Garrett Sorenson, an alumnus of the School of Music, is playing Steve Wozniak, a colleague and friend of Steve Jobs, in "The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs" at the Santa Fe Opera.
When Garrett Sorenson started at Texas Tech University in 1997, he was thinking about pursuing music education. But, as he attended classes in the School of Music, Sorenson found his passion in performing opera.
When he started in the School of Music, Sorenson was a baritone and liked performing in singing roles in shows. But when his professor, Gerald Dolter, now a professor of voice and director of the TTU Opera Theatre in the School of Music, brought in Mary Jane Johnson for a master class, everything changed.
"Mary Jane Johnson was a great soprano who had sung all over the place," Sorenson said. "She heard me sing some baritone stuff and was convinced that I was a tenor."
This changed a lot for Sorenson. He worked with former faculty Jack and Mary Gillas, on the transition from baritone to tenor.
Sorenson then auditioned for the Santa Fe Opera Apprentice Program as a tenor and was accepted in for the 2001 season. The excitement of the apprenticeship helped him fall in love with the art of opera.
This proved to be Sorenson's big break, and just a few months later, Sorenson was working at the Metropolitan Opera as a member of the Lindemann Young Artist Development Program. While the apprenticeship and being a part of the Metropolitan Opera program happened quickly, Sorenson said he owes all of his success to the faculty who taught him at Texas Tech.
"Working with Karl Dent, Gerald and Jack and Mary, they had professional performance experience," Sorenson said. "That is important because they teach the inside knowledge that it takes to be a professional singer. When I made it to the Metropolitan Opera, I still had a lot to learn but the faculty at Texas Tech set me on the right path before I got there."
Dolter saw the potential in Sorenson when Sorenson first auditioned.
"Natural artistic ability shows itself very early on," Dolter said. "Refining that ability is what takes the time. The skill set for the stage, the emotional drive, the physical energy required, the courage to step out of yourself and the willingness to not quit are qualities that are usually pretty obvious. Garrett's potential was evident when he first auditioned. There was a professional beauty, power and persuasion in his voice that was way ahead of his time. We all knew it."
Texas Tech had a significant role in Sorenson's development, not only in his education but in his family as well. One of Sorenson's regrets is not finishing his degree before the Metropolitan Opera came calling.
"Texas Tech means so much to me, not just because of the incredible instruction that I received there; my father, Ritch Sorenson, was a professor in the School of Business for 22 years, and my mother, Paula Sorenson, was an instructor in communications," Sorenson said. "With Tech and the Sorensons, it's literally a family affair."
After Sorenson finished the development program at the Metropolitan Opera, he started getting lead roles in medium-sized opera houses and medium-sized roles in large opera houses. Sorenson also got the chance to have a Broadway role in the play "Master Class," where he played a young tenor that performs an aria in the show.
But every once in a while, a project comes along that is really special. For Sorenson, that project was "The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs."
Sorenson was approached to play Steve Wozniak, a colleague and friend of Jobs, in this work, composed by Mason Bates, with the libretto written by Mark Campbell. Sorenson said the work is one of his favorite things he has performed.
"I will never forget my first look at the score," Sorenson said. "There is this scene between Wozniak and Steve Jobs and I started playing it. It turns into this jazzy 6/8 time signature, and I wasn't getting it because I was thinking operatically. When I felt the swing, I realized how great the music was. I ran upstairs and told my wife I am so glad they asked me to do this."
Once Sorenson got the role, he learned the songs and the lines before he did research on Wozniak himself. Sorenson thinks it is important to study what the composer and the librettist give the performer because it is what is going to be in the show.
But after immersing himself in all the content of the show, Sorenson learned some things about the man he was playing through research.
"Wozniak has a huge heart," Sorenson said. "I hope I get to meet him because when I see him interviewed, he seems like he is kind and understanding of people. That's who I portray in the show: someone who is very human."
The work is very personal to Sorenson, but not only because of the work itself. Sorenson's son, Jonah, also is participating in the opera as the young Steve Jobs.
Sorenson is proud to see his son on the stage and be excited about the craft. But, he is glad he does not share the stage with his son.
"I'm a complete mess when Jonah is on stage," Sorenson said. "I'm glad I'm not on stage with him because it's still so emotional - I could not keep it together."
Sorenson is excited for people to see this work. The piece is full of energy and velocity, he said.
"It's only 85 minutes, but it feels like you have been in this big arc of Steve's life," Sorenson said. "The music is new and fresh, and they use synthesized sound in a really awesome way with the orchestra."
When Sorenson started the journey of becoming an opera singer, he had no idea he would be as successful as he is. While he knew it would be a good way to make a living, what he has accomplished thus far in his career has exceeded his expectations.
Dolter thinks Sorenson is a special performer; one who can perform in musical theatre as well as opera is impressive.
"In my view, American musical theatre and opera are merging. It has been for the past 20 years, and Sorenson is at the forefront of that effort," Dolter said. "His career takes him to the highest levels of the art, and he contributes mightily to it."
Dolter thinks students can learn from Sorenson's journey.
"Students can learn to follow your heart," Dolter said. "For the stage, if your heart is not in it, you should look for something else. It means sacrifice, patience and a willingness to learn from mistakes. Garrett has been willing to do all of that, and now he shares what he has with the world."
Sorenson thinks he would not have the success he has now without his time at Texas Tech.
"I was taught the right way at Texas Tech," Sorenson said. "Being able to play the piano and to learn languages quickly has saved me so much time and money and has gotten me so many jobs. Having the fundamental skills like theory and piano has made a huge difference. It wouldn't have been the same without the music community in Lubbock and at Texas Tech."
For ticketing information on "The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs," visit the Santa Fe Opera website.