It’s hard to believe we’ll soon be in March, when I will be doing a semi-staged production in Mallorca de Palma, Spain of Richard Strauss’ Salome, singing Jochanaan (John the Baptist) on March 10 and 13, 2016. Performing this role always brings to mind my early days in the Catholic seminary and my debut of the role at Milan’s Teatro alla Scala back in 2007. I am now singing the role better than ever, but to take a glimpse back, please do watch an excerpt of my Jochanaan performance with the Florentine Opera, approximately one year after my debut of the role at La Scala.
In preparing for Salome, I am also reminded of some 11 years ago when, at the French Open in Paris, I was fortunate enough to meet a favorite son of Mallorca, the great tennis champion Rafa Nadal. It was actually his grandfather (also named Rafael Nadal) who was instrumental as a choral and orchestral conductor in putting together the Teatre Principal de Palma, now celebrating its 30th anniversary.
Though not to get ahead of myself, you are probably aware that February is Black History Month in Canada and in the United States. It provides an opportunity for all of us to learn more about the history, struggles, and contributions made by those of predominantly African descent.
Two singers, Paul Robeson and Todd Duncan, come to mind as I prepare selections closely identified with them in my upcoming fundraising recitals. Moreover, it is poignant to reflect that DreamWorks’ casting had not too long ago given me top consideration to play the role of Todd Duncan (whom I met once) in the shelved film on the life of George Gershwin, directed by Steven Spielberg. Being a four-letter athlete in high school (the same high school attended by Jessie Owens – the subject of the movie RACE, which is now in theaters) reminds me of the connection between athletic competition and operatic singing, as even Paul Robeson was a noted college athlete.
Earlier this month I was interviewed by Lynn Desjardins of Radio Canada International, a division of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC), about the issues of race and diversity in the world of opera.
In addition to discussing the experiences in my profession, I was asked about my views on related topics in the performing arts, including the racial controversy with the upcoming Academy Awards.
To hear or read my interview with RCI, click here or follow the story link below:
Racism “is a barrier. It’s a difficulty. It’s something that has to be broken down. And, once it’s broken down, it’s much more beneficial to all of society,” says Mark S. Doss, a Grammy-award-winning opera singer based in Toronto. Doss has performed 90 different roles with more than 60 opera houses around the world. Opera singer Mark S. Doss says some operas lend themselves to ‘updating’ and more diversity in…
You may also find the piece in the Black History Month section of RCI’s web site (click here).
I also invite you to explore some of my past interviews on the subjects of race and diversity. Of note:
MY DEFINING MOMENT: Mark S. Doss
When Mark was a young man going through the arduous process of auditioning and trying to start his career, he was told he was “just the wrong colour.
Arts Alive (KUSC FM, Los Angeles):
Symphony of Brotherhood Concert
Dennis Bartel talks to bass-baritone Mark S. Doss about the Symphony of Brotherhood concert, commemorating the 50th Anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech.
Opera’s Changing Face
Excerpt: “Now, things go up and down in waves,” [says] Doss, explaining diversity trends in opera. “There will be an open era, and then sometimes they’ll close things off.”
While discussing the challenges for achieving greater inclusion in the performing arts is important, I would like to highlight some of the opportunities I have encountered for fostering it, especially since calling Toronto home.
I am proud to have become involved with ArsMusica, Canada’s Ethnocultural Music and Opera Company (arsmusica.ca). Showcasing a spectrum of cultural backgrounds with both fully staged operas and local concert performances, I look forward to new projects with them in the coming months.
Further, I am grateful for the reception I have received from the Planet Africa Group, who have created television, print media and other initiatives to tell the stories of those of African descent from Canada and abroad, and their continued interest in following my career. I was honoured to receive Planet Africa’s Entertainment Award in 2011 in connection to my accomplishments in the performing arts, as well as serving as a positive role model for youth in both the US and Canada. Held, in Toronto, the Planet Africa Awards program also provided me with an opportunity to be introduced to a wide array of Afro-Canadian and African-American professionals, to celebrate with the other award recipients, learning about their leadership and excellence in their respective fields. I am glad to continue being a part of this elite circle, and connecting with my peers from the arts.
Lastly, achieving greater diversity on the performance stage is also the product of education. For example, when I mentor youth in apprentice programs or present master classes, many of the stories I share with them give me the ability to demonstrate how diversity can be a source of strength, bringing out essential nuances in the interpretation of the roles they perform.
This is equally true when I work with Buchanan Park Opera Club (bpoc.ca) in Hamilton, Ontario, which gives children early opera education and performance training opportunities, as I can show the students more than just technique. I can help them look at traditional opera roles in different ways, allowing these youngsters to more easily see themselves and others in the iconic parts they are trying to play.
Mark S. Doss