Will Liverman has always regretted not studying foreign languages — especially ones like Italian, German and French.
That’s because when the young Liverman was about to audition for a spot at the Virginia Governor’s School for the Arts, he froze when he was asked to sing an Italian arts song.
“I was at a disadvantage because I didn’t know any,” Liverman remembers, “so they allowed me to sing the National Anthem, and luckily I was accepted on the spot. But to this day I’ve regretted not being fluent in any language.”
Opera — a centuries-old theatrical tradition rooted in Europe — calls not just for singing but also for acting, and, according to Liverman, it’s hard to perform convincingly if you don’t truly understand what the words mean or how to pronounce them.
“You don’t really have to be fluent, but it sure helps,” says Liverman, now starring as Schaunard in the Philadelphia Opera Company’s production of “La Boheme,” April 26 through May 5.
Liverman, whose musical foundation was guided by his parents, took piano lessons and studied the classics at an early age.
“But I also sang in the church choir,” the baritone recalls. “My mother was a gospel singer and traveled the world performing, and my dad was a tumpet player, so music definitely ran my family — with the piano being my true passion.”
But during his audition for the Governor’s School, those looking to earn a place were allowed to audition for two different spots. So I decided to try singing as well as the piano just to double my chances.”
And singing is what clinched it for Liverman, and looking back, he can’t give the School enough credit. “I went there thinking I wanted to sing gospel or maybe R&B. But they exposed me to opera and I’ll be forever grateful.”
Liverman ultimately went off to study at Wheaton College in Illinois, got his master’s degree in music from the Juilliard School in New York, and completed a three-year apprenticeship at a opera company in Chicago. And although his vocal abilities have taken him around the world, he says Philadelphia will always hold a special place in his heart. “I consider Philadelphia my launching pad from the end of my young artist career and into my professional career.
“Opera Philadelphia hired me to portray Dizzy Gillespie in the world premiere of ‘Charlie Parker’s Yardbirds,’ which eventually went on to the Apollo in Harlem. It was quite an experience and one for which I’ll be forever grateful.”
According to Liverman, “Opera often gets a bad rap, but I’m a perfect example that it’s really for everyone. Black opera singers still remain a rarity, and when I tell people what I do they’re ready with dozens of questions for me. So for the future, I’d like to see more Blacks of every age on the stage and in the audience ready to enjoy this wonderful art form.”