By SHARIE PYKE – For The Outpost
“Oh my God! I’ve done the opera for 14 seasons!” said Doug Nagel, commenting on his decision to leave the Rimrock Opera.
“I cannot teach all day and sing all night,” he added. “It’s time in my life for me to move on and to focus my energies on my job here at MSU B. “I have 20 students and it’s intense, one on one.”
Professor Nagel first connected with the then Billings Opera Guild as a performer in Rossini’s “The Barber of Seville” in 1999. The guild then asked him to become the group’s artistic director. Over the years, he’s been a performer, a producer and the general manager as well.
His favorite operas are “Salome” by Richard Strauss and “Die Walküre” by Wagner. His favorite operetta is “The Merry Widow,” but he also enjoys Broadway tunes.
“My signature tune is ‘Ol’ Man River,’” he said. He’s a Helden baritone, a dramatic or heroic baritone.
“I basically sing the big roles,” he said. He has performed all over the United States. His favorite roles are Baron Scarpia in “Tosca,” which he performed here in Billings with the Rimrock Opera in 2002, and “The Flying Dutchman.” He also received outstanding reviews as John the Baptist in “Salome.”
But his repertoire is not limited to the classics. He’s comfortable in all genres.
“I do love modern music. I’ve done 506 modern works with the symphony. I like modern music because it challenges the musician.” He stepped effortlessly into the baritone part in Mozart’s “Coronation Mass” with the Billings Symphony Chorale in March when the scheduled performer fell ill.
“I started life out as a teacher. I took music ed at the University of Wyoming and then, for my first job, I did all the music at Park City while the music teacher was on maternity leave.”
But he really wanted to sing opera, so he enrolled at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music where he studied under teacher and mentor Dickson Titus, now deceased.
“He was able to tap into what worked best with my voice,” he said. Other influences include Ettori Bastianini, whose voice Professor Nagel described as “steely,” and American baritone George London.
Now he’s teaching voice at Montana State University Billings. “This is very rewarding for me. I can make a difference with my students. Seven of my voice majors were in the chorus (of “Aida.”) That’s what I do here. I produce singers.
“Aida’s a really big show to manage,” he added. “I was the producer. It was a challenge to keep everyone happy and from freaking out.”
The last week in June, Professor Nagel will lead the second Institute per la Bella Voce for junior high and high school students. It’s a one-week camp. “It’s an opportunity for my college students to get some hands-on experience in teaching voice,” he said. And some of the high school students enroll as freshmen at MSU Billings.
He also teaches in Connections, a program at MSU Billings that allows high school students to take college courses for credit. “I have five kids in the Connections program here. It’s a wonderful tool to transition them into college life.”
At this writing, Professor Nagel is in the People’s Republic of China. “We have a partner university, Xuang Chen University in Zheng Zhou, Hunan Province. It’s a city of over a million. I will be teaching there for a month, twenty 18- to 20-year-old voice majors. They sing only in Chinese. I’ll teach Italian art songs, German lieder and Broadway. My last week that I’m there I’ll give a solo recital, mostly in the English language.”
Professor Nagel has never been blase or laidback about anything he’s done in his career. Singing is his life.
“It’s hard to take criticism when it’s your passion. And change is hard for all of us, personally and professionally,” he said once more, referring to the end of his association with Rimrock Opera. But he ended his comments on a positive note.
“The timing was amazing. I’m full time at MSU B, and I really love my job here. Now that I’m teaching, I think that I’m singing better than ever. And the opera’s going to have a facelift, new ideas.”