Brandon Jovanovich has played heroic tenor roles here and around the world but this month is revealing two other sides of himself: playing the role of Walter, a German diplomat and husband of a former Auschwitz guard in “The Passenger,” the rediscovered Holocaust opera by Mieczyslaw Weinberg at Lyric Opera, and singing diverse material of his own choosing on Harris Theater’s final “Beyond the Aria” recital of the season with soprano Amber Wagner and Ryan Center baritone Will Liverman on March 10.
“It’s a heck of a piece,” says Jovanovich of “The Passenger” in his Lyric dressing room, with scores for oratorios he is also working on visible on the piano. “There is a lot of jazz in it, some swing, there’s some funk happening there. There is some dissonance but it is also transparent in a lot of spots. It’s important to let the music speak for itself and not work against it.
“In our scenes, there is tension and it’s very discordant and Weinberg illustrates that with dissonance and time signature so we’re going from 5/8 to 3/4 to 6/8, 4/4 5/4. You are constantly thinking and it’s jagged but the trick is to sing it as linear as you can and try to make it sound smooth.”
Jovanovich is well known not only for his clarion vocal instrument and leading-man good looks, but for giving his characterizations of even standard operatic heroes more dramatic depth than is customarily the case. “That’s mainly what interests me, the acting side of things. I like to take a character and develop it. My degree is in theater with a minor in music and I really like to explore different facets of each character.”
To that end, some of the material that Jovanovich will sing on his “Beyond the Aria” appearance will be musical theater. “It’s funny, when I started singing in college, I sang at a singing-waiter place where you would sing musicals and Frank Sinatra. When I first went out to New York, I sang Gilbert and Sullivan, Romberg and operettas. Now, I don’t get a chance to do this lighter fare much so this will be a lot of fun.”
What Jovanovich will specifically perform remains a work-in-progress, but “I really want to do ‘Agony’ from [Sondheim’s] ‘Into the Woods’ as a duet with Will [Liverman] and something from ‘West Side Story.’ And Amber [Wagner] and I are going to do a Gilbert and Sullivan duet.”
As for “The Passenger,” a far more serious affair, Jovanovich hopes that it may serve as a call to conscience. “I think it still resonates today with some of the issues we’re trying to come to terms with in our own past such as revelations of torture.” (Dennis Polkow)
“The Passenger” runs through March 15, Civic Opera House, 20 North Wacker, (312)827-5600; Beyond the Aria, March 10, 7:30pm, Pritzker Pavilion Stage, 201 East Randolph, (312)334-7777.