Sliding his tall frame onto a small wooden café chair, bass-baritone William Guanbo Su, 24, plops his water bottle on the table as he catches his breath.
“What a day! It’s been a crazy week already, but I’ve just come from something so exciting!” That something was participating as a singer for prospective instructors in their interviews at Juilliard, not to teach at the famous campus at Lincoln Center but as future faculty for a new campus to open in a couple of years in Tianjin, China, about 80 miles outside Beijing.
“This is an amazing project,” says William. “It will give a huge boost to the classical music scene in China, and it will undoubtedly help raise the level of the other conservatories there. But it will also serve the rest of Asia, because the lessons will mostly be given in English, so students from, say, Japan and Korea can also attend.”
Does William see a time in the future when he could return to China as a teacher at Juilliard there?
“Well, you know, I’ve spent more time living in the United States than I consciously did in China. I don’t remember anything before the age of six, and I left for the States when I was fourteen. I’ve been here 10 years now, so I feel more at home here than there. Of course, my parents are still in China and I visit them whenever I can, but I believe my future is here.” (For an article on William’s childhood in China and his solo move to the United States, read his interview in our October 2017 newsletter here.)
“In the future, I would be thrilled to teach there from time to time. But I’m just starting out on my career, and this is where I need to be now.”
The first step in his professional career, after his Carnegie Hall debut in Bach’s Christmas Oratorio with The Cecilia Chorus of New York last December, and after graduating in May from Juilliard’s Master of Music program, was a summer in the Young Artists Program at the Opera Theater of St. Louis. “That program is wonderful. They don’t start you off in the chorus, as many of the young artists programs do – you get cast in solo roles from the outset. And they have already asked me back for next year, when I will be covering Figaro in Le nozze di Figaro and performing Count Ceprano in Rigoletto. As a member of a young artist program, you’re not a student anymore – you’re a young professional. You are your own mentor.”
What does that mean to William?
“I find myself caught between two styles. My natural disposition is optimistic, light-hearted. I crack jokes a lot. I feel at home in roles of innocent, naïve young men who wake up full of hope every day. But my voice—a deep bass-baritone—is serious and sober. It is true that as I’ve matured, I’ve also seen the darker side of life, and I’ve realized that the world is not as easy as I used to think. My goal for this year is to figure out how to balance the two, which roles to sing and how to approach them.”
And the bass solo in Messiah? How will you approach that?
“Well it’s a holy text from a Christian tradition, which I didn’t grow up sharing. So I don’t have the religious connection to it. But I can get inspiration from other roles. Sarastro in Der Zauberflöte, for example. He’s a messenger, a philosopher, a demigod. I think that fits the bass solo in Messiah pretty well.”
BIOGRAPHY: William Guanbo Su, Bass-baritone
New York City-based opera singer William Guanbo Su is currently pursuing his Master’s degree at The Juilliard School under the guidance of Cynthia Hoffmann.
In 2018, he was a member of the Gerdine Young Artist Program at the Opera Theatre of Saint Louis as well as a voice fellow at the Aspen Music Festival and School, where he played the principal role of Don Basilio in Il barbiere di siviglia.
Other opera roles include Pluton in Hyppolyte et Aricie; Herr Reich in Die lustigen Weiber von Windsor; and Seneca in L’incoronazione di Poppea.
William has also concentrated on German Lieder at the Franz Schubert Institute in Vienna, where he was coached by Emmy Ameling, Helmut Deutch, Robert Holl, and others. In 2017, Mr. Su made his Carnegie Hall solo debut with The Cecilia Chorus of New York, and in the same year he won First Prize in the Gerda Lissner Foundation Lieder/Song Competition. For more about William Guanbo Su, visit williamguanbosu.com.