Out opera singer stands out in ‘La Traviata’

No sooner than Opera Philadelphia scored a huge success last month with its queer-centric “Andy: A Popera,” in collaboration with FringeArts and the Bearded Ladies, comes the beginning of its season, its sparkling annual gala and the Oct. 2 start of “La Traviata,” the Verdi opera in three acts about fallen women and the men who love them.

The antiquated notion of salvaging reputations (remember when celebrities, politicians and royalty could be shamed — ah, the past) is where we find the heart of “La Traviata.” Set at the mouth of 18th-century Paris and based on “La Dame aux Camélias” (1852), a play adapted from the novel by Alexandre Dumas, grand opera doesn’t come any grander or more traditional than this.

Soprano Lisette Oropesa may be Opera Philadelphia’s Violetta Valéry, the courtesan at the center of attention of “La Traviata,” and West Chester tenor Alek Shrader may be its Alfredo Germont, the youthful bourgeois. Yet, where PGN is concerned, out vocalists Jarrett Ott, Daniel Mobbs and Roy Hage are its soul: the tenor, baritone and bass — where the real action is.

“The opera world is a gay man’s world,” Ott said, talking about the welcoming environment of the classical vocal stage. “It’s never been frustrating, but rather comforting, to meet some of the warmest people.”

Ott is a Lehigh Valley native, a kid who didn’t get to music through the classics, but rather through the sounds of boy bands and girl pop.

“I entertained my high-school friends by singing NSYNC or Britney in an operatic fashion. I was out in high school, obviously,” he said, pointing out a love of 98 Degrees, Michael Jackson and ’50s vocal stylings before devoting his life to opera when he got to West Chester University’s School of Music. Ott also copped to performing musical-theater productions in high school and loving every second of it. “I’m still a huge fan of that repertoire and whenever I come back to Philly, you better believe I’ll be at Tavern on Camac singing some show tunes.”

From there, the rest of his training and early work all involved staying in the Philadelphia area — particularly the Curtis Institute of Music — rather than shipping out of town. Ott is very quick to mention the importance of his very first opera teacher, Randall Scarlata at West Chester.

“He laid out the stepping stones to a proper technique so constructively and effectively and became one of my greatest friends along the way,” Ott said, noting that Scarlata, along with Marlena Malas at Curtis, taught him what it takes to make this career happen. “Their enlightenment didn’t always stick right away, but I’m now so appreciative of them both.”

It took a minute for Ott to find his voice, literally and figuratively — a process that took him from being a tenor at Curtis to lead baritone roles in Curtis Opera Theatre’s production of Rossini’s “La Cenerentola,” Poulenc’s “Dialogues des Carmélites,” Handel’s “Rinaldo,” Purcell’s “Dido” and Aeneas and Janácek’s “The Cunning Little Vixen.” And now there is Opera Philadelphia, “La Traviata” and a supporting role as meaty as the lead.

“Getting to share the stage with this cast is pretty incredible,” Ott said. “During this rehearsal process, I have had the wind knocked out of me several times listening to my colleagues. Philadelphia is in for an operatic treat with this gorgeous production all around.”

When asked what is most testing about his role of Marchese, Ott was quick to joke, “Going to the gym every day in order to be stripped down to shirtless in act two.”

Outside of “La Traviata,” he’s also had several other recent successes, including being named a “One-to-Watch” singer in the most recent issue of Opera News.

“Getting the phone call to do the interview was quite the shock and my initial inner reaction was, Woah. Why me? But I could not be happier to be among the other singers, some of whom are dear friends,” he said.

Ott has just moved to New York City to stretch his wings, test a few waters and discover new adventures.

“I always wanted to live in New York City,” he said. “I absolutely adore Philadelphia, but traveling to New York two, three, sometimes four times a week for auditions was getting old rather quickly. I’ll be back though. A lot.”

“La Traviata” runs Oct. 2-11 at the Academy of Music, 240 S. Broad St.