Chebeague opera singer returns to Portland for Maine debut

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CHEBEAGUE ISLAND — An island native who ventured to a much larger island to pursue a career in opera will make his Maine debut on Saturday, Feb. 26.

Tyler Putnam attended Greely High School and graduated from Dartmouth College in 2009 before moving to New York City to hone his craft. He will perform as a bass-baritone soloist with the Longfellow Chorus and Orchestra at First Parish Unitarian Universalist Church, 425 Congress St., Portland.

The performance features the premieres of two cantatas based on the poetry of Portland-born Henry Wadsworth Longfellow: “By the Seaside” and “Song of the Silent Land.” It will begin at 4:30 p.m. and is part of the Feb. 26-27 Longfellow Choral Festival, which celebrates Longfellow’s 204th birthday on Feb. 27 – one day after Putnam’s 24th.

Putnam’s parents moved to Chebeague in the early 1980s. His father was a lobsterman and mother became a librarian; Putnam has performed musical theatre since childhood, but wasn’t introduced to opera until he was in college.

He said a quest for vocal perfection attracted him to opera. The question, he said, was “just how far can I take the human voice, and what can be achieved with it? And I feel like opera is the genre that takes the human voice its farthest.”

Putnam earned a $1,000 award in January for being a New England regional finalist in the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions.

Putnam, whose brother Bradley sings with the Tanglewood Festival Chorus in Boston, studied music and theater at Dartmouth and moved to New York City the fall after he graduated. Coming from an island where the year-round population is about 400, he said he was apprehensive about moving to a place with 8 million people.

“I’ve had bad dreams about cities as a kid, so I thought (moving to New York) would be something that would scare the heck out of me,” he said. “But … I adjusted really quick; it’s what people do.”

Putnam said he isn’t a big fan of living in the city, but that he felt he had to be there.

“I said ‘why resist? I’m going to go, because I want to sing and I want to act, and here’s where it’s happening,'” he said.

Many young performers get involved with everything they can while in New York, Putnam said, but he has chosen a different route. He works with a voice teacher, Randolph Mickelson, two or three times a week, four to five hours at a time.

When he’s not singing, Putnam earns money as a waiter for a caterer.

“I’d prefer to do that for money than work bad singing jobs,” he said. “… Because that’s just not going to help me that much.”

Putnam said the Feb. 26 performance is big for him since it will be the first time he has sung newly composed music, and “it’s my first professional job as a classical soloist.”

Plus, he’s excited to return to Maine.

Putnam said he expects to stay in New York for at least a little a few years. He noted that many opera singers spend much of their time traveling the world and can be based out of anywhere.

“I definitely will be back to Chebeague later in life,” he said. “Maybe it’s when I retire, but I’ll be back.”

Alex Lear can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 113 or alear@theforecaster.net.

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Chebeague Island native Tyler Putnam, now pursuing an opera career in New York City, will perform in Portland on Saturday, Feb. 26, during the Longfellow Choral Festival. Log onto longfellowchorus.com or call 232-8920 for more information.

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A Maine native and Colby College graduate, Alex has been covering coastal communities since 2001, and currently handles Bath, Topsham, Cumberland, and North Yarmouth. He and his wife, Lauren, live in the Portland area, and Alex recently released his third album of original music.