David Serero's interview on MusikHolics.com by Kevin Tanza
David Serero is what I consider a musical globetrotter. He has been a singer, an actor, a producer and has even worked in comedy. He is constantly producing content, making music, and contributing to multiple art forms on a regular basis while also being part of some of the highest-regarded music scenes in the entire world and being an extremely vocalist in his own right.
But all his talents don’t compare to his humble and likable personality, always trying to help people around him and being a consummate professional in every sense of the world. Talking with David is not only talking with a professional musician, but also to a man who understands what he has achieved and works every day to not take it for granted. In a word filled with ego, arrogance, and lack of compassion for people with different points of view, someone with such an uplifting mindset (especially considering his own background) is refreshing.
I had the opportunity to do an interview with David and I hope you enjoy it.
Kevin Tanza from MusikHolics.com
Welcome to MusikHolics, David. It’s great to have you here. How are things going with you and your loved ones during this pandemic?
Thank you so much! Yes, everything is doing so far so good, and I hope that all is well with you guys as well. My dad was able to rest for a while, which is the most important for me. I also used this quarantine time to finish so many projects of mine from books, recordings, writing musicals and plays, video editing, and more. But also to reorganize all my future schedules which has suffered massive changes due to Covid.
Has this situation affected your plans for 2020 in a big way?
Very big. I was directing and producing two important musicals: Anne Frank, a Musical and Lost in the Disco, both off-Broadway, and I had to shut down both of them due to the lockdown. For Anne Frank, a Musical, I had to shut it down 2 hours before the curtain on the day of the premiere! It was so frustrating and made me sick as in 22 years of performing that never happened to me. But the health of my artists and one of my audience do come first. Then all my shows and tours for the coming months were first rescheduled until May, then later. It also pushed all my productions as I need to reschedule so many of them and several performances. Now I have them re-scheduled between new productions originally scheduled for 2020, 2021, and 2022.
For readers that perhaps are not familiar with your work, what can you tell us about yourself?
I’m an opera singer, actor, and producer. I sing all repertoire and act in all styles, including doing standup comedy. I’m also an author and I’ve adapted many plays and translations as well. I have also written a few books and plays on various topics. Every season, I produce several theatrical productions off-Broadway for which I became a specialist! I do opera, theater, and musicals. I have performed more than 2,500 performances worldwide in more than 40 countries and directed & produced dozens of productions, recorded more than 50 albums. I’m also the founder, artistic director, and producer of several music and film festivals. I have a radio show and a podcast. But most importantly, I do love to work. It’s more than a job, it’s my life.
I like to start from the beginning with these interviews: How did you get into music?
I started as a pianist and played for many years. I was writing my own material and started to sing my own songs, which was more into pop and R&B music. Then I did Jazz music, then theater, musicals and finally landed in opera. I crossed many genres and learned from each of them.
Who were the vocalists that influenced you the most?
Placido Domingo is one of my dearest ones for opera. His passion can be felt all the way around. I was also inspired by a large range of French and American actors (drama and comedy), in France there was Louis de Funes, Jean-Paul Belmondo, Gad Elmaleh…etc and in the US, of course, Robert de Niro, Al Pacino, Robin Williams etc. I listened to singers (Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr,) to comedians/entertainers (Jerry Lewis, Don Rickles) and many classical theater artists. There are also rock stars such as Jon Bon Jovi (I was a big fan and one day I met him, and from that day on, I decided to become a singer), Steven Tyler and all these rock giants who can carry a whole stadium based on their voices and how they can work the crowd. All of these influences from classical, to popular artists and standup comedy, brought my own genre which envelops all of these wide influences.
What albums made a huge impact on your life?
Crossroads and These Days by Bon Jovi, it’s while I was listening to Bon Jovi that I was dreamed to be a rock star when I was a teenager. Then, of course, Thriller by Michael Jackson with Quincy Jones producing this gem, Ladies & Gentlemen by George Michael, and many more.
When and why you decided that you wanted to be a professional singer?
Since I started to sing when I was 16, I took it very seriously. I always said, “When I start, I never stop”. I was writing, arranging, and producing my own music and started to write for others back in Paris. Then in 2001, I moved to New York and lived in Harlem. In NYC, I did theater and discovered that since I could act and sing I should look into musicals. Later, people told me I had a voice for opera. I went to the Metropolitan Opera of New York and saw Turandot by Puccini, I immediately decided that it was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.
What can you tell us about your vocal training to become a professional singer?
I took training very seriously and was lucky to have met teachers at a time when teachers were not afraid to criticize you like it needs to be. Today, I feel no teachers can really push a student to go beyond their limits.
To be a professional singer is not just about the voice, but it requires having a strong mind with professional qualities, and back in my days, a voice teacher will teach you these. So I’m lucky that I had such teachers. I remember being so scared before going to see them as I knew I’ll get hit hard (laughs), but comedy always saved me. So first I started to train with a modern pop technique in Paris with the same teacher (Serge Legal!) for 5 years, then I studied in New York with Andy Anselmo for the Broadway technique. For the opera, I had several ones in New York.
Then I moved to St Petersburg, Russia for 2 years where I first studied at the Conservatory, and later was invited to the Mariinsky Theater. Later back in my native Paris, I worked with Anna Maria Bondi who taught me the Italian style and tradition of Italian opera. Then I studied in Paris with Jorge Chaminé, Christian Jean, and recently Mark Oswald in NYC. I also had great vocal coaches such as Janine Reiss and analyzed and studied with great opera singers.
What are the aspects of being a vocalist that you think is not mentioned enough?
We are the violin and the violinist! This means if we don’t feel happy, the rest of the voice will suffer. Your soul as a singer is so important. I had a teacher who taught me that if you’re a good man, you’ll have a good voice. I always work on my personality to be the best guy around, so it will reflect in my voice. We also do not know in advance how our instrument is doing the day of a show, neither one second before doing a high note. It takes experience, care, discipline to maintain high standards. We have only one voice, if we break or damage it, we can’t return it to the store to get a new one (laughs). We have to take care of it 24/7.
You have done opera, theater, and musicals throughout your career. In which setting do you feel more comfortable and why?
I love them all. Each one of them makes me better in the others. I’m glad that I can alternate these genres in the same season, as I do nearly 10 theatrical productions per season. It also helps me to come back always fresh on the next genre I’m doing. What I did miss in one, when I find it back, I’m stronger in it. In each of these genres, I also bring all the other styles it. I want my operas to be seen also as a musical and a theater play, and the same goes for the other twos.
Doing the research for this interview, I saw that you have played in many venues around the world. Is there a particular performance that you hold dearly?
Each performance is dear to my heart. Some of my favorite moments are always your debuts in a new city or country. I try to do 4 new countries per season. Several venues such as Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center, Paris Opera Garnier, Concertgebouw, and debuts in West End and Off-Broadway are very dear to my heart as they represent an important step for me. But some of my favorite memories are also when I play my own shows with comedy in dinner theater or small venues, with interaction with audience members, and these are for me the cherry on the cake. It’s like going to the gym!
Another interesting thing about you is that you were born deaf and you were not able to speak until you were nine years old. What can you tell us about that experience and how it molds you as a person?
I had an ear infection which kept me deaf until several surgeries brought my hearing back, but I had to start to talk again and work with a speech therapist to bring my speech back correctly. Before I wouldn’t talk, so teachers thought that I was shy, while actually, I couldn’t hear them when they were asking me questions. When I started singing, I had to work so hard on my voice and diction, as I was coming from a damaged place. But I also spoke very loud, so when I started to do films, I had to learn how to bring it down. But for classical theater and opera, I felt free to open up, throw my power and passion out!
What do you think are the mental elements that a vocalist needs to have?
The main reason why I see performers not succeeding these days is a lack of discipline and self-control. I always say this: The talent will get you gigs, the discipline will get you a career. Anywhere you perform, it’s always thanks to one person who said “yes” to you. Sometimes a producer, a director or a venue, or a promoter. You must always identify these people and remember the difference between performing for the audience and working for somebody. Honor your past and the people who believe in you. Spend time to work on your technique. The voice is like a muscle that needs to be worked out every day so it can maintain its stamina. Otherwise, the voice will become very capricious and will make it pay to you at the worst moment you can imagine. It’s like a marriage: if you treat her right, she’ll love you and give you her best.
What do you consider the greatest achievement of your career?
To take care of my father, offering him memorable vacations, and using awareness to help charities to support organizations such as orphans, medical research, fight against anti-Semitism, homophobia and racism, and more. I also love to build bridges among different cultures and my festivals allowed me to showcase this. Bring younger audiences to the opera and theater, tell beautiful stories, create a memorable human experience, and make people happy!
I’m passionate about people and singing/acting/producing is my way to express my love to them. To seat at the table with important people such as Ambassadors, Presidents, is good revenge from my modest childhood growing up in the project of suburban Paris. But honestly, to be able just to make a living with my passion and not having to be a dishwasher, as I was going I moved to NYC, is an achievement that I’m trying to maintain! I’m also proud to have sacrificed any personal profits in order to maintain amazing relationships with people in the industry and to be recognized for my work. I always say: People are what is left once you have lost everything. So always invest in people and in yourself, it’s free!
Any advice to young people aspiring to be singers?
Appreciate the opportunity, nothing is more important. The job doesn’t make you, you make the job. Don’t criticize your job, as you have the power to make it better. Remember that if you take 3 professional actors/musicians to perform in a garden without any equipment, you’ll have a professional show. Honor your past and present. Don’t be obsessed with your future. In order to build the third floor of a house, you need the second one to be right. Don’t wait to be at the top to give your best, it starts now. It’s never the fault of others, it’s yours only. The perfect gig does not exist, only you can make it perfect. As a professional, our job is also to simply make it work. If you decide to be a professional, it’s a 24/7 and 365 days a year commitment, not only when it looks good on Instagram or when it suits you and does not require more of your time. Don’t label yourself, remember that I’ll cast a turtle if it sings well (laughs).
Not everything that is in your mind must be on social media. Free speech does not equal insulting and defaming others. When you hurt others, it hurts you. And if you honor others, you’ll honor yourself. Don’t be afraid to ask for advice even to the big guys of the industry, if you show too much that everything is great, then how can someone help you? Understand your opportunity even if you only earned your place in the audition room. And the biggest respect you can show is affordable to everyone: Be prepared. Learn your lines, rehearse at home, be over-prepared, and dress up at a meeting. It shows your respect to the others and adds up on the balance when it comes to a decision.
Thank you for doing this, David. It’s been a pleasure. Any last words for our readers? Where can we follow you on social media?
Thank you so, so much for this great opportunity to be in your wonderful media. I’m deeply honored to be interviewed and be featured among all my wonderful colleague's musicians. Your website is a reference for great interviews and questions, and now I know why. My IG is @davidserero and my FB is davidsereroopera, my website is davidserero.com. You can also subscribe to my YouTube channel.
Interview conducted by Kevin Tanza for MusikHolics.com on July 14th, 2020.