Renowned Newfoundland tenor heads home for Festival 500 choral showcase

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ST. JOHN'S, N.L. - Tenor David Pomeroy's star is still rising on the international opera stage but he traces an already acclaimed career back to Saturday mornings at his grandfather's house in St. John's, N.L.

"He would sit at the piano and I would sing 'I Dream of Jeannie (With the Light Brown Hair)' and these old songs," said Pomeroy.

"I just used to love going to his house and standing up and singing."

Pomeroy's grandfather, Ignatius Rumboldt, was himself a local musical legend who helped lay the foundation of a choral tradition that now culminates in the biennial Festival 500 concert series. The week of performances and workshops uniting international talents this summer will finish July 10 at Mile One Stadium in St. John's with Pomeroy leading the grand finale.

He is to sing two pieces made most famous by the late operatic tenor Luciano Pavarotti: "O Sole Mio" and "Nessun Dorma".

Pomeroy has credited Pavarotti's other-worldly rendition of "Nessun Dorma," or "None Shall Sleep," as one of the inspirations that led him to a life on opera stages around the world, including the Metropolitan Opera in New York City. "Nessun Dorma," the closing-act aria from Puccini's opera "Turandot," is also known for its use by the BBC in its coverage of the 1990 World Cup soccer tournament.

It's one of those musical favourites that a tenor grows into over time and through a vast range of experience. Pomeroy said he is always honing his craft toward such a performance peak.

"You're constantly working and you never give up with the lessons and the coaching," he said from his home in Orangeville, Ont., northwest of Toronto.

"Hopefully, as I'm turning 40 in September, I'm just hitting the prime time for my tenor years. I should have at least another 15 years of hard work and glory before my voice decides to divorce me," he added with a laugh.

Performing a wide range of roles from the drunken French poet in the opera "Les Contes D'Hoffmann," in which he debuted at the Met in 2009, to the love-struck Alfredo in Verdi's tragic "La Traviata," Pomeroy has won critical praise both for his powerful voice and believability.

"He's also a very good actor when he sings and that's key to it," said Peter Gardner, chief executive officer of Festival 500 Corp.

Gardner was artistic director of the Newfoundland Symphony Orchestra when Pomeroy auditioned as a young student for a part in the annual Christmas performance of Handel's "Messiah" in St. John's.

"I immediately recognized that David had formidable talent," he recalled. "And probably one of the best talents vocally I've seen from this province at that time.

"I knew that if he was taken care of properly ... he had a major career in the works."

Key to proper management of a young singer's career is not doing too much too soon, Gardner said. Rushing into the performance of selections such as "Nessun Dorma" can be catastrophic, he explained.

"By the time he's 35, he's got no voice. It has been destroyed."

Renowned St. John's choral director Doug Dunsmore, artistic director of Festival 500, taught Pomeroy as a student at Memorial University of Newfoundland.

He recalled how Pomeroy enjoyed mastering the most difficult Bach arias.

"When other people found it hard, he found it fun and a challenge to be met."

Men's voices develop later in life with a richness that should rocket Pomeroy's career ever higher, Dunsmore said.

"At his age, he's just getting into the wheelhouse."

Pomeroy credits mentors such as Dunsmore and Gardner for encouraging him to follow a different musical path from the rock-heavy metal bands he fronted in his youth.

"They told me that I had a lot of potential to be an opera singer. And the life that I could have doing that would be certainly more attractive than that of maybe singing in a smoky nightclub trying to make ends meet."

As Pomeroy increasingly crosses professional paths with Placido Domingo and opera's other brightest lights, it appears he made the right choice. But he gets back to Newfoundland at least once a year, he said.

"When I come back home to visit friends, there's often these parties where people break out the fiddle and the guitar, and they sit in the kitchen and just go to town. It's such a joy. Music is in our blood, it's in our bones."

Organizations: Metropolitan Opera, BBC, Newfoundland Symphony Orchestra Memorial University of Newfoundland

Geographic location: ST. JOHN'S, New York City, Orangeville Toronto Newfoundland

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