Reginald Smith Jr. is a studio artist in his second year with the Houston Grand Opera, which means he's part of a small elite group getting an intense course of study and a chance to appear in operas while readying for what he hopes will be a longtime career. At this season's Studio Artists performance, HGO Music and Artistic Director Patrick Summers singled Smith out as someone who's going to be doing great things.
Smith grew up in Atlanta and says he was always singing along with his two brothers and two sisters. He was in school choir from second grade all the way through college. An eighth grade teacher spotted his talent and told him he should consider going to the city's School for the Arts. His major there was vocal music. "I just wanted to be a good choir singer.
Then in the tenth grade, he attended his first opera. "I thought I've never seen an opera before and it's ten bucks and even if it's boring, I can get out of school. So I went to see it and my first opera, and it was Tosca, a great opera."
"The thing that I can remember that was so amazing to me was that all of the main characters died. When the soprano sang Avante a Dio, most people sort of run and jump off the back of the building. She stood on the ledge and sang Avante a Dio and then jumped backwards. I thought, 'Man, that's pretty intense. I kind of like this stuff.' " Soon after he looked up more about Puccini, and the opera started taking his lessons much more seriously. "It was really then that I thought maybe I should consider more singing. " What he does:
"I sing the best music in the world. And I think that goes for opera music, that goes for art songs. It goes for French, German, Italian, English. I love singing concert works like Beethoven's symphonies. But also doing wonderful things like 'Unforgettable.' I think I have the best job in the world. I get to sing great music and experience wonderful opportunities in new and interesting places and I get paid to do it! "
Why he likes it: "I like performing. It was really when I got to college and did my first opera, which was Amahl and the Night Visitors, that I decided I really want to do this. It's a culmination of all the arts into one big thing. And the fact that I get to put on crazy wigs and funny makeup."
What Inspires Him: "If it wasn't for my high school teachers, I would never have seen an opera. I think music inspires me when I listen to things like Puccini and when I listen to the Verdi works, it just touches you in a way that nothing else can. I'm also greatly blessed to have a great support system in my family, and they always inspire me, even when I feel stressed out or tired. My best friend from high school. Religion is important to me. Always if I feel like I'm down, I always feel like I can turn to a good hymn or gospel song. The many amazing coaches I've worked with."
If Not This Then What: "I've always loved choral music. I have a degree in choral education and vocal performance. I always wanted to teach. I knew I wanted to sing but I always wanted to go back and teach. When it gets to a point to where my mind and my body and my voice tells me it's time to stop, I'd love to go back to teach at like a high school level to get youth excited about the arts and music and not just opera but jazz and blues and gospel and spirituals and show choirs."
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If Not Here Then Where: "If I were not here in Houston, I would be teaching somewhere. I have such a great passion about music. I love teaching because you can do that on a more one-on-one moment. I would probably be in Atlanta or in Kentucky, where I studied, or I might have done Teach For America. I'm not so bound to one place. But wherever I would be, I would still be teaching and I would still be singing and looking for new experiences. For me, I just want to have a wonderful, fulfilling and great career. It doesn't matter to me if it's in Croatia or if it's at the Metropolitan or if it's in Montreal or if it's in Atlanta or at the Houston Grand Opera, I just want to just sing and enjoy the great music. "
What's next: "Singing with the Atlanta Symphony's pops concert. Here in Houston I'm study covering the role of Jago in Otello. I'm study covering in Madame Butterfly. I have my first Beethoven Ninth, which I'm very excited about. I have a recital in Minnesota."
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