Opera tenor Brian Arreola knows the importance of finding your own spotlight. His classical music career started when he founded Cantus, a men’s vocal ensemble group. At 30, he realized time was running out on a potential solo career in opera. He completed his doctoral studies in vocal performance at Indiana University and went on to become assistant professor of voice and opera at UNC Charlotte in 2009. Arreola also performs with Opera Carolina, sharing the stage with top-notch performers from the Metropolitan Opera in New York City.
Q. When did you start your opera career? When I graduated from St. Olaf College, I was a member of Cantus, which my friends and I started as students. When we graduated, we decided to see if we could make it our full-time job. We had this singing ensemble of about 10 or 11 guys. We toured during the summer all over the country.
Q. What drew you to opera music? Opera is the only viable career path for a classical singer. However, the sheer level opera singers put out was intimidating to me. I looked at opera and thought that won’t be me. I’m not big enough. I’m not (Luciano) Pavarotti with this big, booming voice. When you learn the technique, you realize that it’s not about trying to be louder than the orchestra. It’s about producing a different series of overtones.
Q. Why don’t more people see opera? People who work in opera know that it’s always a huge risk or gamble. It can pay off so immensely, where you can have those magical moments. Everyone who has seen opera had one moment where they cried. It’s like what we hope for from movies, but so heightened because it really happened. There’s no electronic artifice.
Q. How do you bring in a larger audience? Opera is the perfect excuse to dress up. By the same token, we’re talking about how we get people to opera. There’s something to be said for bringing down those barriers for those who don’t want to dress up. It’s a fine balance. How can we let the ladies who want to wear their pearls, capes and all their fancy accoutrement without looking snottily at people who want to come in jeans and loafers?
Q. What’s it like to perform with Opera Carolina? I’ve been doing supporting roles, which is fantastic because I get to share the stage with people who literally sing at the Met. Opera Carolina gets first class, top-ranked performers. This year, I was in “Il Trovatore.” During the 2009-10 season, I played El Remendado in “Carmen” and Rodrigo in “Otello.” There’s nothing quite so human, something that uses so many parts of your mind and body and spirit, than opera.