David Pittsinger grew up near the water in Connecticut, and still resides there, so it's entirely pertinent to say that when he makes his entrance onto the Beaumont stage tomorrow night, to sing Emile de Becque, there will be a lot of associations swimming in his wake.
To begin with, there is Pittsinger's bond with Paulo Szot, who is taking a break from Emile until January 25 , in part to do The Merry Widow at Opera Marseille. Pittsinger and Szot got to know each other in 2004, when they didLe Nozze di Figaro together at New York City Opera. "We became great friends," Pittsinger said the other day, after a rehearsal. "We had so much fun that we wanted to switch roles -- I was doing Figaro and he was doing the Count. That never panned out. With South Pacific, I feel like we're working together again in a way."
Then there is Pittsinger's relationship to the Beaumont. "I've never performed here," he said, before going on to mention the backstages he has gotten to know intimately since completing his master's in vocal performance at Yale two decades ago: opera houses in Paris and Brussels and Buenos Aires, and, especially during the past decade, at the Met and at City Opera, where he is a house favorite. "But when I came to see South Pacific earlier this year, with my wife, Patricia Schuman, she turned to me and said, 'You know, I've sung in this theater before.' She had performed the title role in Peter Brook's La Tragedie de Carmen, at the Beaumont in the eighties."
For Pittsinger, there are other familial associations with Emile. "I have a boy and a girl, around the same age as Ngana and Jerome. Mine are twins, age nine."
And then there is the Gallic connection. "I'm not French like Emile," Pittsinger said. "But I've done a lot of the French romantic repertory in opera -- Offenbach, Massenet. It would be easier for me to speak Emile's dialogue in French than the way it's written: in English with a French accent."
When he makes his Beaumont entrance, will the legacy of Ezio Pinza, the role's originator in 1949, also be among the crowd of associations in Pittsinger's wake? "He's the gold standard, so in a way, yes. He was a great Don Giovanni, and there's a sense in which Emile is a continuation of Don Giovanni -- Emile has probably cut quite a swath through the island's Polynesian women. Mostly, what Ezio Pinza reminds us is that for me or Paulo doing Emile isn't really crossing over from opera to Broadway. The part of Emile was stamped forever by an opera singer when Pinza stepped onto the stage for the first time almost sixty years ago."
Whatever Emile's opera/Broadway connection, isn't Pittsinger a little daunted by the thought of doing eight performances a week? "I once sang 21Don Giovannis in 28 days," he answered. "So I've been in demanding situations before. It's when you get a little tired, a little raw, that people can see what you're really feeling up on stage. That's exciting."
BRENDAN LEMON is the American theater critic for the Financial Timesand the editor of lemonwade.com