The old theater saying that there are no small parts, only small actors, can also be said for opera. Just ask Australian bass Joshua Bloom, who was in town last month to begin rehearsals as Masetto for the Los Angeles Opera production of Mozart’s “Don Giovanni.” The opera’s seven performances run Sept. 22 through Oct. 14 at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion.
Masetto marks Bloom’s L.A. Opera debut. “Masetto is a small role, but a good one because you can certainly make an impression,” Bloom said during a break in rehearsal. “There are some roles where nobody remembers you, but Masetto has enough meat to it — it’s great to debut with in a major house.”
The role has already earned him accolades at other major opera houses, including last year at the Metropolitan Opera. In The New York Times, Anthony Tommasini praised his peasant Masetto as “stalwart,” adding that his “hearty bass” made for an “endearing performance.”
Audiences may recall Bloom from his Walt Disney Concert Hall debut last year as Algernon in a striking concert version of Gerald Barry’s unpredictable operatic take on Oscar Wilde’s “The Importance of Being Earnest.” Though primarily a bass, Bloom’s flexible range comfortably negotiated this quirky comic baritone part.
Bloom’s lyric, rather than dramatic, voice type has a substance and weight that projects well, especially in the Handel, Mozart and Rossini repertory.
“A lot of the roles for my voice type are smaller, but they’re significant,” Bloom said. “Masetto is the only one who stands up to Giovanni in any meaningful way, and that makes him interesting in a cast of people who are often manipulated by Giovanni without any recourse.”
Masetto is just one of the comprimario, or supporting parts, in Bloom’s repertory. In August, he played Leporello, the Don’s servant, at a festival in Tallinn, Estonia. And when Bloom returns to L.A. Opera in May 2013 for a six-performance run of Puccini’s “Tosca” (May 18 through June 8 at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion), he will be playing Angelotti.
“Angelotti is another small part, but actually it’s really pivotal,” Bloom said, “and possibly my favorite small role to do. You have some really good music, and it’s very dramatic.”
L.A. Opera music director James Conlon observed in an e-mail that the late tenor Charles Anthony often made his greatest impact in smaller parts. A New York Times critic, reviewing his Met debut in 1954, said Anthony even made bit parts, like the Simpleton in Mussorgsky’s “Boris Godunov,” unforgettable.
“Angelotti is very, very important,” Conlon said. “A great deal of the first act of ‘Tosca’ absolutely depends on a strongly sung and defined Angelotti as a counterweight to the other characters.”
Conlon added that Angelotti’s escape from prison sets “Tosca’s” entire drama in motion, which ends — (spoiler alert!) — in the violent death of the opera’s four most prominent characters.
Bloom has sung larger parts, including the title character in Mozart’s “The Marriage of Figaro,” and Nick Shadow (the Devil) in Stravinsky’s “The Rake’s Progress.” Next year, he is scheduled to sing the bass role in Gerald Barry’s opera “The Triumph of Beauty and Deceit.” It’s part of a double bill with Handel’s “The Triumph of Time and Truth” at a festival in Germany.
“I play Time in both shows,” Bloom said. “The role has very low notes, but also very high. Gerald likes to explore the extremes of people’s ranges, so there’s not a huge difference between his baritone and bass roles. He writes a lot of falsetto for basses as well.”
Bloom, 38, grew up in Melbourne with musician parents who exposed him to all sorts of music from a very young age. But they encouraged him to go to law school.
“Music wasn’t something I ever thought of doing as a profession,” Bloom said. “Music, to my parents, was not a good career choice. I think they wanted me to get a real job.”
Bloom, whose father is Jewish, went to Anglican schools on a music scholarship as a cellist and double bass player. “Technically, I’m not really Jewish,” Bloom said. “My parents are firm atheists, so I was never particularly religious. I went to Jewish kindergarten. That was as far as it went. Nonetheless, obviously having a Jewish father, and my name being as it is, well, there you go.”
Bloom majored in history at the University of Melbourne, focusing on Hitler’s Germany, Holocaust history and Russia under Stalin. He also started acting in fringe theater, “doing the odd musical.”
“I wanted to be an actor,” Bloom said, but people who heard him sing recommended he take voice lessons. “I kind of fell into opera. It wasn’t something I was desperate to do from a young age.”
Bloom left Melbourne for New York when he was 26 and is now based in San Francisco. Since his father was originally from Chicago, Bloom said he’s never had a problem working in the United States, which became necessary for him to cultivate an interesting career.
“Australia is very isolated geographically, and the arts scene is tricky,” Bloom said. “If you want to be a full-time, professional opera singer, there’s really only one company that is available — Opera Australia.”
Over the years, Bloom has been invited back regularly to Opera Australia, but he doesn’t regret leaving. “It’s a great country,” he said, “but for opera singers, it’s a difficult environment.”
Bloom, who is on the road for most of the year, said his parents are “very proud” of his thriving singing career. But, he added, living out of suitcase gets old quickly. And there’s no time for relationships outside the work.
“I would have to establish something quickly and then manage the long-distance thing, which is difficult at the best of times,” Bloom said, adding that most of the people he meets are in the business.
Though he continues to enjoy the variety of small and large lyric roles he’s offered, Bloom said he hopes in the next decade to venture into heftier emotional terrain. One of his dream roles is King Philip in Verdi’s “Don Carlos.”
“He’s such a complex and profound character,” Bloom said. “There’s a lot of pathos involved, and the music is extraordinary. Although I’ve never played him, Don Giovanni is also a role where, depending on your stage of life, you have a different insight into the character. Those roles have multiple layers, to be explored over a lifetime.”
For more information and to purchase tickets, visit laopera.com.