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Sound Bites: Ryan McKinny

Ryan McKinny seems an ideal fit for the Wagner bass-baritone roles he is pursuing — Amfortas, the Dutchman. In fact, he has spent a long time trying to figure out what his voice is, and what it isn’t. “When you enter competitions in your early twenties,” he says, “if you are a lyric soprano or Rossini tenor, I think you kind of understand what you’re supposed to be doing. With lower male voices or bigger soprano voices, it’s not always clear. You’re not always ready to sing what you’re supposed to sing.”

So McKinny, a native of southern California, has played a waiting game, working hard on solving technical issues during his training at Pasadena City College and the Juilliard School. He is also a proud alum of the Houston Grand Opera Studio, and he now makes his home in that city, along with his wife, Tonya, and their two children, Emma and Louis.

At Houston, McKinny studied with voice professor Stephen King and developed a good working relationship with HGO music director Patrick Summers. After joining the Studio, McKinny made it to the final round of the Met’s 2007 National Council Auditions. Two years earlier, he hadn’t been accepted into the Lindemann Young Artist Development Program after auditioning there. “It turned out to be the best thing that ever happened to me,” he says. “I’m sure if I had been taken into the Lindemann program, I would have stayed in New York. It was awesome for me that I got to go to Houston, where the atmosphere was open — not the worst thing in the world if I sounded bad once or twice.”

As a Met finalist, he sang Wolfram and Verdi’s Ford. “I could have sung slightly bassy things like Aleko or ‘La calunnia,'” he says, “but that’s not really my true voice. Wolfram and Ford weren’t ideal either, but had I sung Amfortas or Holländer, the things I’m most likely to sing in the future, they wouldn’t have been appropriate for that venue at that time.” (The Dutchman’s “Die Frist ist um” has been a good fit for him in subsequent competitions, however. In 2011, he sang it in the George London Foundation contest and earned the $10,000 Kirsten Flagstad/George London Prize.)

In the meantime, he keeps working toward the repertoire he feels lies ahead, while getting valuable stage experience around the country. Last May he made his Met debut as Lt. Ratcliffe in Billy Budd, and this month he’s Monterone in Rigoletto at the Hollywood Bowl, led by Gustavo Dudamel.

“My goal is at the end of ten years to be able to deliver something great — not just good or good enough,” he says. “The live experience is so rare in our digital age, with everything instantly in front of you on your computer. The rarer it becomes, the more valuable it becomes. I want to be an artist who has something to say — who really reaches the people sitting in the theater.”

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