News - Music, Mistakes and Mirth: Alumnus Reflects on More Than 40 Years With Lyric Opera

Music, Mistakes and Mirth: Alumnus Reflects on More Than 40 Years With Lyric Opera

By Carla Morris

Chicago Lyric OperaFew classical singers make a living in opera, but Robert Prindle ’73 is one of the fortunate few. The bass-baritone has performed for more than 40 years with the Chicago Lyric Opera. He has worked as well with all other major professional music organizations in Chicago, including the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.

The onetime physics major, who “never sang a note” before coming to Greenville, recently reflected on his surprising career and laughter along the way.

Easy . . . Just Do What We Do

Was vocal performance always an interest of yours or did you “grow” into it?

I never sang a note before Greenville—not in school, not in church. My first friends, Dave Smith and Don Prock, dragged me to Sunday night choir. They told me to do what they do. Many people helped afterwards.

You auditioned for your first opera shortly after you graduated from college. How did that come about?

I was taking voice lessons in Chicago. My teacher told me to audition for the Chicago Symphony Chorus. I laughed, but I did. There were no openings, but the chorus master—legend Margaret Hillman—suggested the opera, which actually paid a great deal more.

You did radio drama, too?

I worked briefly at Moody Bible Institute. All of the actors appearing on WMBI radio drama were local professionals from the Goodman Theatre. However, hearing that I had some theatre background, they invited me to audition. I did about 80 dramas.

Stewarding the "Gift"

You’ve had to be a bit entrepreneurial in the way you’ve generated success. What might you tell today’s students about navigating the waters of a career in the arts?

It helps to keep developing your skills. That means learn additional or new skills as well as enhancing your current ones. Whatever your talent(s), especially voice, remember that it is a gift, a precious wonderful joy. Never let anyone take that away. You will be criticized, critiqued and generally told to work harder [and] do better. Very few conductors, coaches or directors will be overly complimentary. It's work, sometimes frustratingly hard and long work, but your gift, your joy is always yours. Remember that. It'll keep you grounded, especially if you're auditioning, and barely halfway through you hear [a dismissive], "Thank you—[Next . . .]."

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40+ year veteran of the Chicago Lyric Opera, Robert Prindle, front row of chorus, second from right

 

Tell me about one or two of your favorite productions. What made them enjoyable?

Street Scene (Kurt Weill) was fun because the entire small chorus (about 20 of us) all had small parts. It's not a great show, but we were all individual characters, well defined and well rehearsed. Eugene Onegin (1983) was my first telecast and a great cast.

Inevitable Mistakes

Fear of failure haunts many of us. Do you have any stories to share that reflect a bounce back from failure?

Failures? Moi? Too, too many. My first solo at Greenville was truly laughable, but after everyone was done laughing, including me, I got on with it. [Among] Broadway auditions, one sticks out. It was a touring company of My Fair Lady. I was young and sailed through the voice part. Then came the dance. For anyone with decent dance training, it was not hard—ball change, shuffle step . . . etc. As I painfully tried to follow the dance captain, I could see the casting director's face. When I clumped to a finish he said, "Well, I was so hopeful till then . . ." And, again, once outside, I laughed. Laughing is a good thing.

Looking back, what has surprised you about your career path?

Well everything. My mother flunked fourth grade. My father never made it past eighth grade. We were extremely poor. I had an "A" average in high school, received scholarships, worked and put myself through college. I started as a physics major ending as a history major. [I] worked as an accountant (with no accounting courses) and "fell" into opera.

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Bass/baritone Robert Prindle (front row of chorus, third left from center) "never sang a note before Greenville."

Given the opportunity, what might you say to members of this year’s graduating class as they make the leap from college to career?

Anger trumps fear. Always. So, if you are facing a fearful situation—an audition or potential mugger or cancer—it still works. Get mad . . . but once that passes, remember you are loved. Wait till you can fully relax and realize this. Anger, while useful, is a "burning" emotion, which will wear on you long term. Knowing you are loved, accepting that and letting it wash over you, will heal and restore. I'm not a preacher, and this might qualify more as a tip: God hears all prayers. God answers all prayers. But sometimes the answer is no. If you can remember that, you'll always know you're loved.

Opera, TV and Film

In addition to performing as a chorister with the Lyric Opera, Prindle has also assumed solo roles in Street Scene, The Rakes Progress and Capriccio, among others. His television appearances include Eugene Onegin and Anthony and Cleopatra, and he has hundreds of national and international radio broadcasts to his credit.

He also appeared in the film My Best Friend’s Wedding with Julia Roberts, but—perhaps deserving of another chuckle or two—his contribution ended up on the cutting room floor.

Learn More

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Photo credits: Top photo, "Lyric Opera House of Chicago," used with permission from photographer Timothy Neesam. Performance photos courtesy of the Chicago Lyric Opera.

This story was published on February 12, 2018




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