San Francisco baritone Brian Mulligan has conquered many of the world’s opera houses, but there’s one place in The City where he finds a quiet respite.
“I live in Pacific Heights, and I actually spend a few hours every day in the Presidio. I work a lot, and just a few minutes from my house, I can gather myself and think about everything in my personal and artistic life. It’s incredible that there is this gorgeous expanse right here, and I often find it empty,” says the singer, who makes his role debut as the title character in San Francisco Opera’s first ever production of “Sweeney Todd” this weekend.
The psychotic barber of Stephen Sondheim’s macabre thriller is a part Mulligan has dreamed of playing for years.
“It’s one of those pieces you’re not sure you’ll ever have the chance to do. This production is particularly brutal, but there’s a range of emotion from joy to despair, and as an artist, it’s the kind of role you long for,” he says.
Mulligan prepares for his roles in an old-fashioned way. In a world saturated with recorded media, he draws little from the voices of yesterday, preferring to inspire and be inspired by the markings of the composers.
“If you come to my dressing room, the score will be open on my table, and I’ll study it through the final performance. I spend a lot of time making sure every note I sing is inspired from a place of care, giving, and from the air moving through my vocal folds,” he says.
A singular talent at the Juilliard School, Mulligan won his first role at the New York’s Metropolitan Opera while he was a student in 2003.
Although he has achieved international acclaim, appearing in Germany, England, Japan and Canada (as well as across the U.S. including acclaimed San Francisco Opera productions of “Nixon in China” and “The Trojans”), he’s sympathetic to those who don’t realize their dreams in the competitive world of serious singing.
“Every artist is unique. Regardless of talent, you will experience rejection. As long as you are realistic and know who you are as a singer, on stage, there is a path for you. People still want to hear ‘Lucia di Lammermoor’ after all these years, because there are different voices, different ideas,” he says.
Mulligan, in fact, sings Enrico, a role he played at Lyric Opera of Chicago and Canadian Opera Company, in San Francisco Opera’s production of Donizetti’s opera opening in October.
It’s another engagement in his busy schedule for the foreseeable future. Another one of his 10 roles in the next 16 months is the lead in San Francisco Opera’s December production “The Fall of the House of Usher,” which features two interpretations of Edgar Allan Poe’s gothic tale: Gordon Getty’s “Usher House” and Debussy’s “La Chute de la Maison Usher.”
IF YOU GO
Presented by San Francisco Opera
Where: War Memorial Opera House, 301 Van Ness Ave., S.F.
When: 7:30 p.m. Sept. 12, Sept. 15, Sept. 18. Sept. 23, Sept. 26 and Sept. 29; 2 p.m. Sept. 20
Tickets: $26 to $381
Contact: (415) 864-3330. www.sfopera.com
Note: “Lucia di Lammermoor” runs Oct. 8-28 and “The Fall of the House of Usher” runs Dec. 8-13.