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Norman Garrett’s lush, round baritone voice, marked by a superb command of legato line, has earned him victories in many of the big international voice competitions, including those of the George London, Giulio Gari, Gerda Lissner, William Matheus Sullivan and Licia Albanese–Puccini Foundations.

This spring, he sings Escamillo in his hometown of Lubbock, Texas, with the Lubbock Symphony, followed by performances as the Mandarin in Cincinnati Opera’s Turandot. In October, Garrett will star in the title role of an African voodoo priest in Frederick Delius’s Koangaat Wexford Festival Opera. But his success was, at one point, very much in question.

Garrett studied at Texas Tech University and the Cincinnati College–Conservatory of Music, where his teacher, Kenneth Shaw, helped him retool his voice. “I was in an in-between stage,” recalls Garrett. “Everyone thought, ‘What is he? A bass? A bass-baritone?’” He spent one year as a resident artist at Philadelphia’s Academy of Vocal Arts. “They kicked me out,” he says. “The maestro [Christofer Macatsoris] gave me the boot.” (The issue, according to a member of AVA’s faculty who spoke off the record, was never the quality of Garrett’s voice.) “I spent a couple of years trying to stay above water,” Garrett says. “I didn’t have money to get up to New York for auditions, and I felt like crap, because I wasn’t working. Then my Cincinnati family sent me some money to audition. I got offers for everything I auditioned for.”

In auditions, Garrett often relies on Hérodiade’s “Vision fugitive” to show off his magic. “I coached it at Washington Opera with Diana Soviero and Bill Stone. It doesn’t sit too high, and I can expand on a lot of the phrases.” He feels he has benefited, in Washington, as well as at Glimmerglass and Lyric Opera of Chicago, from being directed by Francesca Zambello. When he sang Amonasro in her 2012 Aida at Glimmerglass, he recalls, “Zambello said, ‘Norman! Everybody in your country is dying. You need to raise the stakes when you step out on that stage.’ She changed how I sang and moved.” 

He has his heart set on singing Michele in Il Tabarro someday soon, and he was even asked to consider a cover opportunity in the Broadway revival of Side Show. He isn’t worried when he contemplates what the opera landscape will be ten or fifteen years out. “This is hard for me to say, but I’ve reached a point of relaxation with my career, because I know that the only thing I can control is myself — what I put out on the stage. I’ve found a strange peace with the chaos around me that almost removes me from the anxiety that so many people have. In order for me to do that, I had to hit rock bottom. Some singers are like, ‘Ooohhh — I didn’t get that part.’ I think they have never hit the bottom and then had to crawl back up.”

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