Centre grad returning for performance

November 14, 2004|JENNIFER BRUMMETT

Baritone Troy Cook remembers the first time he saw a stage production. He was a small child attending a performance of the musical "Annie" at the then-Kentucky Center for the Arts, now The Kentucky Center, in Louisville.

"I still to this day remember what happened to me in that show," says Cook, a Centre College graduate and sought-after young opera star. "I was sitting in the audience. The curtain went up and everything else disappeared. The walls of the theater were gone. I felt like it was me and the stage. I felt a part of it. It sucked me in. It sorta, y'know, transported me on the stage.

"The feeling I had was indescribable. I knew I had to do something in the theater."

While a high school student in Henry County, Cook auditioned for the Governor's School of the Arts and was "lucky enough to be chosen," he says.


"There I had my first voice lesson and I fell in love with what I got to do," Cook notes.

Nov. 21 at the Norton Center

His program Nov. 21 at the Norton Center for the Arts will include a work by Robert Schumann. Cook says The second half will be comprised of three songs by Elliott Carter that are settings of Robert Frost poems; a Pulank piece; and a setting of four Walt Whitman poems by Kurt Vile.

The second part of the program has a theme of sorts, Cook notes. The Frost poems are "sorta innocent and American." One of them deals with industrialization. The Pulank piece contains war imagery, as do the Whitman poems, he adds.

"I think, y'know, war is one of the things we have on our minds today," Cook explains. "I think that it is sorta the job of those who are presenting concerts to not just entertain but also address things on people's minds.

"Art imitates life and we've gone through this in the past. These (works) are some poets' and composers' reactions to things that have gone on. They contribute to the community and the world through art. I try to do in the same vein."

Cook says he agreed to do the Danville concert after receiving an e-mail from Centre College Stodghill Professor of Music Barbara Hall asking him if he was interested. He counts Hall as one of many - including the high school piano teachers who saw a "spark of talent" in him - who influenced him to pursue a career in music.

"I couldn't have asked for a better professor of music," Cook said of Hall, "especially from the singing standpoint of things in college."

He says he discovered in college a "great passion for language."

"Ken Keffer was the be-all, end-all as far as language was concerned," Cook notes. "Language has a fascination for me - that's why I minored in it. For my junior recital at Centre, I worked on (Heinrich) Heine poetry, which I adore. His poetry was written to be set to music.

"I've told many, many stories about Ken Keffer's German classes to colleagues."

Playing Figaro is a highlight

Cook says one of his career highlights at this point has been playing Figaro in Giaochino Rossini's "Barber of Seville."

"It's my favorite role to sing and character to play," he notes. "He's funny and he's an instigator. Somehow, in some way, I relate more to Figaro than most other operatic characters. He just doesn't take himself seriously. He's always trying to mix up the soup, if you know what I mean.

"(The San Francisco piece) was a really interesting production. It was a modern production by a German director. Figaro got to drive around onstage riding a Vespa. It was quite a lot of fun."

He likes the traveling aspect of his job, although it also counts as a challenge, Cook says.

"It's interesting because, very often in life, things that are the most challenging can also, at the same time, be the most rewarding," notes Cook, who was performing in San Francisco Opera's production of "Billy Budd" when interviewed. "A lot has to do with travel. You're away from home, but at the same time, I get to see the world.

"I've seen Yosemite National Park while here, which I probably would not have had the opportunity to do. ... Singing has taken me to Japan for three weeks with the Met. I would not have taken a vacation to Japan. And I'm so glad I had the chance to go.

"It's different, being away from my own bed and my dog. A lot of the normalcy in life, I long for. I get home from a long job like this and throw clothes away and buy all new stuff. You get tired of wearing the same outfit all the time."

So he's looking forward to several orchestral concerts coming up, which will enable him to spend more time at home. "This season is a little different from some because I have a lot of concert work as opposed to most of my calendar in the past has been probably 85 percent opera," Cook says. "Typically, when I go away for an opera job, I go away for at least a month. Right now, in San Francisco, it's two months for one show.

"When I do concert work, I go somewhere for a couple of days of rehearsal and a couple of days of concerts, and then I go home."

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