Heavy metal tenor finds passion in opera

Adam Fisher Edmonton Opera GigCityOpera is doing a good job staying “hip” – that is, relevant to a younger generation who unanimously reject the “hipster” label that allegedly applies to anyone 35 or younger.

Heavy metal is hip, isn’t it? Opera has a lot in common with heavy metal: Drama, pageantry, passion. At some point the two genres meet in the middle. Like at the last Iron Maiden concert.

Adam Fisher knows this well. Starring as the amorous Alfred in Edmonton Opera’s production of Die Fledermaus, Feb. 1, 4 and 6 at the Jubilee Auditorium, he used to drum for a heavy metal band. Never sang a note. This was long before he discovered – to his surprise – that he had a killer tenor.

The band was called Stricken, a full-on rap-metal extravaganza, complete with costumes and a Cookie Monster vocalist and sinister songs and a name rendered in frighteningly unreadable lettering. Fisher describes it as “a blend of Rammstein, Rage Against the Machine and Tool.” He spent as much time making fine adjustments on the chain tension of his double-kick drums as he might do now rehearsing Johann Strauss arias. They were serious like opera is serious – even if this particular show is a romantic comedy where no one actually gets killed.

Fisher’s dormant gifts were awakened after Stricken broke up and he went to study percussion at music college in B.C. He did very well in ear training classes, and when he auditioned for the choir, singing Bohemian Rhapsody, it was clear to everyone that he was destined to be a singer – an opera singer.

“A lot of my passions have come to me by accident,” Fisher says. “That’s the best way to describe how I got into opera.”

Talent or not, the desire had to be there. The 32-year-old singer had to have found something in opera that he found in the music of his favourite band, Tool. And he did.

“There’s one specific moment in college,” he says. “It was in a music history class, just going through the gamut of influential composers, and we got to Mahler, and a particular piece called ‘Ich Bin der Welt Abhanden Gekommen’ sung by Dietrich Fischer- Dieskau. It was like nothing I’d ever heard before. It was the emotion, the sheer intensity of meaning behind the piece. The lyrics roughly translate to losing touch with the world, and buying into his art as a means to an end, and that’s where he finds his happiness, in his art. It’s always been a place for me to go.”

Fisher quickly felt the main similarity between the two musical passions in his life. He calls it “concentrated emotion.”

He says, “When it’s very much angry metal, you scream about it. You push all of your angst and all of whatever you’re feeling right to the front, and it’s right in your face. It’s very similar to opera. You love someone, you stand up there and sing about it for seven minutes.”

It didn’t take long for Fisher to make the switch. His first proper opera gig, in 2007 or so, was a school tour with the Vancouver Opera, performing short concerts in elementary schools across B.C., on the road for six months a year for three years, racking up about 180 shows all together.

“It was a good taste of training,” the singer says, and a little different than being on the road with a metal band. “Not as much alcohol. But the crowds are actually a lot more fickle. If kids don’t like you, they’ll let you know. At least you’re not worried about getting into a fight afterwards.”