By SHWETHA SUNDARRAJANAs he crouches next to a motionless body, a young boy in overalls sings about his regrets as a son and not being able to save his father.
The boy is Nathaniel Mahone, a Lafayette freshman. Recently, Mahone landed a role in the Opera Theatre of Saint Louis’ summer production of “Grapes of Wrath,” June 9-25 at the Loretto-Hilton Center on the campus of Webster University.
“I was contacted through the artistic director of the Saint Louis Opera Theatre for this role. I’ve never performed opera before, so it was interesting to learn a completely different style of singing than I’m used to,” Mahone said.
It was only recently that Mahone started learning opera, with the help of his vocal teacher, Lisa Christine Fahey. Mahone said he usually sings ballads and musical comedies for his theater productions.
“The comedy allows me to have a little flexibility in how I sing and which I can sing it. On the contrary, ballads or slow songs allow me to express greater quantities of emotion,” Mahone said.
Fahey has been teaching Mahone for five years, helping him develop his voice and prepare for auditions. “I started teaching private voice lessons to Nathaniel when he was just 9 years old. He had a sweet, soft voice and seemed shy, initially. But as I got to know Nathaniel, I realized he was outgoing and extremely funny! With a little encouragement, he began showing his true colors onstage and transformed into a confident, engaging performer,” Fahey said.
Mahone has been part of Muny productions for five years and played the role of Young Terk in “Tarzan” at the Muny in 2014. He is in the Muny Kids Touring Troupe and has been in the youth ensemble for four Muny shows.
“I never really paid any attention to opera, and I knew I wanted to do musical theatre,” Mahone said. “I became interested in opera when I watched “Phantom of the Opera.” It inspired me to start performing opera because it was completely different from the genres I had sung for theatre.”
The summer production of “Grapes of Wrath” features a star-studded cast, including award-winning singers Tobias Greenhalgh and Katharine Goeldner.
“Working with all these really famous opera singers is intimidating because they’re experienced and sing so exceptionally well, whereas this is my first time performing opera. But the cast is very supportive and helps me with my singing,” Mahone said. “My official title is the Boy in the Barn, and my character is trying to keep his dying father alive because he doesn’t want to be alone in this world that isn’t so perfect. He begs the Joad family for food or anything that he can give his father to keep him alive.”
Mahone said acting is harder than singing and to put the two together is difficult.
“Backstage, I’ll usually lock myself in a room and imagine what it’s like to be that character and stay quiet and listen to the music around me. When I get onstage, the lights and the people singing help me ease into the character and feel their emotions,” he said.
Usually, the acting is dictated by the song.
“When you sing a song with a fast tempo, it’s easier to act with the energy and flow of the song. Whereas with a slow song, I need to ground myself and find this place inside me to let the emotion of the song out.”