Bob Scrofani discusses Iolanthe

OperaMetro interviews Bob Scrofani.

Bob Scrofani is an opera singer who has graced our local stages for many years. As is customary on the pages, this interview has been reconstructed from a recent email Q & A.

OperaMetro (OM): Thank you for taking the time to answer my questions.

Bob Scrofani (BS): You’re most welcome. A pleasure.

OM: You’re appearing in, I think, your third Troupers production: Victor Herbert’s The Red Mill, and Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Pirates of Penzance, and this season Iolanthe. How are you getting on with these kinds of shows, given that you’ve had years and years of experience in more formal opera?

BS: Well, being involved with Troupers has certainly given me more opportunities to shine as a soloist. I enjoy making the audience laugh with the witty dialog. I’m a big ham. Of course the vocal technique needed is a bit lighter than with grand opera and I have to be careful not to get too comfortable with that. Consequently I’m pretty picky as to which G&S roles I will sing. I avoid the really non-operatic roles in that they rely too much on the spoken dialog. So, yes, G&S appeals to me almost, but not quite, as much as opera. I’m happy to be performing though. I’ve been studying a long time, and I am more than ready to share with everyone what I can do.

OM: Briefly, what was your musical path from back then to now?

BS: Oh my, well, I never went to music school and believe it or not I didn’t start singing until I was in my 30s. But I was always musical, since as long ago as I can remember. As a toddler, I had a toy piano and was plunking out melodies by ear; at age 7, I started piano lessons. I’ll tell you that the piano is a great background for any musician. You learn to read music really well, which makes everything else a lot easier. Then grammar school, the band, I learned the clarinet, eventually switched to oboe. I was the first oboist in the Norwalk Youth Symphony and the University of Connecticut Orchestra.

But there I majored in accounting, eventually stepping over into computer programming and a career in IT. I decided against a career in music. Though I found it then and still today a great way to have fun, it seemed a lousy way to earn a living.

OM: When did the door into the world of opera open for you?

BS: Oh, opera was always in the background too: when I was 12 someone gave me a Beverly Sills album as a present. Her technical skills and the beauty of her voice just blew me away. I started to edge closer to opera performance. My favorite thing was to accompany singers. I envied their art. Somewhere I knew I had the musical chops, but I didn’t really like my voice. I just assumed that I couldn’t sing.

OM: But something switched.

BS: Yes. One of my colleagues, Jennifer Trimboli, always insisted that I would make a good singer, but I didn’t believe her. She was a soprano who worked in my office to make ends meet. But outside of work, we began doing gigs together. I would accompany her. She more or less tricked me into singing by offering to give me a few free lessons, saying it would make me a better accompanist. I took the bait, fell in love with singing, began to enjoy my voice, and have been singing ever since. I stayed with Jennifer for a while, then I studied with Wanda Brister for a few years. I started off singing tenor, because of my high speaking voice, but Wanda discovered that the bass range was where my real power is. When Wanda left the area to teach at the university level, she told me to continue my studies with the renowned Metropolitan Opera bass John Macurdy, who lives in Stamford. I have been with him for a long time now, and he has helped me become the singer I am today. A wonderful man, he really is my hero.

OM: I first got to know you from the Connecticut Grand Opera and Orchestra in Stamford.
BS: Yes, I started out in the chorus. My very first solo role was Antonio, the gardener in Mozart’s Le Nozze di Figaro. I was nervous during the first rehearsals with all the “real” opera singers, but everyone was so nice that I quickly felt right at home with the others. After the first performance I said to myself, “OK, I am now officially an opera singer.” My next role was the High Commissioner in Butterfly. It’s a very small part, but I was happy to do a second role with the same opera company. It was a vote of confidence that I appreciated.

OM: It seemed like every time we’ve chatted over the years you were off doing this or that. You’re always busy.

BS: Yes, I keep busy. I still do choruses in local productions for the sheer pleasure of singing on stage and being involved in the arts locally. Another good thing that has come out of my association with Troupers is that Dan Montez, who is directing Iolanthe, is also the head of Taconic Opera. Last summer he asked me to sing the role of Pistola in Verdi’s Falstaff. Believe me, it was a ton of work! Demanding, but very richly rewarding. Then this March, Dan called me again because he had just lost his Dr. Grenvil and Marquis for his Taconic production of Verdi’s La Traviata. I was honored that he trusted me to learn the music for both roles in just two weeks and do them successfully. The performance was well received.

OM: Do you have any dream roles, roles that you get a great deal of pleasure singing?

BS: For starters, I would love to have a big booming voice like John Macurdy, but my voice is what it is, and I am glad to have it. It makes me very happy to sing. But I have a few roles that I think I could sing well enough to bring down a small house. I very much love bass solo in Verdi’s Manzoni Requiem – I do this in my lessons. It feels so great to sing this music. The Comendatore in Mozart’s Don Giovanni is huge; Sparafucile or Monterrone in Verdi’s Rigoletto, I’ve done these in informal sessions. Count Almaviva in Mozart’s Le Nozze di Figaro, Oroveso in Bellini’s Norma, and also Mephistopheles from Gounod's Faust.

OM: Busy guy. What do you do for fun outside of music?

BS: I am an avid flower gardener. Each year my garden gets just a little bit bigger. Someday, there won’t be any lawn left! But I’ve also been doing international folk dancing since the early ‘70s and when I’m not studying music (which, actually, is very seldom), I enjoy needlepoint and counted cross-stitch. Soothing.

OM: Thank you, Bob. We look forward to your Private Willis in Iolanthe next week!

BS: My pleasure.

Enjoy Iolanthe: Bob's character tidies up the denoument in Act II.