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From harmonizing jingles to soloing at Lincoln Center

As a toddler, Damian Savarino used to
harmonize to the jingles on television
commercials, an ability that his parents
understood to be special.
So his mom and dad signed him up for guitar lessons, his first official foray into music. He played several instruments before his parents, in his words, “forced” him to try out for school choir. Savarino says he was nervous about singing in the choir because he felt “more safe and secure to hide behind an instrument.”

Turns out that his best instrument was his voice, and it wouldn’t be long until he would own his own tuxedo for performances.

Introduction to opera
By the time Savarino was a junior, he was taking voice lessons from a graduate student at the University of Iowa in his hometown of Iowa City. The student asked him if he was interested in singing in a campus opera production, and, with no knowledge of opera, he agreed. Singing in that production with such a talented ensemble, including several professional vocalists, was life-changing, Savarino says. The quality of singing, the set, and the costumes all “resonated in his soul,” and he became passionate about opera and pursuing a career as a professional singer.
His journey included stops to study voice at Ithaca College, New England Conservatory of Music in Boston, and New York City. In 2003, he and his wife Tara, an accomplished soprano, were expecting their first child and wanted to leave New York City. Savarino accepted a teaching job at Messiah College, and settled his soon-to expand family in central Pennsylvania. He has showcased his vocal talents locally in concerts with Messiah’s Choral Arts Society, the Harrisburg Symphony, and West Shore Symphony.

From Greece to Oklahoma and beyond
Savarino’s career has included a variety of roles in venues from Greece to Oklahoma. Just recently, Savarino made both his Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center debuts — moments, he agrees, that are significant in his career. But, when performing the bass solos in Joseph Haydn’s “Lord Nelson’s Mass” at the famed Carnegie Hall in January, he came to a powerful realization.
“The venue is the venue,” he said, reflecting on the experience. “But what really matters is the music and the text, and the opportunity to create something beautiful for the audience” whether that audience is seated in a magnificent church, an acoustically perfect concert hall, or a high school auditorium. This perspective, he adds, helped keep him from being nervous when he took the stage.
Savarino is no stranger to the stage. He has performed operas, oratorios, and music theater internationally; critics have described him as “standout” and “a fine singer and excellent actor.” After seeing Savarino in a recent performance of “Camelot,” a critic hailed him, saying “the songs of ‘Camelot’ haven’t sounded so sweet since Robert Goulet brought them to Broadway in 1960.”

Introducing opera to a younger generation
Savarino is the father of two boys — Dominic is six and Luca is four. While each boy is already exploring music — Dominic is taking piano lessons and Luca is taking Suzuki violin lessons — Savarino and his wife plan to let the boys discover their individual talents and interests without pressuring them to pursue music.
Thinking about his own childhood, Savarino recalls how family members sent him Luciano Pavarotti cassette tapes to further introduce him to the world of opera when he was just 16. The tapes, coupled with Savarino’s role in the University of Iowa opera production that was complete with top-notch vocalists, a respected orchestra, and an elaborate set, informed his perception of opera so that he never subscribed to the popular stereotype of a fat soprano with her hair in braids and wearing a helmet with horns. Savarino laments that so many people never give opera a fair try because they’re trapped in the stereotype. Breaking the stereotype is a challenge he undertakes with his students each semester.
Given Savarino’s busy teaching schedule in addition to his myriad performance opportunities, it’s unlikely his tux will collect dust in his closet.
Read Damian Savarino’s list of operas for every novice.

Read an interview with Damian and Tara Savarino about a trip to Italy in 2007.

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