Openly gay Jarrett Ott has stepped in for the indisposed Nathan Gunn, thereby creating a sensation in the opera world. Formerly appearing in important, though supporting, roles, Mr. Ott is now Mr. [H]Ott since he is the male lead in Jennifer Higdon’s opera Cold Mountain, now at the Philadelphia Academy of Music. Cold Mountain is composer Jennifer Higdon’s first opera. It was given its premiere At Santa Fe Opera. It now receives its East Coast premiere with the Philadelphia Opera. This is a special occasion for LGBT history, since Philadelphia native Jennifer Higdon is in a long-time relationship with a woman, and Mr. Ott is in a committed relationship with another man. How fabulously gay! How hot is that? We had the opportunity to ask Mr. Ott some questions.
Ralph Malachowski: Has Ms. Higdon contacted you to wish you well?
Jarrett Ott: Jennifer Higdon is the kind of composer/mentor/friend that has been checking in with me for the past 3+ years while working on Cold Mountain. She always makes sure I have everything I need and offers an incredible amount of support.
RM: Does this role place demands upon your voice? Do operas in English pose special difficulties? Especially one so new. Or being new, is it in a way better?
JO: The role of Inman is monumental. There is a solid hour and a half of actual singing involved. Not only is it a good amount of singing, it sits in the high-register of a baritone’s voice which can be demanding. This role quickly taught me how to pace myself throughout an opera.
Similar to any language we perform, we study proper English diction while singing, which is often different from how we would normally speak. When it’s our native tongue, it’s very easy to put in a lot of our bad habits we use in everyday conversation. Every composer has their own style of writing. Luckily, Jennifer Higdon composes phrases close to how we would rhythmically pronounce them in real life.
RM: You were recently in Opera Philadelphia’s La Traviata. Does performing in Philadelphia recently onstage and working with the conductor again help as you step into the role?
JO: It absolutely does. I consider Opera Philadelphia part of my immediate opera family. The transition felt very smooth since I know they all want me to succeed.
RM: Recently, Mariusz Kwiecien appeared shirtless in the Met’s new Pearl Fishers. There is a website devoted to Barihunks. Are baritones the new sex symbols?
JO: Oh really?! Well, as they sing in The Producers: “When you’ve got it, flaunt it.”
Recently, baritones have received a lot of attention as the sex symbols of opera, but there are plenty of Hunkentenors out there to gawk at, too.
RM: Are there any shirtless (or, even better, clothes-less) moments in Cold Mountain?
JO: Unlike La Traviata, in which I was stripped off my shirt, there are no shirtless moments. However, things get pretty steamy between Ada and Inman when they see each other for the first time in over four years.
RM: Are you concerned that some may see you as Eve standing in for Bette Davis in “All About Eve?” Or the complete opposite, welcoming you?
JO: Not for one second. Everyone, Mr. Gunn included, welcomed me with open arms as soon as the announcement was made. We got right to work as if we had been working together all along. If things ever got slightly difficult, the cast and team were right there to get me back on my feet. Each and every person on that stage reached out to me privately to make sure I was settling in smoothly.
RM: You recently were interviewed for Opera Fresh. In the photo you were carrying a fellow designated as your “current boyfriend.” Any comments?
JO: Anyone following me on Instagram knows I have a boyfriend, and that I plan to keep him around indefinitely. We have so many good times together!
RM: Are you prepared for keys being thrown onto the stage, floral tributes, proposals, hordes of male and female admirers waiting for your autograph?
JO: HA, if only I were so lucky!
RM: What future roles do we look forward to hearing and seeing you in?
JO: You can hear me sing the Count in Strauss’ Capriccio at the Kimmel Center coming up on March 2, 4, and 6. I’ll also be performing the world premiere of Kenneth Fuch’s one man opera, Falling Man, in New York City at Symphony Space on April 29th. Otherwise, you’ll need to take a trip out to beautiful Santa Fe, New Mexico, this summer when I sing Masetto in Mozart’s Don Giovanni.
The Met’s new production of Lohengrin is a stunning post-apocalyptic take on Wagner’s masterpiece, with brilliant performances by seasoned sopranos Tamara Wilson and Christine Goerke.