Patrick Carfizzi in HGO's Barber of Seville Thanks to His Trash-Picking Mom

Bass-baritone Patrick Carfizzi once stuffed his future in the trash. Thanks to his mother, it didn't stay there.

Soon to appear as Dr. Bartolo in Houston Grand Opera's production of Barber of Seville, Carfizzi traced through his earlier life with Art Attack, including the time he was offered an audition for a graduate position at Yale and decided he wasn't good enough.

"I went to Catholic University for my undergrad in Washington, D.C. One of my professors sent a letter to Yale asking if they had space and asking if I could audition. When I got their response, I looked at it and said, 'I'm not Yale material; why am I going to go to Yale? I'm a B-plus student; B-plus students don't go to Yale.' So I put it in the garbage."

His mother found the letter in the garbage and confronted him.

"She's like, 'You're not auditioning for Yale and is there a good reason for this?' I said I'm a B-plus student, and she said, 'You're auditioning for Yale.'"

After the audition, Yale offered him a position in the program "on the spot," Carfizzi told Art Attack.

"I went out to the car and told my parents. My parents laughed and said, 'Our dumbest child is going to Yale.' It was with all the love and support they've shown me for years and years and years, but it's true, my brothers were the A-plus students."

Besides being a great teller of stories, Carfizzi is also in great demand as an opera singer. At HGO alone, he has sung Figaro in The Marriage of Figaro (2011), Swallow in Peter Grimes (2010), Papageno in The Magic Flute (2008), Don Magnifico in La Cenerentola (2007), The Loudspeaker in Der Kaiser von Atlantis (2006) and Paolo Albiani in Simon Boccanegra (2006).

Yale, he said, got him off to a very good start.

"The Yale program is set up beautifully. They provide you the opportunity to be heard by management, but they don't tell you it's an audition, which is of course psychologically very wise. And you get wonderful feedback. I was connected to my first manager via that. He's since retired," Carfizzi said.

After his third year in the program, he was encouraged to audition for the Metropolitan Opera New Artist program. He did, but was told he wasn't going to be invited in. Three weeks later, Lenore Rosenberg, artistic administrator for the Met, called Carfizzi at his parents' home.

His father answered the phone and told Rosenberg -- after she identified herself as being from the Met -- that his son was a poor student and didn't have any money to donate. Finally calling his son to the phone, the father stayed on the line after his son picked up.

Hearing the father on the line, Rosenberg said, "Mr. Carfizzi, if you don't hang up the phone, I can't offer your son his Met debut.'"

"So I was insanely lucky," Carfizzi said. His first part was on Christmas Eve in 1999, singing the part of Count Ceprano in Rigoletto. "We've had a wonderful relationship ever since then."

He's glad to be doing The Barber of Seville in Houston (where he says audiences are very "educated" and "open" to this form of music). The appeal of Barber is not only that it's a piece whose music is well known because of commercials and marketing, but also because of its story. "It definitely has characters that people can see both sides of themselves in."

And although he's done this opera before -- the first time was in English in St. Louis (he's fluent in Italian, speaks some German, and is learning Catalan, Spanish and French) -- "It's fresh every time. Time is the wonderful variable which allows us to let these masterworks stay fresh as we grow, as people as our lives change and as time goes on and we see something new in these works," he said.

Carfizzi considers himself lucky for a number of reasons. "Singing is something I like to work at and something that comes naturally to me. Could be, being raised in an Italian-Irish household where loud was kind of the norm. The idea of being on stage with people who were varying degrees of soft and loud was not foreign to me nor was projection. I love what I do. Singing has seen me through many of the challenges and trials in life. "

Performances of The Barber of Seville, a co-production of Houston Grand Opera, Canadian Opera Company, Opera National de Bordeaux and Opera Australia, are at 2 p.m. October 21, 7:30 p.m. October 29 and November 4, and 2 p.m. October 23, November 6 and November 12 at the Wortham Theater Center's Brown Theater, Texas Avenue at Smith Street. For ticket information go to www.houstongrandopera.org or call 713-228-6737.

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