BRATTLEBORO -- For Tyler Latulippe-Haselton, who just graduated from Brattleboro Union High School, singing in the chorus of "Tosca" at the Latchis Theater was a privilege. In a recent interview, he talked about the opportunity, which came to him through his voice teacher.
"My vocal instructor is Jim Anderson," he said. "Jim lived in Germany for many years, and was a big deal as an opera singer, and I take voice lessons from him. He told me about this opera taking place. He was one of Scarpia's henchmen."
Latulippe-Haselton remembered how nervous he was when he auditioned with Jenna Rae, who played Floria Tosca, and Hugh Keelan, who directed the opera.
Keelan accompanied him as he sang.
"I sang 'Giants in the Sky' from 'into the Woods,'" Latulippe-Haselton said. "He tested my vocal range. I've never sung higher than when he was testing my range. I remember him saying, 'You know you're singing right when you turn purple.'"
"The operatic style is very hard, and it takes a lot of training," he went on. "Opera singers make their voice as big and rich and full as they can. I got to listen to this for free every night. When I hear singing like that, of such high caliber, especially in a town like Brattleboro where the arts are very well-known and supported and impressive -- this was above and beyond. It was a full orchestra, professional performers, a full chorus, and it was set in a large theater."
"It was a semi-staged production," he explained. "The orchestra was onstage and the principals were onstage. There was not a lot of set and not a ton of movement, but what was really cool about this production was that it was in the Latchis, so they had some of the action in the aisles - not a lot of it, but it was to put the audience inside the opera, almost. We even had them sing the "Te Deum" at the end of Act 1, a prayer in a giant cathedral. It was active participation, and we had a screen with a lot of students' art, and there was a translation of parts of the play -- not all of it, but enough so the audience could follow along."
He said the production was even more impressive than some audience-members realized.
"Someone commented that they loved the piece but it was a shame that the principals were miked -- and they weren't miked!" he said. "Opera singers sing over the orchestra and are never miked. The principals were flattered and found it funny; it meant they were doing their job."
Latulippe-Haselton has been taking voice lessons off and on since he was about 11, first at the Brattleboro Music Center; about two years ago he began working with Anderson, thanks to a grant from the Brattleboro and Art Center.
"My friend and mentor Peter Gould submitted an application for me," he recalled. Members of the Museum board and the community come to a dinner and look at information about the applicants. I was very grateful that I got the grant that I did.
"Jim works with a person on their individual style," he said. "I've just started learning the Matador's Song from Carmen. He tells me every time to sing for myself and sing beautifully, because if you feel good about your singing, that's what matters. He says, 'You can only count on the fingers of one hand the times in your life when you will feel like you sang perfectly' -- and this is from a man who has sung over 130 roles in over 1,000 performances and shows, so it was astounding to me. I never feel perfect when I sing."
"Once you learn your voice and how to use your voice, you learn where to place notes. You know the feeling of your voice, and that's really cool," he commented.
"As an 18-year-old, I've gained five notes," he continued. "My overall goal is to be able to sing higher. I'm what's called a baritone. I can sing bass and higher than bass. Now I can't sing tenor but I'm getting there. It just takes time and learning."
He already has a lot of experience in theater. This summer he has the lead -- Horton the Elephant -- in the New England Youth Theatre's production of "Seussical," based on the stories of Dr. Seuss, and he was the assistant director for the Shakespeare in the Park production of "As You Like it" that ran last week on the Brattleboro Common.
He is enrolling in the Keene Beauty Academy.
"That's a two-year program," he said. "The plan is that with that I can put myself through music school.
"There is something so different about singing," he commented. "I come from a pretty rough background. I'm normally anxious about life in general. When I sing nothing can make me feel bad. It's like this wall around me that protects me, because I'm doing something good."
Maggie Cassidy teaches French at Brattleboro Union High School.