Five Burning Questions with The Phantom of the Opera's Piangi, Christian Šebek
January 27th, 2016
by Josh Ferri
For nearly five years and over a 1,000 performances, opera singer Christian Šebek has brought joy to Broadway audiences as Piangi, Opera Populaire's overblown male tenor, in the iconic musical The Phantom of the Opera. BroadwayBox caught up with Sebek to chat about the challenge of Broadway, the world of opera (particularly Puccini), and the incredible experience of performing Phantom 25.
1. After years at Phantom, how do you keep Piangi fresh? What do you do for yourself to maintain such a long run?
The best part of singing the role of Piangi is that he's a lovable, comedic character who isn't weighed down by the darkness of The Phantom's story. This allowed me to keep the character fresh and fun. Vocally, Piangi is an opera singer’s challenge...eight shows a week. I embraced this challenge as study of my technique. I've learned so much about the voice from Piangi and Phantom sometimes going 6-8 weeks without a break. Each day, each show was a chance to find my voice both as a singer and an actor. No matter the circumstance, the challenge of the role demanded that I always dig deep to find my very best.
2. What’s your favorite memory from Phantom’s 25th anniversary gala performance? What was it like for the company to have Hal Prince and the creatives in the house?
The 25th anniversary was such a blur. There’s the build-up and then one show and it’s gone. The crowd response to my elephant climb was electric—I knew then the show was going to be exciting. It brought the entire cast and performance to another level. The honor to perform for the creators of this historic show was almost overwhelming. Hal Prince, Cameron Mackintosh and Gillian Lynne and Phantom alumni all watching adds a lot of pressure. Gillian is exquisite. Her direct and lovable honesty always made you want to bring your game to another level. Hal Prince is the most amazing director for which I've ever performed. His eye caught nuances, and the subsequent notes, no matter how subtle, always hit the bullseye. Cameron is great! He keeps Phantom at the level that makes it the most enduring Broadway musical of all time. Andrew Lloyd Webber was unfortunately unable to attend the 25th. He appeared via a special video feed. I had the chance to chat with him on a later visit and he was delightful. It's rare that an opera singer meets the composer. Even after 25 years, Andrew was enthused and engaged in his show, making changes to the orchestra and balance. It was such a an opportunity to be involved in that process.
3. If a musical theatre fan wanted to dip their toe into opera, what would you suggest should be the first performance or number they should look up?
Wow, what a question. That's always a hard one. A Puccini opera would be my first choice. My last role as a baritone was the villainous Baron Scarpia, and my first role as a tenor was the romantic lead, Cavaradossi. Both roles are in my favorite opera: Puccini's Tosa. It has everything. Romance, intrigue, lecherousness with a ridiculously beautifully orchestral and vocal score that stirs emotions and fulfills the old saying, “It ain't over 'til the fat lady sings” (maybe not so fat any more)... but ends with a defiant high note as she jumps to her death.
4. What are you passionate about outside of music and performing?
Being a father of two amazing teenagers and husband to equally amazing wife of 20 years, family has always been my passion. In addition, I have an unusual family history as the only American son of Dutch, Indonesian immigrants. I never met my grandparents or most of my uncles and aunts. Discovering my genealogy and family history has become a passion as of late. The story of their global journey fascinates me.
5. What opera piece do you consider your signature song?
I first auditioned for Phantom with what I called the "Italian National Anthem," otherwise known as “Nessun Dorma” from Puccini's Turandot. Although it's sung by many tenors, I like to think I do it just a bit better. :)
See Christian Šebek in The Phantom of the Opera at Broadway's Majestic Theatre.