A Nobel performance

By Rich Tupica

Haslett-born opera singer finding success overseas

Mid-Michigan isn’t exactly a booming opera scene — perhaps that’s why vocalist Brenden Gunnell, a 2002 graduate of Haslett High School, decided to relocate to Oslo, Norway.

Finding new digs on a different continent has been an increasingly good career move for the singer whose first professional engagement was in 2007. Among other accomplishments, like recording for Challenge Records, Gunnell also played a milestone gig last month. The former Michigander was a featured singer at the 2012 Nobel Peace Prize ceremony on Dec. 10 at the Rådhaus in Oslo.

Gunnell, 29, sang “Mattinata” by Leoncavallo and “Dein ist Mein Ganzes Herz” by Lehar at the event, and is one of the few Americans to ever sing at the prestigious ceremony. The audience included guests like King Harald V and other members of the royal family, members of the Nobel Committee and the heads of most European governments.

Who introduced you to Opera?

I have Erich Wangeman of Haslett High School to thank for so much. He instilled a love of classical choral music and the performing arts in all of his students, but some of us took it more to heart than others. I didn´t start getting into opera until college, at the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia, where it became apparent that I would become an operatic tenor.

Have you ever performed in Lansing?

I performed in the now defunct Lansing Lyric Opera as a chorus member in ‘Don Giovanni’ and as Fiorello in the ‘Barber of Seville’ in 2000 and 2001.

How did you get to sing at the Nobel ceremony?

A dear colleague and friend of mine had been (scheduled) for the event, (but) he was taken ill with a severe head cold and was unable to travel. He recommended me as his replacement. I was called the morning before the ceremony and asked whether I knew the repertoire that was already programmed. I did, as they are two favorites of mine. So I got lucky and was asked to step in.

What’s your vocal style?

I am described as a Jugendlicher Heldentenor (German Young Heroic Tenor), meaning I focus mainly on Germanic works, specifically lighter Wagner roles like ‘Loge in Das Rheingold’ or David in ‘Die Meistersinger.’ I also sing a large amount of Richard Strauss’ tenor roles. My repertoire demands an intimate command of the libretti, as well as the ability to shade and color the texts more than in the Italian bel canto style.

What´s your future looking like?

I will be moving back to Germany to start a two-year contract with the Regensburg Stadttheater beginning in September. Future engagements include ‘The Dream of Gerontius’ in Oslo, ‘Königskinder’ with the Hamburg Symphony under Maestro Jeffrey Tate in 2013 and a new production of ‘The Abduction from the Seraglio’ at the world renowned Glyndebourne Festival in the summer of 2015.