Eric Owens

Bass-Baritone

Biography

Bass-baritone Eric Owens has a unique reputation as an esteemed interpreter of classic works and a champion of new music. Equally at home in orchestral, recital, and operatic repertoire, Mr. Owens brings his powerful poise, expansive voice, and instinctive acting faculties to stages around the world.

In the 2019-2020 season, Mr. Owens will open the Metropolitan Opera 2019-20 season, starring as Porgy in James Robinson’s production of Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess. He returns to Lyric Opera of Chicago as Wotan in Sir David Poutney’s production of Wagner’s complete Ring Cycle conducted by Sir Andrew Davis. He also makes his role debut as King Marke in Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde at Santa Fe Opera conducted by James Gaffigan. Concert appearances include Brahms’s Requiem at Palau de la Musica conducted by James Gaffigan, Jochanaan in Strauss’s Salome with the Malmö Symfoniorkester conducted by Robert Trevino. He will also go on a recital tour performing Schubert’s Winterreise with Jeremy Denk.

In the 2018-2019 season, Mr. Owens returned to Lyric Opera of Chicago making his role debut as the Wanderer in David Poutney’s new production of Wagner’s Siegfried. He also starred as Porgy in James Robinson’s new production of Porgy and Bess at the Dutch National Opera and made his role debut as Hagen in Götterdämmerung at the Metropolitan Opera conducted by Philippe Jordan. Concert appearances included the world premiere of David Lang’s prisoner of the state at the New York Philharmonic conducted by Jaap van Zweden, the King in Aïda at the Chicago Symphony Orchestra conducted by Riccardo Muti, Verdi’s Requiem with the Minnesota Orchestra, and Mozart’s Requiem with Music of the Baroque. Mr. Owens also embarked on a multi -city recital tour with tenor Lawrence Brownlee.

Mr. Owens launched the 2017-2018 season with his role debut as Wotan in David Pountney’s new production of Wagner’s Die Walküre. He also sang Filippo II in Verdi’s Don Carlo at Washington National Opera, Don Basilio in Rossini’s Il Barbiere di Siviglia at Houston Grand Opera, and the Forester in Janáček’s The Cunning Little Vixen at the Glimmerglass Festival, where he served as Artist in Residence and Artistic Advisor. Concert appearances included Rossini’s Stabat Mater with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra conducted by Riccardo Muti, Verdi’s Requiem with both the National Symphony Orchestra led by Gianandrea Noseda and the Nashville Symphony Orchestra, and Mendelssohn’s Elijah with Music of the Baroque.

Mr. Owens has created an uncommon niche for himself in the ever-growing body of contemporary opera works through his determined tackling of new and challenging roles. He received great critical acclaim for portraying the title role in the world premiere of Elliot Goldenthal’s Grendel with the Los Angeles Opera, and again at the Lincoln Center Festival, in a production directed and designed by Julie Taymor. Mr. Owens also enjoys a close association with John Adams, for whom he performed the role of General Leslie Groves in the world premiere of Doctor Atomic at the San Francisco Opera, and of the Storyteller in the world premiere of A Flowering Tree at Peter Sellars’s New Crowned Hope Festival in Vienna and later with the Los Angeles Philharmonic. Doctor Atomic was later recorded and received the 2012 Grammy for Best Opera Recording. Mr. Owens made his Boston Symphony Orchestra debut under the baton of David Robertson in Adam’s El Niño.

Mr. Owens’s career operatic highlights include Alberich in the Metropolitan Opera’s Ring cycle directed by Robert Lepage; Orest in Patrice Chereau’s production of Elektra conducted by Esa-Pekka Salonen at the Met; Water Spirit in Rusulka conducted by Sir Mark Elder at the Met; Voice of Neptune in Idomeneo conducted by James Levine at the Met; Jaufre Rudel in Robert Lepage’s production of L’Amour de Loin conducted by Susanna Malkki at the Met; the title role of Der Fliegende Höllander and Stephen Kumalo in Weill’s Lost in the Stairs at Washington National Opera; his San Francisco Opera debut in Otello conducted by Donald Runnicles; his Royal Opera, Covent Garden, debut in Norma; Vodnik in Rusalka and Porgy in Porgy and Bess at Lyric Opera of Chicago; the title role in Handel’s Hercules with the Canadian Opera Company; Aida at Houston Grand Opera; Rigoletto, Il Trovatore, and La Bohème at Los Angeles Opera; Die Zauberflöte for his Paris Opera (Bastille) debut; the title role of Macbeth at the Glimmerglass Festival; and Ariodante and L’Incoronazione di Poppea at the English National Opera. He sang Collatinus in a highly-acclaimed Christopher Alden production of Britten’s The Rape of Lucretia at Glimmerglass Opera. A former member of the Houston Grand Opera Studio, Mr. Owens has sung Sarastro, Mephistopheles in Faust, Frère Laurent, and Aristotle Onassis in the world premiere of Jackie O (available on the Argo label) with that company. He is featured on the Nonesuch Records release of A Flowering Tree. Mr. Owens is an avid concert singer, who collaborates closely with conductors such as Alan Gilbert, Riccardo Muti, Esa-Pekka Salonen, Sir Simon Rattle, Donald Runnicles, and Franz Welser-Möst.

He has been recognized with multiple honors, including the Musical America’s 2017 “Vocalist of the Year” award, 2003 Marian Anderson Award, a 1999 ARIA award, second prize in the Plácido Domingo Operalia Competition, the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions, and the Luciano Pavarotti International Voice Competition. In 2017, the Glimmerglass Festival appointed him as its Artistic Advisor.

A native of Philadelphia, Mr. Owens began his musical training as a pianist at the age of six, followed by formal oboe study at age eleven under Lloyd Shorter of the Delaware Symphony and Louis Rosenblatt of the Philadelphia Orchestra. He studied voice while an undergraduate at Temple University, and then as a graduate student at the Curtis Institute of Music. He currently studies with Armen Boyajian. He serves on the Board of Trustees of both the National Foundation for Advancement in the Arts and Astral Artistic Services. Starting in 2019, Mr. Owens becomes the co-chair of the Curtis Institute’s opera department.

Reviews

“Owens’ idiomatic use of the text went beyond the typical big-operatic moment, turning the scene into a startlingly intimate outpouring of a being who has been all-powerful until this very moment, when he must exile his favorite daughter. The sense of resignation was monumental in singing that was disarmingly quiet but audible, thanks to his rhetorical conviction – though conductor Smith didn’t always hold back the orchestra.”

David Patrick Stearns

The Philadelphia Inquirer

“The towering bass-baritone Eric Owens … was magnificent in “Lost in the Stars.” Mr. Owens triumphed in the lead role of Stephen Kumalo. [His] complete identification with Kumalo comes through in every moment of his searing portrayal. … Mr. Owens’ delivery of the spoken lines, touched with a South African accent, was nuanced and powerful … It was unbearably moving.”

Anthony Tommasini

The New York Times

More Reviews

“Owens’ idiomatic use of the text went beyond the typical big-operatic moment, turning the scene into a startlingly intimate outpouring of a being who has been all-powerful until this very moment, when he must exile his favorite daughter. The sense of resignation was monumental in singing that was disarmingly quiet but audible, thanks to his rhetorical conviction – though conductor Smith didn’t always hold back the orchestra.”

David Patrick Stearns, The Philadelphia Inquirer

“The towering bass-baritone Eric Owens … was magnificent in “Lost in the Stars.” Mr. Owens triumphed in the lead role of Stephen Kumalo. [His] complete identification with Kumalo comes through in every moment of his searing portrayal. … Mr. Owens’ delivery of the spoken lines, touched with a South African accent, was nuanced and powerful … It was unbearably moving.”

Anthony Tommasini, The New York Times

“Based on Alan Paton’s anti-apartheid novel “Cry, the Beloved Country,” this hybrid of opera and music theater is ideally served by Tazewell Thompson’s sensitive, understated production; the splendid Glimmerglass chorus, made up of the company’s apprentice artists; and especially the towering, heartfelt performance of Eric Owens, this summer’s artist-in-residence. … His huge, lyrical bass-baritone expresses the boundless optimism of “Thousands of Miles” and the raw pain of the title song; his body, hunched in shame before the father of the man his son has killed, is equally eloquent. He makes Maxwell Anderson’s text seem dignified and formal, not stilted. “

Heidi Waleson, The Wall Street Journal

“Mr. Owens quickly established his ability to wrap his deep voice around a text and create a distinct sense of character. You had to admire not only the nuanced tone he brought to Wolf’s ‘Three Poems by Michelangelo’ but the thoughtful mingling currents of reverence and passion as well. Otherworldly qualities of a darker sort informed Schumann’s ‘Muttertraum’ and ‘Der Schatzgräber,’ and in Schubert’s ‘Prometheus’ Mr. Owens maintained a perfect balance of dignity and rage. Other complexities, both emotional and technical, illuminated his readings of the French songs. In Debussy’s ‘Beau Soir’ and ‘L’Âme Évaporée’ he wove a strand of resignation through the music’s ravishing surface textures. His French set also included an elegant, supple account of Henri Duparc’s ‘Invitation au Voyage’ and a courtly (if virtually parody free) interpretation of Ravel’s ‘Don Quichotte à Dulcinée.’ “

Allan Kozinn, The New York Times

“American bass-baritone Eric Owens speaks to you even in his silences…. and shakes you when he sings.”

Andrew Patner, Chicago Sun Times

“Eric Owens (Alberich) sang with mastery that would be at home in any Wagnerian golden age. “

David Patrick Stearns, Philadelphia Inquirer

“The chief glory of this production is Eric Owens’s performance as Alberich.”

Alex Ross, The New Yorker

“Eric Owens, now one of the greatest bass-baritones in the world, was sublime as crazy Alberich.”

Manuela Hoelterhoff, Bloomberg News

“Owens, an American marvel, has been hitting on all cylinders lately with triumphs around the world in the Sellars-John Adams ‘Doctor Atomic’ (as Gen. Leslie Groves) and as a show-stealing Alberich in the Metropolitan Opera’s new ‘Das Rheingold.'(Chicago Symphony Orchestra music director Riccardo Muti handpicked the Philadelphia native to sing Lodovico in Verdi’s ‘Otello’ next month in Chicago and at Carnegie Hall.) He triumphed with intense and telling morning-time offerings of Hugo Wolf’s Michelangelo songs and Schumann’s towering ‘Dichterliebe’ at the Mayne Stage event, which marked his Chicago recital debut. A post-broadcast encore of Leporello’s Catalogue Aria from Mozart’s ‘Don Giovanni’ (complete with hilarious and never overdone stage movement) made one eager to see him in a full recital and back at Lyric in more roles. “

Andrew Patner, Chicago Sun Times

“During the Met’s new “Rheingold” last season, Mr. Owens proved an Alberich for the ages.”

Anthony Tommasini, The New York Times

“The breakout performance here is by bass-baritone Eric Owens, who as Porgy commands the stage with a warm, sympathetic voice and presence.”

Mike Silverman, Associated Press

“Bass Eric Owens’s debut as Porgy is an act of possession, marked by velvety tone and disarming emotional candor. “

Allan Ulrich, Financial Times

“The great exception is Porgy, the work’s emotional heart, powerfully played on Saturday by Eric Owens…If the characters in this opera tend to be two-dimensional, it’s easy to make Porgy simply a saint, but Owens kept an eye on his humanity, and sang gorgeously.”

Anne Midgette, Washington Post

“What happened at the opening was an exhilarating, consistently excellent presentation, headed by Eric Owens as Porgy. It’s a long way from Gershwin’s Catfish Row to Wagner’s Walhalla, but my money is on Owens traversing the distance. He sang the role of the crippled beggar…with an inner power and stunning beauty of tone.”

Janos Gereben, San Francisco Examiner

“Owens has an opera singer’s ability to conceive of each song as an expression from an individual person. Within the compass of his deep, rich tone lies a reserve of gentleness as well as power. Not the kind of voice that focuses sharply on a pitch, this one is broad and open; while only medium in agility, it is surprisingly flexible in shading a wide range of volume…. Artistry of such gentility is rare, the more so from a voice whose nature wants to be big and burly, but whose owner has other plans.”

John W. Freeman, Opera News