Birch Elliott makes debut at Metropolitan Opera
FLORENCE, S.C. – Thanks to a last-minute cast change, Effingham native Alexander Birch Elliott was able to make his debut at the Metropolitan Opera on Nov. 14.
Elliott, a 2004 graduate of South Florence High School, replaced Mariusz Kwiecien, who had taken ill, after intermission as Zurga in “Les Pêcheurs de Perles” (“The Pearl Fishers”). The opera debuted in 1863 and was composed by Frenchman Georges Bizet. It debuted at the Metropolitan Opera in 2016 and returned to the stage in 2018. This version is produced by Penny Woolcock.
Zurga is one of two best friends who compete for the affections of a Hindu priestess in a village in Sri Lanka. Like Humphrey Bogart’s character in “Casablanca,” Zurga sacrifices his love for the priestess to allow his friend and the priestess to escape at the end. The role calls for a baritone voice. Baritones are the second-lowest male singing voices. Some notable singers thought to be baritones include Neil Diamond, Eric Clapton, Bob Marley, Kurt Cobain, John Cougar Mellancamp, Bruce Springsteen, Elvis Pressley, Darius Rucker and Bob Segar.
“It was exciting,” Elliott said. “It was sort of surreal. It was last minute but the Met is a big organization, and they make sure anybody that is going to go on that stage is prepared.”
The New York Times review of his performance said he “tore into the music with heated intensity” and his voice was a “beguiling timbre of mahogany carried by boyish ardor.” The review also notes that the audience cheered his performance.
After leaving Florence to attend Florida State University, where he received two degrees in vocal performance, Elliott has performed all over the United States, including Rochester, Portland and Dallas.
While at South Florence, Elliott performed as a Choralier under the direction of Linda LeMaster.
“Arts education in this country is outrageously undervalued, and I probably would not have ever gotten this far if not for educators like Linda LeMaster, Lynn Perkins and Sharyn Mapes, all of whom gave much more time and energy than they were financially compensated for,” Elliott said. “They spent many extra hours and personal time making sure that I and many other students were given an outlet for creativity and taught that hard work and kindness to others make a difference in every aspect of life.”
He added that it was somewhat more common than most people would think for small-town performers to make it in opera, because those performers have the opportunities to perform and the support to do well when they’re performing. He said he just auditioned for the role like a “normal job.”
Elliott will return to Florence to perform with the Florence Symphony on April 29. He also performed in September at the Florence Little Theatre for an Evening of Hope.