Opera star returns to Middlebury

MIDDLEBURY — A Middlebury College alum-turned-opera-star returns to the town of his alma mater this weekend for a recital that will showcase the music of Henry Duparc, Leonard Bernstein and various other arias, while supporting a community opera company.
William Burden has performed at venues around the world ranging from the Berliner Staatsoper to the Opéra National de Paris, and has sung at most of the country’s major opera houses, including the Metropolitan Opera in New York. But for the tenor, his March 13 recital at the Town Hall Theater — a benefit for the Opera Company of Middlebury — is less about the world of premier opera venues than it is about the importance of local arts groups.
“The (opera) business is changing, largely due to technological advances,” Burden said, pointing to the live telecasts of opera performances at movie theaters around the world as one example of those changes. “It is remarkable, but it is not the same as sitting in the theater and experiencing a live performance in front of you on the stage. The voice, the orchestra, the visual effect of the sets and the costumes — there is no replacement in the world today for a live performance.”
That, Burden said, is exactly why he wishes to support a group like the Opera Company of Middlebury, which is continuing to make live performances a possibility for the local community.
“An audience can go and literally have a once-in-a-lifetime experience,” Burden said. “I think it’s fantastic. To support an organization that is still trying to keep alive a living art form is just great.”
 Burden will be accompanied on Saturday by Middlebury College professor emeritus and pianist Emory Fanning, with whom Burden studied music while a student at Middlebury College.
Burden graduated from the college in 1986. But when he was a student at Middlebury, Burden didn’t exactly envision a career for himself as an opera singer. He enjoyed music as a hobby, and sang in the D-8 male a cappella group and a college choir, but his academic passion was for Spanish literature.
In fact, it wasn’t until Burden returned from studying in Spain near the end of his college career that he even took his first opera workshops. Something clicked. With the encouragement of his teachers, he went on to study at the country’s largest music school at the University of Indiana and began performing in his first operas.
Burden was by no means an opera aficionado as a young man, but the more he learned about the tradition the more he grew to love it.
“I love the idea of sort of opera being the umbrella of all of the arts,” Burden said. “It brings dance and theater and the visual arts and music together in one very often grand, hopefully powerful theatrical experience.”
Over the course of his career, Burden has performed in a number of major tenor roles. Among his favorites are the roles in Benjamin Britten’s operas, including “Death in Venice,” “Billy Budd” and “Peter Grimes.”
“They’re all sort of tormented characters who deal with a lot of huge, emotional issues,” Burden said. “Anyone who thinks that opera for the most part is just beautiful music and silly stories needs to experience a couple of Britten’s operas.”
He’s also been fortunate enough to travel around the world for his career. Among his favorite venues is a beautiful hall in Bucharest, Romania. The hall is a spectacular, ornate, “stunningly beautiful” building in the midst of a city still showing signs of the Communist era, Burden said.
Burden will perform at the Town Hall Theater on Saturday, March 13, at 8 p.m. Tickets are available for $30.
Burden said the performance will be a sort of “mixed bag, hybrid recital.” He’ll perform songs by the French composer Henry Duparc, a perfectionist who is rumored to have destroyed hundreds of the songs that he wrote, leaving only 17 that are known to the world today.
Burden will also sing a collection of arias from the various kinds of characters he often plays, as well as a cycle of songs composed by Gene Scheer inspired by the true-life experiences of World War II veterans. He will also share works by the American composer Leonard Bernstein, who is near and dear to Burden’s heart — it was during a performance of Bernstein’s “Candide” in Milwaukee early in Burden’s career that he met his wife, who sang opposite him in the performance.
David Clark, the president of the Opera Company of Middlebury’s board of directors, said he was very excited to bring Burden to Middlebury.
“We’re thrilled to have Bill Burden, who is an international star. I think he does terrific work,” he said. “It’s just an opportunity to hear a beautiful voice expressing some terrific music.”
Reporter Kathryn Flagg is at [email protected].

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