Lead Tenor Takes Center Stage


Tenor Todd Barnhill is on track to receive the Master’s Degree in Vocal Performance in May 2015. Following graduation, he will return to the Opera Theatre of Saint Louis to cover the lead tenor role, Count Almaviva in Rossini’s Barber of Seville, while performing a supporting role in Puccini’s La Rondine.

Todd’s first major professional engagement is set for January 2016 where he will perform the role of Ferrando in Nashville Opera’s main stage production of Mozart’s Cosí fan tutte and Dr. Blind in their April 2016 production of Strauss’s Die Fledermaus.

Todd’s current success and promising future are not coincidental. His goals for entering graduate study in voice were clear and he was equally certain about his choice of programs. Following graduate auditions he received several offers of seventy-five percent to full scholarship support from a number of institutions including Mannes Conservatory, Indiana University, Northwestern University, and Boston University.

“I liked what UT had to offer. Its smaller-sized opera program and the opportunity to work with some really great teachers like Andrew Wentzel and James Marvel set it apart. I believe James Marvel is one of the premier opera directors in the United States right now.  To work very closely with him over the past two years has truly been a dream. He has further developed some of my acting strengths and helped me unleash many acting skills that I had not found prior to studying with him. He knows what opera companies are looking for in the singers they hire and has helped me be prepared to display those qualities.”

James Marvel, associate professor and director of UT Opera, is Todd’s dramatic coach. He brings a wealth of professional directing to working with students. Since his debut in 1996, he has directed over eighty productions in the United States, England, Scotland, Germany, Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, and the Czech Republic. In 2008, he was named Classical Singer magazine’s 2008 Stage Director of the Year.

Marvel recalls Todd’s performance of the Count in Rossini’s Barber of Seville in his first semester at UT and the first time he had ever performed an opera on stage. “One could already see that Todd was very talented. He grew exponentially in a very short time prior to undertaking his second role in Mozart’s Cosí fan tutte, demonstrating his unique talent for comedy. I have been consistently impressed by his growth in his second year, culminating in his playing the role of Tamino in Mozart’s Magic Flute. His outstanding vocal talent and excellent dramatic growth have not gone unnoticed in our industry. He has won numerous vocal competitions and been accepted into some of this country’s most competitive young artist programs.”

Marvel said his approach to dramatic training of Todd and other young singers is very individualized. “Everyone comes in with a different set of skills and abilities, and I try to tailor my teaching to the specific needs of the individuals within the class. I begin with a comprehensive exploration of how to analyze characters and roles, followed by intensive physical training in which we explore the facial mask, gesture, breathing, movement, stage combat, and footwork,” he says.

Andrew Wentzel, professor of voice, has served as Todd’s voice teacher at UT. Since his debut at the Metropolitan Opera in 1985, bass-baritone Wentzel has built a distinguished and widely acclaimed career of exciting and commanding performances at many of the top opera houses and concert halls throughout the world. Wentzel brings a wealth of knowledge and experience to the instruction and coaching of his students. His strong connections to the Knoxville Opera Company afford professional opportunities for voice students that make UT’s voice program uniquely competitive in recruiting.

“While working with Professor Wentzel, I have developed a better vocal technique that has allowed me to have some great success on the young artist circuit.  Wentzel knows how to find a person’s full singing voice, and for me this was something I needed in my transition from undergraduate to graduate school.  As a young singer, I (like most young singers) tended to hold back and not connect the voice in its entirety all of the time. Finding this fully connected sound has been a process, but I am continuing to work, and we are on the right track and very close to reaching the final product,” Barnhill explains. “Professor Wentzel cares about student success and is a true ambassador for connecting his voice students with opportunities to perform whether it is in outreach occasions for the opera program or paid professional singing venues.”

Wentzel says his role in coaching Todd is that of a team member and that each member of the voice faculty is invested in working with students to develop their gifts and hone their skills so that they might be competitive in the world of the classical singer.

“In Todd’s case, he was particularly interested in working with me as his primary contact in his weekly vocal training,” said Wentzel. “We work each week on the technical aspects required to play his instrument— his voice—in the most efficient and complete way. In that work we also address the details of being able to sing in many languages both intelligibly and idiomatically within that technique of optimal vocal production. We also work on issues of stylistic accuracy with each composer and musical period. My final role is to act as mentor when it comes to guiding him through the professional choices which he has been fortunate enough to have had at this early stage of his career. He has a very promising professional career ahead.”