Thursday, July 8, 2004

Opera-tunity knocked

New Zealander nearly blew chance
to give up life an as accountant

By Janelle Gelfand / Enquirer staff writer

It was the biggest break he almost didn't have.

Teddy Tahu Rhodes
"I'm guessing I'd be back in Christchurch (New Zealand), doing my life as a accountant," says , who makes his Cincinnati Opera debut tonight singing the title role in Mozart's Don Giovanni. "I probably would have done a bit of singing with the opera company in Christchurch."

Looking relaxed in jeans and white shirt between rehearsals at Music Hall, Rhodes leans his athletic frame back and speaks in a soft, New Zealand accent. His blond hair makes him appear boyish in a David Beckham sort of way. But when he stands, his height - all 6-foot-5 - makes him an obvious choice for playing the role of a murderous rake.

Doubts creep in

In 1998, Rhodes had just taken a job as an accountant when a friend urged him to audition for a local opera company's production of La Boheme. Until then, he had sung on the side, studying for a year at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London.

What: Mozart's Don Giovanni. Xian Zhang, conductor; Josemaria Condemi, director.

When: 8 p.m. today, Saturday and July 16

Where: Music Hall

Tickets: 241-2742 or

"Despite the fact that, for many years, I'd given up many opportunities, I thought it would be my last opportunity," says the 37-year-old New Zealander.

An impressed cast member reported his singing to managers at Sydney Opera, who immediately flew over for an audition. But Rhodes, having second thoughts, was a no-show.

"I just couldn't face the thought of being told that I wasn't up to it," he says.

But later, he gained the courage, and flew to Sydney to audition for the prestigious company. He was signed on the spot to sing in La Cenerentola (Cinderella).

"I gave up my job with two weeks' notice, and I was in Sydney that week to sing," he says. "I had three weeks of rehearsal, and I was very green. I had to be taught literally how to walk onstage. I was thrown in the deep end."

The fairy tale continued. In the Sydney audience was Patrick Summers, who was preparing to conduct the world premiere of Dead Man Walking in San Francisco. He recommended Rhodes as a "cover" singer for the intense role of killer Joe De Rocher. Rhodes ended up making his American debut, singing in several performances in the second cast.

Reluctant sex symbol

He sees his character, Giovanni, as a man addicted to the adrenalin rush he gets from killing, and addicted to women.

"I've heard it said that every woman in the audience has got to want some part of him, and every man in the audience wants to be some part of him," he says. "So you appeal to both. And yet both sides know that there's a lot of him you shouldn't be liking at all."

By coincidence, Rhodes' middle name, Tahu, is a Maori name for "Lover." But, he laughs, Tahu means lover of things such as nature - not particularly women. (A New Zealand tribe bestowed the name on his family.)

So how did he research the role? "My little black book's not that big," he says, laughing. Married for seven years to his childhood sweetheart, he is now divorced.

But his regimen does include lifting weights six days a week - something that he also needed in order to sing the role of Stanley Kowalski in A Streetcar Named Desire recently for Washington Opera.

"Don Giovanni is the sort of role where the second you walk onstage, you have to be in a state of excitement," says Rhodes, who sang it once before, in Sydney. "It's all pure rush. The minute you come onstage, there's got to be charisma. ... I get to the opera, and I'm literally jumping around backstage before I go on."

How does it feel to be a sex object? "You know, that's the weirdest thing," he says. "You turn up somewhere, and people expect you to be good-looking, and I don't know. 'What's the fuss?' "


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