the piano, and after I finished, everyone was silent,” recalls Crook. “Then, they applauded and right then, I thought, ‘I should do this. I want to do this with my life.’”
What began as a one-time class to fulfill a requirement turned into a passion for music—and Crook’s been singing ever since. He spent the next several years playing musical catch up, first at Santa Monica College and then at California State University-Fullerton, under the tutelage of Dr. Mark Goodrich. Of this experience, Crook says, “Singing is a blue collar job, like building kitchen cabinets, for example. You have to try and work with a teacher who knows how to build kitchen cabinets really, really well.”
Crook’s career blossomed and he went on to be part of the Pacific Chorale led by John Alexander and to a several years’ solo career as a tenor.
But it was at LA Opera that Crook really found a home. This season marks Crook’s 11th season singing with the LA Opera Chorus, of which he is quite proud.
Of the many productions Crook has performed in, there are a few that hold special places in his heart.
“I really enjoyed the physical challenge of performing in Gotterdammerung. Achim Freyer’s staging was demanding, but truly special,” recalls Crook. “I also love being in Akhnaten. I learned to juggle for the opera, and the act of tossing ball while singing Philip Glass is surprisingly difficult.”
LA Opera’s productions with director Barrie Kosky (including Dido and Aeneas and The Magic Flute) are also amongst Crook’s personal favorites.
“They are so magical for the audience. The unspoken energy from the audience when certain cues happen is hard to top, because you know that you’re contributing to one of the most magical moments that these 3,000 people are witnessing,” says Crook. “It’s special to be part of, especially at LA Opera.”
Crook is as passionate about singing as ever. However, he has also stretched his journalistic muscles by founding Living With A Genius. There he produces podcasts with the many interesting “geniuses” he’s met throughout his singing career and through his close friendship with influential choral composer/conductor Eric Whitacre (his second guest on the show).
Recently, Crook has begun a new venture, starting, Living With A Genius, a blog where he posts podcast interviews with influential musicians. Crook has interviewed many talented LA Opera artists and staff members.
“LA Opera has been my home for 11 years and it’s wonderful to be able to interview the people I’ve come to know and respect so well,” says Crook.
This latest venture is only the beginning for Omar Crook, a talented artist and writer, whose love of opera knows no bounds. Catch him in the chorus for this season’s operas, including Akhnaten, and check out Living With A Genius (starting this Wednesday we will be featuring some of the podcasts on the LA Opera blog).
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