• A man smiling

      Todd Wilander

      This Spring, the Santa Monica based Verdi Chorus will have Arcadia native Todd Wilander as their guest tenor soloist, as he flies in direct from the stage of the Royal Opera, and before he jets off to the Metropolitan Opera for “Un Ballo In Maschera.” Did you know that, each December, Todd also finds the time to work on the Rose Parade floats?

      By Toti O’Brien

      We have been fortunate to learn all about it, together with unique insights on singing and life, from his very voice.

      Toti O’Brien:

      Can you tell us about your beginnings? What did spark your interest in music? Was anyone in your family a music lover?

      Todd Wilander:

      I began singing in the adult choir of the Arcadia Presbyterian Church when I was in 6th grade, together with my mother and grandmother. I found out that I was good and loud, and had much success by sharing my voice. Some of the tenors in the choir teased me and encouraged me. They also explained about breath and support, and I found those concepts fascinating.

      When did Opera come into the picture?

      Not until my college years. Up to then I had sung choral music. I had also been part of the show choir at Arcadia high school, and involved in musicals and community shows, which I loved. My voice teacher in undergraduate school, Pollyanne Baxter, introduced me to Opera for the first time, suggesting that my voice would fit that repertoire. Once I started listening to arias and attending performances, I realized the beauty of the stories and the incredible music that accompanies each.

      Your career is splendidly versatile. You have sung a variety of main roles in the most different styles. Do you have a preference for a particular era or composer?

      My voice has changed as I have aged, and my repertoire has shifted accordingly.  There is a natural progression. If one follows it, a longer career is more likely. The early repertoire of “light” Mozart, Operetta and Handel has been replaced by Verdi, Puccini, Dvorak and even Wagner. I find these composers interesting to sing, as they allow expression and stretching of musical lines more than others do. They wrote many of the tunes people love (most have heard them on their grandparents’ records); therefore, the audience easily connects with their music. When experienced live, the beauty and soaring melodies of the “bel canto” and “verismo” masterpieces can really transport both listeners and performers.

      Do you have a favorite role?

      Each one has its challenges. At this stage of my career, I frequently repeat roles I have already sung, which has its own challenges. In these cases, I treat them as new and carefully re-sing into the voice, as old habits can creep in. I also find that my personal and emotional experiences, over time, add layers to the characters and stories I bring on stage. I especially enjoy portraying “real” characters (rather than fictional dukes, kings, forlorn lovers), because I can do research, learn about their life and their journey. A few examples are Roberto Devereux, Friar Massee (St Francis’ assistant), and Roberto Leicester in “Maria Stuarda.”

      In spite of today’s variety of entertainments, Opera still attracts lots of aficionados. Why, in your opinion?

      Opera is a very expensive art form, as it combines huge choruses, large orchestras, loud soloists, often a ballet and usually elaborate sets. These are things that other art forms rarely provide. Though it is often performed in a language the audience might not speak, sub-titles help the attendee with the dialogues, and the music itself tells the story. Therefore, it is accessible. More importantly, live Opera can carry the listeners to a place that is very different from the one they were in before entering the theater—a place they didn’t know they would enjoy, appreciate, sometimes even recall. The stories and the music may evoke heartaches, sorrow, loss… but happiness as well.

      Opera singers of your caliber necessarily become citizens of the world. Did your travels change you?

      I have had the chance to live and perform all over the world since I moved to Berlin, in 2001. My extended travels have changed my perspective on life, international relations and the human consciousness, besides modifying my internal perspective and fostering personal growth. I try to stay in a location, if possible, weeks or months rather than just days. Recently I spent three months in London, a month in Hong Kong, a week in Florida, a few months between Toronto and New York. This way, I really get to know the city—where the laundry is done, where the locals dine—and I slowly become a global citizen. On the other hand, my travels have nurtured my appreciation for the place where I grew up and the opportunities I have had. I regularly get back to So Cal to see family and friends.

       – Can you tell us about the Rose Parade floats? Are you involved in their construction? Their decoration?  Will we see a Todd Wilander’s–made float next January?

      My parents and I started volunteering in the 1987 parade, and within a few years Dad and I were hired assistants, then crew chiefs of a specific float. It is a huge undertaking, as one supervisor interacts with hundreds of volunteers, coordinating what needs to be done each day within a tight schedule. This past January was my 31st parade, and now I work as the floral supervisor for Artistic Entertainment Services, which decorates ten floats. I have two wonderful colleagues. Together, we order and inventory flowers. We make sure that the florists have what they need, and things are done on time. My involvement mainly entails the last weeks of December, though the company designs and builds year round. A Todd Willander float will never happen, as they average 300 K in overhead… If it did, it would have something to do with singing and environmental awareness!

      a group of singers sitting and standing for a photo

      Verdi Chorus (Photo – verdichorus.org)

      flyer for an opera

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