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  • Sam Shuhan, Assistant Principal Bass

Santa Fe Opera Welcomes Ian Hallas

I recently had a chance to sit down with Lyric Opera Principal Bassist, Ian Hallas to discuss his recent success in winning the Principal Bass audition at the Santa Fe Opera. Ian was invited to play at Santa Fe this past season as Principal and was tasked with the very difficult challenge of performing in the principal role while also preparing for their audition. After winning the Section Bass audition in 2016, Ian proceeded to win the next three bass auditions at Lyric - Internal Assistant Principal in 2017, Assistant Principal in 2018, and finally Principal in 2019. Here is a closer look at his time at Lyric and how it has prepared him for what he describes as the most difficult summer of his life.

S: As you progressed through the bass section at Lyric, what differences, if any, did you notice between playing as a Section, Assistant Principal, and Principal player?

I: We are told in school about playing professionally and learning by osmosis, just being a part of a professional orchestra that knows how to do their jobs. You just get better by being there and being prepared and paying attention basically. A lot of it was that. I learned a lot from watching the other string principals. They’re all very different, but incredibly effective at what they do. Much of it was just seeing how people who have been doing it for a long time do it.

S: How did you prepare for the audition in Santa Fe?

I: My prep was a lot less just because as my teacher David Allen Moore said perfectly, “you're not a professional practicer anymore. You're a professional performer and you just don't need the same amount of time to get ready for it.” So my prep time was a lot more condensed, otherwise, I would burn out really quickly. I just didn't need to be practicing the excerpts for two months before the audition like I did when I was in school.

S: How has your experience at Lyric helped you prepare to win this audition at Santa Fe?

I: It was affirming that I'd already won my positions at Lyric. I also had played a lot of the audition rep in context. It helped to know that the musical and stylistic risks I had planned on taking were within reason. The only things I hadn't played were Peter Grimes and Billy Bud, which need to be programmed at Lyric as quickly as possible!

S: Was it difficult playing a full summer season as Principal while also preparing the audition?

I: It was the hardest thing I've ever had to do. I was performing four of the five operas, but getting home at 1:30/1:45am after a five-hour Tristan and having to get up in the morning and do my four to five to six hours while playing a different production every other night of the week was just so much work. I had to make sure that I was in really good shape before I started the process. I prepped myself in terms of scales and arpeggios for the first six weeks of the season. Then, about two weeks away from the audition, I segued into the actual repertoire. I went on a grand total of about five hikes for the whole summer and I pretty much lived in the practice room on campus. It was also a blind final round, which I have never had to do before. It was also really hard because my wife was here in Chicago and wasn’t in Santa Fe like we had planned. I wanted my space for the audition, but I have no intention of spending that long apart from her ever again.

S: Did you have a favorite performance or experience while in Santa Fe?

I: Falstaff is possibly the best opera in the repertoire, but Tristan was also really special. It was the first time they had played Wagner in 35 years or so and only the second Wagner opera they’d ever done. The audience and musicians were ecstatic. The food was also amazing. They have green chilies in Santa Fe that destroy your stomach, but taste amazing.

Ian in Santa Fe and with wife Nomin

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