Carl DuPont has spent much of the last decade trying to walk away from classical music, but he never got far. His role on the German soap opera “Unter Uns” (“Between Us”) didn’t last. Cold feet kept him from taking a job teaching English in South Korea. Each time he dropped vocal studies, he picked them back up.
So here he is, after moving to Charlotte this fall: coaching students at UNC Charlotte, waiting for his freshly minted doctorate to arrive in the mail, preparing a concert that honors great vocal composers and slain African-Americans this Tuesday, reading up on Scandinavia before presenting a paper at an international music conference and getting ready to play oddball hoop star Dennis Rodman in March.
No wonder he hasn’t unpacked yet.
“People say you spend your 20s running away from home and your 30s getting back to it,” says DuPont, sitting in his nearly bare office in UNCC’s Robinson Hall. “I’m convinced this is the perfect job for me.”
The title of his blog, teachperformresearch, tells all. He’s teaching one class in phonetics and articulation and training eight students in individual lessons. He’s singing bass-baritone roles – he did Leporello in “Don Giovanni” last week at Florida’s First Coast Opera – as well as oratorio pieces (a “Messiah” last month in Miami) and occasional choral work. His paper “The Influence of Black Gospel Music in Scandinavia” was accepted by the College Music Society’s International Music Conference; he’ll present it in Sweden and Finland in June.
The three pursuits dovetail in Tuesday’s program. The first half of his performance with pianist Karl Van Richards holds arias and songs by Mozart, Richard Strauss and Jacques Ibert; the second consists of spirituals and modern songs, many about death, by black composers. (Van Richards will play two solo pieces.)
“I had decided on the programming before the verdict came down in the Michael Brown case (in Ferguson, Mo.). But I was so disturbed – my expectations had come to fruition – that I asked, ‘What’s my response? What’s my part?’
“It’s disturbing to see state-sanctioned violence against black men with no legal consequences; even videos aren’t enough to get justice now. As an artist, I want to give these people a testimonial. (The concert) is for those killed before and people who’ll be disadvantaged in the future.”
DuPont, who’s 30, was born 20 years after the Civil Rights Act. Before he started to write his doctoral thesis (“Pioneering African-American Teachers of Singing”), his understanding of civil rights was “a movement that happened over a couple of years. But the movement didn’t stop when the coverage stopped.
“I started looking at vocal teachers who stepped into spaces that had always been kept open for white teachers. They took up the cross, so to speak, and moved our people forward much less publicly. They may not make a movie about those teachers. But in a quiet way, their work was just as important.”
Those pioneers made his hiring easier, just as the first generation of African-American opera singers in the ’50s and ’60s made it common to see black faces onstage. (He studied with one, Grace Bumbry, in Austria last summer.)
DuPont was innocent of such knowledge while growing up in Daytona Beach, Fla., and spending most of his musical time at a piano. Not until he heard Welsh bass-baritone Bryn Terfel did he think of turning his voice into an asset.
Now he’s planning to sing the title role in the Sarah Hutchings-Mark Sonnenblick opera “Rodman in North Korea” at Houghton Lyric Theater in upstate New York. (Yes, Kim Jong Un is a main character.) He’s planning a classical vocal program based on an analysis of his own DNA: West African, Southeast Asian, Native American, British and Finnish.
And he’s getting settled in Charlotte as an assistant professor of voice.
“I had painted out a beautiful career for myself, but my path has been completely different,” he says. “Now I see the career I’m supposed to have is the one I have.”