Spotlight on Michael Brandenburg, Domingo-Cafritz Young Artist

Brandenburg Michael HeadshotTenor Michael Brandenburg joined the WNO Domingo-Cafritz Young Artists in the fall of 2015. Read even more about him here. 

Where were you born?  Did you grow up in a musical household?

Austin, Indiana.  I come from a completely non-musical family.

Is that where you consider “home” today?

While growing up in a small, rural town in southern Indiana was certainly instrumental in shaping who I have become, I have felt right at home here in Washington and I plan on making this city my home.

What was your first transformative musical experience?  How old were you?

I have had an affinity for music for as long as I can remember.  I realized at an early age (though how, I am not sure) that I liked opera and would be good at it.  As a freshman in high school, I began exclusively listening to opera and other classical music.  I became obsessed with how opera singers produced those sounds and sought to discover the secrets on my own.  Being a strong introvert, I was not initially at ease with being in the spotlight, but I eventually overcame that obstacle after years of practice.

Which university or conservatory did you attend?

I had finished a Bachelor Degree and was in my Masters studies in Biology when I first sought out voice lessons at Ball State University.  Six months later, I won the Indiana District of the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions and, while I did not advance further that year, I was encouraged to begin my musical studies.  After the last year of my master’s degree, I went to Indiana University to study opera performance.

What is your favorite role that you have performed so far? 

I loved playing Don José.  Here is a guy who is struggling to be a good person, even though we know from his back-story that he has murdered someone.  In the beginning he fights to be the straight-laced soldier in an effort to find normalcy in life, but fate throws the firebrand, Carmen, in his path.  Their toxic relationship quickly unhinges José’s fragile, volatile psyche leading to disaster for them both.  I found the character progression an interesting one to portray.

Do you have a pre-performance routine?

No.  I do not believe in these sorts of routines.  I try to treat performance days as any other regular day.  Generally speaking, I sing 5-6 days a week, and those usually go well unless I am feeling bad.  I believe developing a routine on performance days is a response to nerves, so I try to de-emphasize those days by treating them normally.

There are many skeptics that believe opera is a dying art form.  Why do you think opera is still relevant today?

I do not believe at all that opera is a dying art form.  New operas are becoming more and more popular among audiences, and those audiences often have a different make up from those attending the standard repertory.  I think that, like all great art forms, opera is adapting to meet the needs of the public.  Opera will remain as one of the pinnacle forms of expression for social and cultural issues concerning society.

Was the District different from what you expected when you moved here for the program?

I was not expecting the District to have such a vibrant, youthful feel.  The city has everything someone in my generation is looking for as a prime place to live.

What might people be surprised to know about you?

While I love performing, I am fiercely private and will go to great lengths to avoid being the center of attention outside of a performance.

If you didn’t become an opera singer (coach/pianist), what other career would you have pursued?

I was almost an aquatic biologist (that is freshwater).  I was in the lab one day watching snails cross lines while taking tally marks when I came to the conclusion that I should probably get over my stage fright and do what I always knew I should be doing.

Do you have a website, Facebook page, Twitter handle, or Instagram name you’d like to share with BravO?


Facebook page: Michael Brandenburg Tenor

Istagram: Biotenor