Alumni Profiles

Getting paid for doing what he loves to do—sing

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Ask David Cushing '00 to characterize his career, and he has a ready reply: "I consider myself a blue-collar opera singer," says the 33-year-old Nashua, N.H., native. In a field with a reputation for big egos as well as big voices, Cushing, a bass-baritone, is resolutely low key, someone who takes his craft seriously, himself less so. He also subscribes to a rock-solid work ethic. Rule No. 1: "Be a good colleague," he says. Always show up on time and be prepared, "because then you're Johnny-onthe- spot and you can produce. That's when doors can open."

Doors have been opening for Cushing at regional opera companies all over the country. A regular at Boston Lyric Opera, he has sung Truffaldino in "Ariadne auf Naxos," Osmin in "Die Entfuehrung aus dem Serail" and Count Horn/Tom in "Un Ballo in Maschera."

Growing up in Nashua and Mashpee, Mass., Cushing sang in his school chorus and played the trombone and drums; today, he still owns a giant drum set and listens to "lots and lots of loud music." His conversion experience came in high school, when he bought a CD by Italian tenor Luciano Pavarotti, who sounded, Cushing recalls, "like he was singing to God." Even more influential, he says, was discovering the Welsh bass-baritone Bryn Terfel. "Hearing someone singing in my range brought it home for me. I thought, 'This is what I want to do.'"

Following his older sister to UNH, Cushing decided to audition for the music department—even though he had no experience with musical theory. "I'm sure they must have thought, 'Who is this country bumpkin?'" Cushing recalls. But what quickly became clear, says David Ripley, professor of music, was that Cushing possessed "a significant vocal gift. His voice has great warmth and rich color, with openness, accessibility and joy." At UNH, Cushing soaked up the classical repertoire like a sponge and quickly grasped operatic technique.

After graduation, Cushing studied at the New England Conservatory of Music and Boston University's Opera Institute, where he began performing lead roles, including the title role in "Don Pasquale." "His portrayal of hoodwinked old Pasquale, filled with pathos and unselfconscious humor, was a revelation," the Boston Herald wrote. "He could easily specialize in Italian opera's wealth of foolish-old-man roles and become the basso buffo of his generation."

Despite his leading man looks, Cushing plays a lot of old men and sinister characters. "Devils and demons and priests and grandfathers—that's the repertoire of the lower male voice," he says. For now, Cushing is thrilled to be working steadily to consistently good notices. "This career path has afforded me the opportunity to travel and to make beautiful music with wonderfully creative people," he says. It also allows him time for a personal life: Earlier this year he bought a home in Milford, Mass., and in August he got married. "I think to myself, 'I'm onstage, with fantastic colleagues singing and acting their hearts out. We're doing what we love, for people who are paying to watch us because they love it as well,'" he says. "How many other people have that kind of opportunity?"

 Easy to print version

 Easy to print version

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