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 regularly 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 world filled with ego, arrogance, and a lack of compassion for people with different points of view, someone with such an uplifting mindset (especially considering his background) is refreshing.
I had the opportunity to 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 going so far so good, and I hope that all is well with you guys as well. My dad could rest for a while, which is the most important for me. I also used this quarantine time to finish many projects, from books and recordings to writing musicals and plays, video editing, and more. But also to reorganize all my future schedules, which have suffered massive changes due to COVID-19.
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 due to the lockdown. For Anne Frank, a Musical, I had to shut it down 2 hours before the curtain on the premiere day! It was frustrating and made me sick, as that never happened to me in 22 years of performing. But the health of my artists and audience do come first. Then, all my shows and tours for the coming months were rescheduled until May. It also pushed all my productions as I needed to reschedule so many of them and several performances. I have them rescheduled between new presentations initially scheduled for 2020, 2021, and 2022.
What can you tell us about yourself for readers who are unfamiliar with your work?
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. I have also written a few books and plays on various topics. I produce several theatrical productions off-Broadway every season, for which I became a specialist! I do opera, theater, and musicals. I have performed over 2,500 performances worldwide in more than 40 countries, directed and & produced dozens of productions, and recorded over 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 material and began to sing my songs, which were more into pop and R&B music. Then I did Jazz music, theater, and 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 an extensive 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.,) 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 famous artists and standup comedy, brought my genre, which envelops all these broad influences.
What albums made a significant impact on your life?
Crossroads and These Days by Bon Jovi: While listening to Bon Jovi, I dreamed of being a rock star as a teenager. Then, of course, Thriller by Michael Jackson, Quincy Jones produced this gem, Ladies & Gentlemen by George Michael, and many more.
When and why did you decide 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 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, no teacher can push a student to go beyond their limits.
To be a professional singer is not just about the voice; it requires having a solid mind with professional qualities, and back in my days, a voice teacher would teach you these. So I'm lucky that I had such teachers. I remember being so scared before seeing them as I knew I'd get stuck (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 five 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 two 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 like Janine Reiss and analyzed and studied with great opera singers.
What are the aspects of being a vocalist that are not mentioned enough?
We are the violin and the violinist! The rest of the voice will suffer if we don't feel happy. Your soul as a singer is so essential. 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 need to find out how our instrument is doing the day of a show, nor one second before doing a high note. It takes experience, care, and 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 than the others. I'm glad that I can alternate these genres in the same season, as I do nearly ten theatrical productions per season. It also helps me always come back fresh on the next genre I'm doing. When I find it before, I'm stronger in what I did miss in one. In each of these genres, I also bring all the other styles. I want my operas to be seen as a musical and a theater play; the same goes for the other two.
While researching for this interview, I saw you have played in many venues worldwide. 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 four 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 essential step for me. But some of my favorite memories are also when I play my 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 could not speak until you were nine. What can you tell us about that experience and how it molds you as a person?
I had an ear infection that 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 get my speech back correctly. Before, I wouldn't speak, so teachers thought I was shy, but I couldn't hear them when they were asking me questions. When I started singing, I had to work hard on my voice and diction, coming from a damaged place. But I also spoke very loudly, so when I started filming, I had to learn how to bring it down. But I felt free to open up and throw my power and passion out for classical theater and opera!
What do you think are the mental elements that a vocalist needs to have?
The main reason I see performers failing these days is a lack of discipline and self-control. I always say this: The talent will get you gigs, and the field 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, 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 must be worked out daily to maintain its stamina. Otherwise, the agent will become very erratic and make it pay 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 most outstanding 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 of expressing my love for them. To sit at the table with influential people, such as Ambassadors and presidents, is good revenge for my modest childhood growing up in the project of suburban Paris. But to be able to make a living with my passion and not having to be a dishwasher, as I was when I moved to NYC, is an achievement I'm trying to maintain! I'm also proud to have sacrificed any personal profits to maintain excellent relationships with industry people and be recognized for my work. I always say that people are what is left once you have lost everything. So, constantly invest in people and yourself; it's free!
Any advice to young people aspiring to be singers?
I appreciate the opportunity; nothing is more important. The job doesn't make you; you make the job. Don't criticize your job, as you can make it better. Remember that you'll have a professional show if you take three professional actors/musicians to perform in a garden without equipment. Honor your past and present. Don't be obsessed with your future. To build the third floor of a house, you need the second one to be right. Please 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 make it work simply. 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 suits you and does not require more time. Don't label yourself; remember, I'll cast a turtle if it sings well (laughs).
Only some things that are in your mind must be on social media. Free speech does not equal insulting and slandering others. When you hurt others, it hurts you. And if you honor others, you'll honor yourself. Be bold and ask for advice, even from the industry's big guys; if you show too much that everything is excellent, how can someone help you? Understand your opportunity even if you only earned your place in the audition room. And the enormous 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 for others and adds up to 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 much for this excellent opportunity to be in your beautiful media. I'm deeply honored to be interviewed and featured among my wonderful colleagues' 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.