Trevor Neal: A Storyteller on Stage Whose Baritone Will Blow You Away

5 min
Two masters of their respective crafts: KQED local Morning Edition host Brian Watt and Opera San Jose baritone Trevor Neal. (Brian Watt/KQED)

This week, KQED's local Morning Edition host Brian Watt set up shop in the Silicon Valley bureau in San Jose. He made sure to check out the best the region has to offer: ice hockey at the SAP Center, dirigible development at Moffett Field (a coming Bay Curious story from yours truly), and of course, baritone Trevor Neal of Opera San Jose.

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For prep work ahead of the interview, "I called my aunt who sings opera," Watt says of Fleur Paysour, a contralto who these days, works as a spokeswoman for the National Museum of African American History and Culture. "She definitely wanted me to ask [Neal] about performances he had to really work up to. And how he manages his voice on days when it isn't cooperating."

Neal said, "You can only do the best that you can do that day. And my mom always instilled in me, you have to believe in yourself first."

Paysour also asked Watt to ask Neal about what it's like to be a top flight African-American opera singer. Neal, as it happens, created a Facebook group, where black opera performers can let loose and discuss their experiences in a safe space. Current topics include role discrimination and the lack of people of color in administrative positions in the arts.

Watt says it was refreshing to talk to a master of his craft who is nonetheless extremely down to earth. "He's obviously a big singer, but he is a very regular fellow."

KQED's Rachael Myrow first discovered Trevor Neal when he performed Arias at the Office at Adobe Headquarters in San Jose, Calif. on Tuesday, Aug. 1, 2017.
KQED's Rachael Myrow first discovered Trevor Neal when he performed Arias at the Office at Adobe Headquarters in San Jose, Calif. on Tuesday, Aug. 1, 2017. (James Tensuan/KQED)

"Our job is to tell a story," said Neal. "It's important for us to show we're not this upper crust elite. We are accessible."

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As for that voice? Watt says the sensation of listening is something akin to "being in a wind tunnel."

Neal's contract with Opera San Jose as a member of the resident company is rolling to a close. His last role before leaving is the American consul Sharpless in Madama Butterly. "Of course, you have to come see the show!"

Madama Butterfly runs through April 13-28, 2019 at Opera San Jose. For more information, click here.

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