BY JANET MANDELSTAM
As a teenager, Peter Volpe lived 18 miles from Juilliard, but as an aspiring opera singer, he chose to attend the Indiana University School of Music. The choice was simple. “It is the best music school in the world,” Volpe says.
Now, after a 35-year professional career, including 13 seasons singing bass roles at the Metropolitan Opera, Volpe has returned to IU as an associate professor of music in voice at the Jacobs School of Music.
“I’m thrilled,” he says, “and looking forward to imparting everything I’ve learned.” He is offering individual voice lessons and conducting master classes. He will continue to perform, as well, including an appearance at the Washington National Opera next spring in one of his signature roles: King Philip in Verdi’s Don Carlo.
Growing up in an Italian family in New York City, Volpe says, “Music was a big part of our life.” He sang in church and school choirs and appeared with a local opera company while still in high school. He came to Bloomington at 18 to audition, was immediately accepted, and appeared in many IU Opera Theater productions while a student.
Nicola Rossi-Lemeni, a renowned Italian bass, arrived at the same time and became Volpe’s teacher and mentor. “He was an idol of mine,” Volpe says. “He was coming here to teach, and I was coming here to study. He launched me, and I’m hoping to do the same for others.”
Although he frequently gave voice lessons and master classes while performing, the role of professor is a lifestyle change for the 56-year-old Volpe. “I was away from home 10 1/2 months a year and spent 35 years in hotel rooms,” he says. “It’s nice not to have to go anywhere for a while.”
In those 35 years, he sang more than 90 roles in six languages with a repertoire that ranged from Mozart and Rossini to Wagner and Britten. He may have performed the title role in Mozart’s Don Giovanni some 300 times, but it was the bass roles in Verdi operas that Volpe says “fit me like a glove.” He performed in opera houses throughout the U.S. and abroad, and appeared with many of the world’s leading conductors, including James Levine and Valery Gergiev.
And just last month he was singing again at IU Opera Theater—in the role of the Commendatore in Don Giovanni—but this time as a professor.