Oklahoma Baptist alumnus and adjunct professor Dr. Arnold Rawls, a tenor, made his debut performance at the Metropolitan Opera in New York City on Saturday, April 23. Rawls stepped in for Marcelo Álvarez in the role of Manrico during the evening performance of "Il Trovatore."
Rawls said he was excited to get to sing at the Metropolitan Opera (the Met), and he was excited the opportunity was for the role of Manrico, a role he has performed a great deal in America and Europe.
"It was the perfect vehicle for my Met debut," Rawls said. "I have always known that my Met debut would most likely be in an emergency situation in a repertoire that few tenors perform. My agent/manager, Robert Mirshak, has been telling me for years to do my work and role preparation and be patient … good things will come. And they did."
Rawls said performing at the Met has been a goal of his since he started seriously studying voice. His first teacher was the late Metropolitan Opera soprano Margaret Kalil in Monroe, La., who told him as a college freshman that he had the voice of an opera singer. She said with the right preparation and maturation, Rawls would be able to sing in the major opera houses of the world.
"Singing at the Metropolitan was a dream of mine, but the reality was that it would most likely not ever happen," Rawls said. "I have become one of the lucky ones. There are much better singers out there than me, but because of their life circumstances they never made it to the top. The profession of singing is much like that of a pro athlete. You have to take care of your body because it is your instrument. You continue to develop it, and see where it takes you."
Rawls graduated from OBU in 1982, having studied under the tutelage of professors such as Rhetta Hudson, Betty Woodward and Mary Kay Parrish, musicians he considers mentors and friends. The day he received the call about his Met opportunity, Rawls had just finished speaking with Parrish by phone and was eating lunch with Hudson and Woodward. He was in Shawnee to teach voice students for Dr. Jennifer McQuade, assistant professor of music at OBU, who was on maternity leave.
"My manager called me during lunch to tell me the Met had asked me to get on a plane as soon as possible and get to New York City to start rehearsals the next morning. That is what I did," Rawls said. "The next morning was filled with costume fittings, stagings and musical rehearsals."
After the phone call with his agent, Rawls turned to Hudson and asked if she would substitute for him and teach the voice students at OBU, while he drove back to Oklahoma City to get his suitcase and head to the Big Apple.
"She complied, and the voice students got great instruction that day from a seasoned pro," Rawls said. "God had just orchestrated the whole day to perfection."
Following his performance, Rawls received rave reviews from people in attendance, including one listener who wrote on a blog: "Rawls stepped in at the beginning of Act Three for Alvarez who became indisposed, and a star was born! The voice is perfectly suited for Manrico, and he was fully prepared on what we have to think was one of the most important nights of his career. He really was phenomenal like all the other principals."
"All of us at OBU are proud of Arnold's Met debut," said Dr. Paul Hammond, dean of the Warren M. Angell College of Fine Arts at OBU. "He represents the highest ideals of professional attainment and Christian commitment. Arnold is an enthusiastic alumnus who represents OBU wherever he goes. It has been a joy to see his career reach such heights."
Rawls said he was thrilled to be a part of the vocal instruction at OBU in his adjunct role during the spring semester, even if only for a few weeks.
"I have a passion for what is going on at OBU and hope to be available to the music department in the future," he said. "The OBU students seemed to be alive with wonder and responded well to the vocal suggestions I gave them. I was impressed with not only their talent but also their level of preparation."
Rawls will perform this fall at the Lyric Opera of Kansas City, Mo., during the opening of the new performing arts center on Oct. 1, 5, 7 and 9. The production of "Turandot" will feature Lise Lindstrom as Turandot, Rawls as Calaf, and Samuel Ramey as Timur. For more information, click here.