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Retired opera singer remembers his journey to the stage

By Staff | Jul 26, 2019

Retired international opera singer David Rampy discusses his experiences in opera houses around the world, during Shepherdstown Area Independent Living's monthly Brown Bag Luncheon in Trinity Episcopal Church's fellowship hall on Friday afternoon. Tabitha Johnston

SHEPHERDSTOWN — “I listened to Big Band, 1940s swing — that’s what I grew up with. I knew all along that I wanted to sing, and sing professionally,” said David Rampy, of Shepehrdstown, during Shepherdstown Area Independent Living’s monthly Brown Bag Luncheon in Trinity Episcopal Church’s fellowship hall on Friday afternoon.

Rampy eventually realized his talents as a dramatic tenor could be best used in the world of opera. After years of training, earning his master’s degree in voice from Indiana University and questioning whether he should just get his doctorate and teach on the collegiate level for the rest of his life, Rampy chose to take a chance on his voice and get an agent in New York City.

“I auditioned for different artistic management companies in New York, and I knew some people who could recommend me, so I was signed to a management company,” Rampy said, mentioning opera singers need to have a company to be cast in shows and, ultimately, succeed. “Those companies are privy to the upcoming schedules for the opera companies in the United States. I, as an independent contractor, do not do any negotiations on my own — my agent has to deal with these things.”

For each production, Rampy would come prepared, having memorized his part and studied it with the help of a vocal coach and voice teacher.

“That comes with the territory — if you show up, you know the show. You’re not there to learn it,” Rampy said.

Retired international opera singer David Rampy, of Shepherdstown, performs a selection from his vocal repertoire at Shepherdstown Area Independent Living's Brown Bag Luncheon at Trinity Episcopal Church's fellowship hall on Friday afternoon. Tabitha Johnston

Once Rampy arrived at an opera house, he would begin one to four weeks of rehearsals with the rest of the cast, during which he would also have to learn the makeup for his character, if the opera house didn’t provide a makeup artist, and get fitted for his costume.

“You want to look your best. Sometimes the costumes can look nice on paper, but they don’t move well and have to be redesigned,” Rampy said, mentioning a singer’s appearance can affect his ability to get future jobs. “It’s very important for the singer to at least look good on stage, even though we can’t all be a beautiful ‘Susannah’ or dashing ‘Don Giovanni.'”

Rampy’s career took him from opera houses in Germany, to Australia, to Canada and back to the United States, performing roles in world premieres, as well as classic operas, including one of his favorites, Ludwig van Beethoven’s “Fidelio.”

“Whenever I went to a city to perform, I was very fortunate that I was the lead,” Rampy said. “For me, the vast majority of the time, I feel the most enjoyment from the creative process. It is so fulfilling. What is so rewarding, is having someone stay after a performance and tell me I changed how they saw a character.”

According to Rampy, while many people know names of tenors like Luciano Pavarotti and Plcido Domingo, there are many more skilled tenors who help keep opera alive.

“For every Luciano Pavarotti, there are dozens that are better than him. But he was driven to be the best,” Rampy said. “To be an artist, you have to have an ego, because the rejection rate is astronomical. It is a tight job market.

“There are 85 percent of us singers, whose names are ‘Joe Blow,'” Rampy said. “Many of these places are going to pay big money to get the big name singers. But opera cannot survive on those big houses alone — we need smaller houses committed to excellent singing, and that’s where we keep opera alive.”

As Rampy summed up his career, he mentioned one thought that kept him motivated in every performance.

“My motto has always been, ‘If I can reach one person and if I can change that one person, just for a second, then I have done my job,'” Rampy said.