Tell us a bit about your self.
----Hello Blog. Let me introduce myself. My name is Michael Chioldi and I am an American baritone who is lucky to be performing the Andree Expedition with the fabulous new company, The Vermont Opera Project. I grew up in the farmland of rural Pennsylvania outside of Pittsburgh. I currently live in downtown Manhattan, NY where the building I reside most definitely has more people living in it than my hometown in PA did. I always loved to sing and perform and most people who knew when would've called me the class clown. I would constantly get into trouble for talking too much. I was precocious and loved to sing and act. I ended up going to college on scholarship for music at West Virginia University. I fell in love with opera and decided to pursue a professional career. I went Yale University for my masters, where I graduated with honors, and ended up at the Houston Grand Opera for a young artist development program. Along the way I interned with Santa Fe Opera and San Fransisco Opera's Merola Program. In 1995 I was the winner of several competitions including the Metropolitan Opera Competition and in 1996 I made my debut there with a cast that included Luciano Pavarotti and Maestro James Levine. I've been lucky enough to get to sing for a living my entire life and now I relish the moments I have on stage. I am 47 years old and have been singing professionally my entire adult life, my first role being at the Ohio Light Opera company when I was 19. Now I get to travel all over the world singing and sharing. He most unique place I've been to to perform has to be Muscat, Oman in the Middle East. It was an incredible experience singing the title role of Macbeth at the Royal Opera House there. One of my favorite countries to perform other than the US has to be Spain. I love the people, the culture and especially the food. I will get to sing Andrea Chenier there next February/March at the Gran Teatro de Liceu, in Barcelona. My other passions are watches (time pieces), fine wines and dining, and I have started an antique cocktail shaker collection from the 1920's and 30's. I got married last December in NYC and when I have time off, I enjoy cooking at home and stay-cations, since I travel so much for work.
What is it that excites you about The Andrée Expedition?
-----First I would have to say the incredible writing of the great composer Dominick Argento. He has a way of turning a phrase so delicately and beautifully yet with great complexity and poise. The music is tonal and heart wrenching all at the same time. Here are dissonant moment all throughout the composition yet it always has this underlying tonal beauty to it. It has a haunting effect for the listener and is precisely appropriate for the incredible story. Second for me is the story itself. Imagine the turn of the century and heading off to the North Pole in a balloon. Astonishing! There are three men in this story and I get to play all three of them in the piece. A sort of, tour de force for a baritone. It is challenging both as a singer and as an actor. As I have developed as a performer, I have been looking for more and more situation like these that are particularly challenging. It keeps me on my toes. Finally to quote the piece itself, I find the Andree Expedition: "Wonderful, indescribable!"
How did you get your start in opera?
------I always sang as a child and I had a paper route. I was delivering papers one day to a family whose father was a pastor and whose daughters all were fantastic singers. I was on the route delivering the papers and I heard them rehearsing inside. The song was, "His Eye is on the Sparrow:. I boldly marched in and said: "I know that song and can sing it too!" They said come on in Michael and sing. So I did. Their eyes lit up and they all just were astonished. Before I knew it I was singing in church and at peoples weddings around town. My love for music and performing started at a very young age. As I grew older I wasn't sure that I would continue singing but when I went to my first actual opera rehearsal, I thought to myself: "If I can do this for a living, I would be the happiest person ever." So here I am still singing for my supper.
Do you have any funny performance anecdotes?
---Recently I was asked to sing a role with New York City Opera. An opera I was not familiar with. It was a last minute request and I was at the time, in Palm Beach singing the title role of Rigoletto. I spoke to he General Director of the company, Michael Capasso, and he assured me it was a great role for me and said that I would be doing them a huge favor. So, I learned it and arrived a few days late for rehearsals because of my prior engagement in Palm Beach. Well, I get there and they inform me st I am playing a lizard. I said: "excuse me!?" Yes they said, you will be in full lizard regalia. I almost got angry but just threw my arms in the air and said oh well......here goes nothing. It turned out to be a huge success for me and I received over 20 rave reviews for my portrait of L'ondino the Lizard. See photo below!
On July 11, 1897, Andrée, Strindberg, and Fraenkel flew northward and disappeared from view never to be seen alive again. It can not be overstated how this expedition had caught the imagination of the nation of Sweden and the rest of the world. When they did not return, when there was no sign of them, it was unthinkable to everyone that it had failed.
Their bodies and the remains of their expedition were found in 1930 on White Island. Among the journals and letters were also photographs that showed their final months from beyond the grave.
Once on foot, the men pulled sledges and boats filled with up to 350 lbs of gear and provisions over the ice floes.
When winter began to set in, they realized that they needed a shelter. The built a house of ice and snow on an ice floe. Strindberg designed it and built it. Andrée christened it "home". Shortly after it was built, while the men were sleeping, the ice floe upon which it sat broke in half right at the wall where they slept. They were forced to evacuate to White Island. There they gathered supplies to build a new shelter. And there they mysteriously died. Strindberg died first as he was the only one who was buried. Shortly after that Andrée and Fraenkel died. One theory was that they were cooking in their tent and died of carbon monoxide poisoning. Andrée was found sitting upright over a cook stove that still had fuel in it. Fraenkel was lying down a few meters away.
No matter how they died, they were heroes when their bodies were finally returned to Sweden. Here is a photograph of their funeral 33 years after their deaths.
We have talked about the explorers who made The Andrée Expedition, and now we turn to the singer who will perform The Andrée Expedition- Baritone Michael Chioldi.
Michael has performed at nearly every major American opera house, including The Metropolitan Opera, San Francisco Opera, Houston Grand Opera, Washington National Opera and Los Angeles Opera. Signature roles include Scarpia in Tosca with Hawaii Opera Theater, Ft. Worth Opera, New York City Opera, and Spain's Opera de Oviedo; Jochanaan in Salome with Utah Opera, Virginia Opera, and the Saito Kinen Festival in Japan; the title role of Macbeth with Michigan Opera Theatre and Palm Beach Opera, Enrico in Lucia di Lammermoor with Washington National Opera, Utah Opera, and New Orleans Opera; and Sharpless in Madama Butterfly with Washington National Opera and in a nationwide broadcast on the PBS television series Live from Lincoln Center, which received an Emmy award in 2008.
So how did we get him to come sing for The Vermont Opera Project? It turns out that Michael has ties to Vermont. His family started the Chioldi Granite Corporation, which set up shop in downtown Barre at the Chioldi Brothers around 1907. Last winter, Michael was singing the role of Rigoletto for the Palm Beach Opera, where our Managing Director Jeff Bruckerhoff works as the Director of Production. Jeff and Michael have worked together several times before and have talked in the past about bringing opera to Vermont. We knew we needed a vibrant and compelling peformer to sing The Andrée Expedition and Michael was thrilled to help us in realizing our second season. Michael is known for his portrayal of Rigoletto, Scarpia in Tosca, and Sharpless in Madama Butterfly; however, we are lucky to have him sing The Andrée Expedition for the first time.
Don't miss this opportunity to hear him in this tour de force role! Buy your tickets today! Click here to purchase tickets.
Michael Chioldi singing "Te Deum" in Tosca for Opera Oviedo.
“Isn’t it all perhaps the expression of an extremely strong sense of individuality which cannot bear the thought of living and dying like a man of the ranks, forgotten by coming generations? Is this ambition?” - Solomon August Andrée
The Andrée Expedition was the brain child of Solomon Augustus Andrée, who swept away by the adventure and excitement of polar exploration was determined to find the North Pole and was certain that using a hot air balloon would be the way to get there. During the height of Arctic exploration, over 1000 men would attempt to reach the North Pole and of that over 700 died. Why did he think he would be successful? Or did he? There are hints in his writing and in the will he left behind that he grew to understand that the journey would fail. By then he had raised money from luminaries all over Sweden including the King himself, pride would not allow him to back out.
Andrée was 43 years old when the balloon The Eagle disappeared from the sky. He was born in Grenna, Sweden and was introduced to balloon travel while visiting the United States for the World’s Fair. He returned to Sweden where he studied air electricity with a group scientists, including Nils Eckholm, who would later loudly criticize his plans for the Arctic journey. He was unmarried and deeply devoted to his mother. Beyond his passion for balloons, he worked at the patent office until the expedition in 1897.
At 27, Nils Strindberg he was the youngest of the explorers. He was a respected young scientist and a passionate photographer. He was also newly in love and engaged to be married to Anna Charlier to whom he wrote love letters throughout the journey. We know that he was the first explorer to die in October 1897 because he was the only one who was buried. When the remains of the expedition were found in 1930, 5 rolls of undeveloped film were found and of that 85 photos were developed giving us a remarkable window in to the journey. His love letters and journals finally made their way home to Anna in 1930. For her part, Anna never fully recovered from his untimely death.
Knut Fraenkel was a last minute replacement for Nils Ekholm, who backed out of the expedition after a disastrous launch attempt in 1896 and went on to loudly discredit Andrée and his plans for the journey. Little was known of Fraenkel, who was 28 years old. He was not a scientist, but had worked on the railroads and was recruited presumably for his physical strength. He took measurements and plotted the stars, but he did not keep a journal as did Strindberg and Andrée. In Argento’s The Andrée Expedition, he is the a narrator bringing the story together.
Much has been made of Andrée's character and of how ill prepared his team was for the rigors of Arctic exploration. The men brought tuxedos to wear to meet dignitaries when they landed successfully in San Francisco, but they were physically unprepared for the rigors of travel over polar ice. It has been said that Andrée knew that the journey was doomed from the start and that he manipulated his younger compatriots into carrying on. No one will ever know for sure what happened or why they went. But as Fraekel sings at the end of The Andrée Expedition:
“It is clear to me now that Andrée knew from the start that our journey was doomed. And I think I understand what made him persevere to the end: in the years to come, when our frozen bodies have been found and returned to home to Sweden, the bright elusive glory he sought will be his after all.”
There are several fascinating books on The Andrée Expedition.
You can also visit the Wikipedia page for a quick but thorough overview.