[dropcap]J[/dropcap]ust under three years old, Nmon Ford was banging gleefully on a toy piano when his parents decided it would be in everyone’s best interest for him to take lessons. Flash forward to the future, and they are sitting in the audience of an opera house in Hamburg, Germany watching their son perform in an opera.
Born in the Los Angeles area and of Panamanian descent, the Grammy winner is proud of his Latino roots. His father is from Almirante in the Bocas del Toro Province in Panama and his mother, who grew up in Chicago, has family in Costa Rica.
In an exclusive interview in anticipation of his upcoming performance in Ernest Bloch’s “Macbeth” with the Chicago Opera Theater, he spoke of his beginnings, the opera, and about a new musical project that sets off fireworks in the heart of this famously brilliant baritone.
EXTRA: Did you grow up speaking Spanish?
Nmon Ford: Yes and no. I grew up understanding Spanish because my dad and family were speaking it. I ended up going off to study Spanish, Italian, Portuguese and other languages. It’s a multilingual experience in my ear to understand languages. Give me about two weeks in each country and I am fluent. It’s an immersion experience and a psychological experience. Pretty much the same thing when I go to Panama and my accent comes back.
Where in the world has opera taken you?
I have been blessed to go a lot of places—Germany, Italy, France and Spain, Russia, Panama, Tokyo. I have done a lot of travel. It is really wonderful.
You earned both a bachelor’s and master’s degree and were named Outstanding Vocal Arts Graduate for both of those degrees. Did you always know you wanted to do music?
Interestingly enough, I wasn’t sure if that’s what I wanted. I was torn between music, law and journalism, and I could not make up my mind until it came time and I got a full scholarship to the University of Southern California. The music took over and that was it.
What made you decide on opera?
I was sort of bumming around a few musical styles. When I was in high school, there was a re-broadcast of “Live at the Met” on public television and that did it. I said, ‘This is for me.’ I was already familiar with music at this point and also with languages, but when I saw the opera, all that changed.
What other types of music do you do?
The other main project right now is a new group called Optronic™, and it’s a combination of electronic dance music and opera. It’s music that I have always liked, soulful and progressive house music, and now I am combining it all. It’s way more enjoyable sticking your hand in every medium. We incorporate video, film, cinema, fashion and technology.
Could you dispel some of the misconceptions about opera?
People may think that opera is removed from reality, that they won’t enjoy it because they can’t relate to it, and that there are people screaming for five hours. That is not the case, especially with this version of Macbeth. First of all, it is all in understandable English, and we work really hard to make it that way. And secondly, it’s in what I call linear plot. It’s the same story, uses most of the same words of the Shakespeare [work]. The most important thing is that the music and the drama are entirely relatable and it will make perfect sense. You can bring a 15-year-old and it will make sense to them, their parents and grandparents.
You sing, compose, and you are also an actor. How do you approach such a role as Macbeth with all its viciousness and villainous qualities?
It’s funny. It’s not my normal personality, but for some reason I relate as an actor. In real life, if I saw people like that, I would probably cross the street to avoid them. But as somebody who is portraying characters, I lean to those who have this extreme nature that drive the plot. They are aggressive and forward-moving characters.
Harris Theater for Music and Dance
205 E. Randolph Dr.
Sept. 13 – Sept. 21