When Charles Taylor moved to Fort Collins in 1998, the last thing on the baritone’s mind was an opera career. After ridding himself of a drug addiction that began in high school and serving as a substance-abuse counselor, Taylor was ready for a clean start. And he decided the West was the right place for it.
Charles Taylor American baritone
In 2000, while working on a farm in Kersey, the itch to perform led him to audition for the chorus and ultimately landed him a starring role in “Tosca” with Opera Fort Collins.
That set off a lightning chain of events that has taken him to New York’s Metropolitan Opera and back to Opera Colorado, where he will perform in a new production of Giuseppe Verdi’s “Un ballo in maschera (A Masked Ball)” that opens Thursday.
“It’s happened very, very quickly, and it’s been very heady,” he said. “There’s two quotes I live by: ‘We make plans and God laughs,’ and the second one is, ‘Careful what you dream, because it just might happen.”‘
The 37-year-old baritone will appear as Anckarström, who falls in with a group of conspirators and assassinates the Swedish king during a masked ball in revenge for wrongly perceived improprieties with his wife.
If his drug addiction and late start weren’t hurdles enough along Taylor’s unconventional and challenging path to becoming a professional singer, he underwent gastric-bypass surgery last May.
Taylor became convinced he faced the same fate at the Metropolitan Opera, where he has worked since 2001.
“It’s kind of well known that at the Met and in the opera industry in general, the era of the fat lady is over,” he said.
Even more important, he wanted to be in better shape so he could be a vital, active father for the child he and his wife, Kelly, also an opera singer, are expecting in August.
Since the operation, he has lost 135 pounds and hopes to lose 10 more over the summer. Now at 265 pounds, the 6-foot-4-inch singer looks imposing but hardly fat.
Taylor ran the risk of the surgery harming his singing, but the baritone believes he is back to full strength vocally after making some readjustments.
“It seems to be working,” he said. “I’m more excited about this role than I’ve been about anything I’ve sung lately. It feels really good.”
Growing up, the Prescott, Ariz.
, native was a typical small-town kid with an atypical love to sing. He recalls singing along with Met broadcasts at his grandparents’ house and memorizing his dad’s recording of “Fiddler on the Roof” in its entirety.
Taylor took voice lessons and participated in choirs and musicals in high school, but, then, things went awry. He got involved in drugs and suddenly he was using make-believe rehearsals as ruses for escaping to to get high.
His expulsion led to a year at a Mennonite boarding school in Oklahoma, where he graduated in 1988. But he took right back up with drugs at Wheaton College in Illinois, where he majored in music before dropping out.
“Finally, I quit singing, quit everything and got sober in 1994, and I have been clean and sober since then,” he said.
In 1998, he was working as a substance-abuse counselor in St. Louis and realized his heart wasn’t in it. So, he moved to Colorado, where he had always wanted to live, and got a job on a friend’s farm.
But he missed music, so he began hunting for a local chorus in which he could perform. That took him to Opera Fort Collins.
His engagement there led to vocal studies at Colorado State University, an apprenticeship with Opera Colorado and his 2001 participation in the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions. After winning at the district and regional levels, he traveled to New York for the national finals.
“At the end of March, I’m in Manhattan staying at a hotel on Central Park West,” he said. “Never been there before – scared to death.
“You got to remember that at this point, I had hair down to the middle of my back. I kind of looked like a biker. There I am at the Met with a cheap tux, and I can sing five arias loudly and my languages were mediocre.”
Luckily for Taylor, the judges recognized his raw talent, and he made it to the final round. Later that year, the company asked him to serve as an understudy or back-up for a couple of roles.
He went on to take part in the Met’s Lindemann Young Artist Development Program in 2002-05. As an apprentice, understudy or featured performer, he has taken part in about a dozen productions so far at the Met, including recent appearances in “Andrea Chenier.”
Taylor is looking forward to the future. He and his wife have rented a home in Loveland, where they are considering moving permanently, and he has an array of engagements lined up. But he has no illusions that life will be a cakewalk from here on.
“It’s one day at a time,” he said. “That’s more than platitude. It really is.
While I love what I do and I love all the bells and whistles that come with it, it doesn’t define who I am. I’m husband first, a soon-to-be father second, a person in recovery third, and somewhere down the list I’m an opera singer.