ArtsBeat

Baritone Gunn brings his ‘Hunkitone’ to Sun Valley Opera

The opera world’s Nathan Gunn will perform “Broadway Under the Stars” with Tony winner Kelli O’Hara and the American Festival Opera at the Sun Valley Pavilion on Friday, Sept. 2. Gunn and his wife, pianist Julie Jordon Gunn, run the opera program at the University of Illinois Music School in Urbana-Champaign.
The opera world’s Nathan Gunn will perform “Broadway Under the Stars” with Tony winner Kelli O’Hara and the American Festival Opera at the Sun Valley Pavilion on Friday, Sept. 2. Gunn and his wife, pianist Julie Jordon Gunn, run the opera program at the University of Illinois Music School in Urbana-Champaign.

Nathan Gunn, one of today’s top operatic baritones, will perform “Broadway Under the Stars” with Tony-winning superstar soprano Kelli O’Hara at the Sun Valley Pavilion as a Sun Valley Opera benefit.

It’s a show the singers have been wanting to do since they did the New York Philharmonic’s “Carousel” in 2013. You’ll hear Broadway show-stoppers, love songs and powerful ballads that will highlight what these two do best — give voice to some of the greatest American composers, such as Rodgers and Hammerstein, Gershwin and Berlin — accompanied by Utah’s American Festival Orchestra.

Gunn is smokin’ hot right now. He’s Broadway’s go-to operatic baritone and he’s a favorite of contemporary American composers. And though he has been on some of the world’s largest stages, including the Metropolitan, Royal and the Paris operas, he prefers a more intimate setting. He’s currently planning to produce several intimate cabaret-like shows, such as a Vaudeville-inspired “Dry Town,” with his wife, pianist Julie Jordan, a semi-autobiographical one-man show, and another with noted dancer and Thai chi master Chungliang Al Huang.

He also performs a show with Tony and-Emmy-award winning tenor and actor Mandy Patinkin, and now this show with O’Hara.

Gunn isn’t your typical big-and-hearty-voiced baritone that you might expect from an opera guy.

He performs with an understated naturalism that resonates with opera and theater audiences alike. His voice is warm and inviting, the casually rich baritone that Rodgers and Hammerstein celebrated.

“It is the everyman’s voice,” Gunn says. “You just have to sing high notes, which I can, so American musical theater is completely in my wheelhouse It was like it was written for me.”

Gunn came on the national opera scene in the 1990s and early 2000s. A natural athlete, Gunn grew up in South Bend, Ind., where he discovered martial arts, a passion he continues today. By high school, he was headed to the U.S. Air Force Academy when his mom suggested that he take some voice lessons. Maybe he could sing at weddings and earn extra money. His vocal coach asked him to perform at a workshop and gave him a recording of Mozart’s “The Magic Flute” to study.

“I heard the overture and thought, holy smoke this is so beautiful,” he says. “I decided to learn about the music. Next thing I knew, I was auditioning at all these music schools and got into all of them.”

He went to University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign on a scholarship, but dropped out of the structured voice program to pursue his own course of study of a more intuitive approach to singing. He won the Met’s national competition in 1994 and received the first Beverly Sills Artist Award in 2006.

He’s honed his reputation by focusing on a range of roles in new and traditional operas, many of which accentuated his athleticism and good looks, something a little rare in the operatic world. Many of his most high profile roles featured him bare-chested, earning him a spot on People Magazine’s “Sexist Man Alive” list in 2007. Critics and fans coined the term “Barihunk” for him, although he prefers “Hunkitone.” Fortunately, that attention hasn’t overshadowed his vocal abilities.

Find out what five shirtless roles Gunn likes best.

Kelli O’Hara and Nathan Gunn Salute Broadway Under the Stars

7:30 p.m. Friday, Sept. 2, Sun Valley Pavilion, 300 Dollar Road. $75-$250. sunvalley.ticketfly.com.

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