Every singer has a niche in which they feel most comfortable singing. Some thrive in early or baroque music, while others in the works of Italian masters like Verdi or Puccini. But for baritone Theo Hoffman, it’s the modern stylings of Philip Glass that he’s fallen into naturally, and have allowed him to shine in the past few seasons.
Hoffman, a graduate of the Domingo-Colburn-Stein Young Artist Program, has an affinity for contemporary opera, specifically the works of Glass. Though he sings everything from Mozart to Rossini, he embraces the fact that his voice is well-suited for newer repertoire. In his recent years as a professional singer, he has participated in a myriad of Glass’ works, including The Trial with Opera Theatre of Saint Louis last season, understudying in Akhnaten with LA Opera in 2016, and, this season, performing the role of Mr. Kallenbach in the company’s upcoming production of Satyagraha.
“It’s been a surprise to me that [the music of Philip Glass] is what the world has decided to do with me,” Hoffman told LA Opera. “But it’s great because I like to think that in school we were focused so much on what our trajectory is and what it should be and what we want it to be. But it’s nice to know I have a place in this repertoire that I never thought of when I was a student, and to be part of this really pivotal moment for opera.”
A native of Manhattan, Hoffman had no shortage of opera exposure. The young baritone attended both the prestigious Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts and Juilliard Pre-College before enrolling at the Juilliard School for his collegiate studies. He continued there for his master’s degree for one year, before he was ultimately accepted into LA Opera’s Domingo-Colburn-Stein Young Artist Program.
Though daunting to be thrown into the professional industry before completing his graduate degree, Hoffman said the training he received as a Domingo-Colburn-Stein Young Artist was invaluable and couldn’t necessarily be taught in a school setting.
“I went straight from school to LA Opera, and it completely turned my world upside down … in a good way,” Hoffman explained. “I was getting very comfortable in the New York bubble, as so many people do. So it was a really nice thing to dive into a company of this size and magnitude, and give over to a new chapter of the professional life.”
Hoffman sang plenty of standard repertoire while in the Domingo-Colburn-Stein program, from roles in Verdi’s Macbeth to Strauss’ Salome. But one of his earliest assignments in Los Angeles was covering the role of the military leader Horemhab in the Aknhaten, one of his first professional exposures to Glass.
“It’s like a beautiful thing to be a cog in this amazing wheel. These pieces aren’t typically produced a lot, and so be part of LA Opera’s commitment to doing all three of the ‘portrait operas’ is incredible,” Hoffman continued. “On a personal level, since graduating college, I have found myself involved with a lot of Philip Glass operas. And for Kallenbach to be my first principal role here since graduating, the [Domingo-Colburn-Stein Young Artist] program is a really special thing, within the context of like what I have been doing outside of school.”
Though Glass’ works have been popular for some time, these pieces are hard to stage, and sometimes harder to sing. With Satyagraha in particular, it takes a certain amount of vocal stamina to power through the same lines over and over again. However, Hoffman isn’t too phased by the challenges of Glass’ unorthodox musical lines.
“I approach [new] music completely the same as any other music. You have to start really technically, usually with the rhythm first,” said Hoffman. “I approach it as a conductor would and really get into the nuts and bolts of how the music works. And that’s the same for Mozart or Puccini, or whatever you’re singing. You just have to study the ink, as it were, and really understand it from that perspective.”
In the coming months, Hoffman has a number of role premieres on his plate, including one in another Glass opera: Paul in Les Enfants Terribles with Opera Omaha in April. He also returns to more familiar territory as the Count in The Marriage of Figaro with Opera Theatre of Saint Louis next summer. It’s a lot to keep up with for a singer just beginning their career, though Hoffman attributes much of his success to LA Opera.
“LA Opera puts their young artists on stage as much as they can, and more than any other big company I know, which is a really special thing,” said Hoffman. “And there’s so much education in that alone.”LA Opera is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization dedicated to the greater good.