Keith Jameson '90
Keith Jameson describes himself as a small-town boy who loves sweet
tea and warm Southern nights in his hometown of Greenwood, South
Carolina. However, one glance at him as the smuggler Remendado in
Bizet's Carmen, and you'd swear he had never eaten grits in his entire
life. Jameson has the ability to transform himself into almost any role
and has become a bit of a regular at the Met, previously singing
Gherardo in Gianni Schicchi and performing in War and Peace for his
debut. "As an American classical singer, performing at the Met is a
dream—a goal to work towards," he says. "It is exciting, thrilling and
incredibly humbling to be a part such amazing performances."
But in the same breath that Jameson tells of his upcoming role as Goro
in Madama Butterfly with The Santa Fe Opera, he's also reminiscing about
his high school performance in the title role in Joseph and the Amazing
Technicolor Dreamcoat with his church choir. In fact, according to
Jameson, his Southern roots have laid the foundation for his love of—and
extreme success with—opera.
After his church choir director recommended that Jameson take voice
lessons from Ramon Kyser, a professor of voice at Furman at the time,
Jameson met with him every other Saturday for the next two years.
Therefore, when it came time to choose a college, the decision was easy.
"Dr. Kyser was an incredible voice teacher and friend, and he gave me a
solid foundation of technique. Going to Furman, then, just seemed
natural," he says.
During his time at Furman, Jameson realized it was specifically opera
that he was meant to pursue. One evening as he watched the televised
broadcast of Dialogues of the Carmelites, a light bulb went off. "The
production was simple, yet highly effective, and it zeroed in on the
characters, situations and complex emotions of the time," he describes.
"To this day, the opera still resonates tremendously with me."
While at Furman, though Jameson says his music classes were top-notch,
it was his actual musical performances that benefited him the most.
Jameson was a baritone, as well as a student conductor, for Furman
Singers under the direction of Bing Vick. He also developed invaluable
experience by participating in Opera Theater and giving student
recitals. "My senior recital, tour to Russia with the Singers, and
singing Gianni Schicchi and Gilbert and Sullivan opera scenes were all
amazing experiences that I will always remember," says Jameson. "Mostly,
though, friendships and colleagues that I made at Furman will stay with
me my entire life. The experience that is Furman are the wonderful and
terrific people you meet, become friends with and go through life
with—those are the memories I truly cherish."
Jameson went on to receive his master's degree in conducting as well a
doctorate in musical arts in vocal performance at the Eastman School of
Music. Eventually, after training his voice to be a tenor, he starred in
a variety of productions, ranging in roles from Nanki-Poo in The Mikado
with the New York City Opera to Peter Quint in The Turn of the Screw in
Belgium to The Novice in Billy Budd with The Sante Fe Opera (where he
is a returning principal artist).
However, no matter on what stage he performed or in what role he starred,
Jameson never forgot his Southern roots. In 2007, he returned to
Greenwood to begin the annual Greenwood Music Festival as a way to
celebrate the community and music to which he feels a strong connection.
But this isn't what you'd expect for a music festival in the South, as
there's no string-plucking or drumstick-throwing. Instead, the Greenwood
Music Festival is classical in nature. "Audiences can already find
country, bluegrass, blues, music theater, and rock/folk music at
festivals in the South," says Jameson. "I wanted to add a different
element, so the Greenwood Music Festival gives audiences an opportunity
to experience a variety of music within the classical arena."
And according to Jameson, the festival is flourishing, even in this
relatively small community. "Our audiences are growing each year, little
by little, and I believe that there are people who appreciate quality
music and events. Our operas are bringing in people who have never
experienced opera before, and they are enjoying it!"
Each festival has a theme that helps to showcase work within the
classical arena, including opera, chamber music, classical sacred music,
vocal and instrumental recital music, classic and independent films,
and cabaret. This year's theme was a celebration of France, including a
screening of the 1938 film Marie Antoinette, French chamber music and
Gretry's 18th-century opera Zemire et Azor. The 2011 theme is "Roman
Holiday" and will include Handel's opera Scipione and a special cabaret
evening with Broadway star and Furman alum Nat Chandler '80.
Because Jameson eventually hopes to run an opera company, managing the
Greenwood Music Festival has been a great way to get his feet wet.
"Meeting people in Greenwood who came to the festival without much
previous opera experience is exciting," he says. "To get them interested
in a new genre of music is such a thrill."
Looking back, this big-city boy with small-town roots is quite surprised
and thrilled at this stage in his life. "I actually thought early on
that I would go into graphic design or architecture," he says with a
laugh. "But music spoke to me and called me, and I found that my second
home is the stage. I never dreamed that I would be a traveling opera
singer and be able to make a living at it! I sometimes find myself
asking, 'And this is my job?'"
Here's a look at a few of Jameson's performances.
- Metropolitan Opera: Remendado in Carmen, Gherardo in Gianni Schicchi, War and Peace
- Lyric Opera of Chicago: Beppe in I Pagliacci, Triquet in Eugene Onegin, Basilio in Le nozze di Figaro
- Dallas Opera: Don Curzio in Le nozze di Figaro
- English National Opera, London: Nanki-Poo in The Mikado
- Opera Royal de Wallonie, Belgium: Peter Quint in The Turn of the Screw
- New York City Opera: Candide, Oronte in Handel's Alcina, Nanki-Poo in The Mikado, Tobias Ragg in Sweeney Todd
- Santa Fe
Opera: The Novice in Billy Budd, Bardolfo in Falstaff, Bob Boles in Peter
Grimes, Pong in Turandot, Goro in Madama Butterfly, Clarin in Lewis
Spratlan's Life is a Dream, title role in Albert Herring
- Carnegie Hall: tenor soloist in Beethoven's Mass in C, Schubert's Mass in G, and Mozart's Coronation Mass