Making Good Music
Tenor Russell Thomas is having his dream career.
RUSSELL THOMAS walks briskly into the lobby of my Chicago hotel ten minutes early for our scheduled Saturday-afternoon interview, looking sharp and stylish in a dark topcoat. He is halfway through a run at Lyric Opera in Il Trovatore, the latest high-profile engagement in a very busy and very successful season for him. Trovatore’s Manrico is a daunting assignment for any tenor, but Thomas thrives on its challenges. I have admired his singing for more than a decade, and his Trovatore performance the night before our interview was typical of his best work, convincingly impassioned but never frantic or sloppy. Thomas capped “Di quella pira” with a good, solid high C, although his singing is never about showing off or grandstanding. The most striking element in a Thomas performance is its inevitable ring of truth: he always sounds fully invested in his characters emotionally as well as musically. Few Manricos today can deliver the vulnerability Thomas brought to “Ah, sì, ben mio” or the generosity with which he sang “Ai nostri monti,” Manrico’s tender duet with his mother—a moment that Thomas and his Azucena, Jamie Barton, delivered with breathtaking honesty and poise.