During a concert at altitude in Idaho he watched as his buddy went out only to “crack his final high C,” Fitzpatrick said. “Then I went out to sing my aria and cracked mine too.”
Fitzpatrick doesn’t have to worry about his voice at Big Bear’s 7,000 ft. elevation when he takes the Performing Arts Center stage twice on Saturday, December 17 for the community singalong of “The Messiah.” That’s because he’s conducting Big Bear Chorale instead of singing with it during the second annual performance of the holiday classic. Besides, he’s a part-time Big Bear resident (kind of), so he’s used to thin air.
As for the four or five soloists, all fellow UNLV faculty with doctorates in music, also traveling across the desert who are singing? “For soloists singing at elevation affects the way you sing. You breath different, your lungs work harder for air.”
Actually it’s the audience that will be left breathless during 2 and 5 p.m. shows as Fitzpatrick returns to serve as guest conductor of Handel’s celebration of Christ’s birth written in 1741. Last year’s debut performance of The Messiah was a hit and this year the voices are joined by Mountaintop Strings ensemble, organ and harpsichord for an even bigger sound.
“It was nice last year, everyone had a positive experience and it was fun to watch or participate in,” Fitzpatrick, 48, said. “I’ve done Messiah a few times but I don’t usually conduct a lot. Adding strings this year is a major step forward for the event.”
Typically Fitzpatrick is lending his baritone voice to concerts, singing operative and music theater roles in addition to oratorio and concert works. He performs a handful of times a year with groups like the Las Vegas Philharmonic at the new Smith Center two years ago. He’s also a former resident artist for Los Angeles Opera. “I did a lot of performances in Los Angeles and gained experience,” he said.
The UNLV Associate Professor of Music is no stranger to Big Bear; the popular Song Festival Fitzpatrick hosted brought music students from around the western states to Big Bear for competitions and master classes and there were free shows at the PAC featuring amazing talent. The Fitzpatricks used to have a Moonridge cabin before recently selling since they weren’t using it enough.
That’s because Fitzpatrick is a busy guy. In addition to teaching he has administrative duties at the university, where he hosts a radio show on KVNV. He releases a recording this month of American folk songs by composer Celius Dougherty, accompanied by USC pianist Alan Smith, and is working on another recording project.
Composers Jennifer Barker, Judy Cloud and Virko Baley feature him on recordings. He also has a job teaching music in paradise in summer, serving as administrator at the Hawaii Performing Arts Festival. The professor has performed with many distinguished ensembles including the Los Angeles Philharmonic, Opera Pacific, the Virginia Symphony and Opera, La Jolla Symphony and Chorus and the Los Angeles Mozart Orchestra. Singing with the Fort Collins Symphony and Utah Festival Opera Company were other opportunities to test his voice at elevation.
Fitzpatrick knows what it’s like to be in his students’ shoes. He earned his Bachelor of Music degree in vocal performance from Chapman and his Master and Doctor degrees at USC. “To get an undergrad degree in music in the typical major takes seven or eight classes a semester instead of the usual four or five,” he said. “People don’t realize the intensity. There’s language study, like German, Spanish, Russian, Czech, Latin, and you learn the language of music and theory.”
With a mini-orchestra at his direction along with a choir that has swelled to 40-45 voices strong—including several from Community Arts Theater Society (CATS) run of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat—Fitzpatrick has a lot to conduct this year.
“Messiah has different portions to it, choruses, arias,” he said. “What I find nice are the wonderful solos in the body of the work. It creates such a nice atmosphere. It’s a tradition that I hope is ongoing for the community.” He’ll do his part!
In addition to conducting, Fitzpatrick will bring along a string player! Daughter Brooke, 13, who started playing violin at age 5, will be ready to play in the orchestra in a couple years, he said.