Unbeknownst to many casual listeners, many of opera’s greatest stories are those of strife, struggle, redemption, troubles, and triumph. Take, for instance, the narrative of one of the world’s most popular operas, La Boheme. The struggles of life are contrasted beautifully by the uplifting romance of Mimi and Rodolfo. Ryan Speedo Green’s story is a real life juxtaposition tale of the degradation and miracles that life has to offer, and the redemptive powers of opera.
Now a bass-baritone vocalist performing at New York’s Metropolitan Opera (most recently having played the part of Colline in the Met’s own performance of La Boheme), Green spent his youth in and out of juvenile detention facilities before discovering his passion for opera and his unique voice. In a recently released biography of Green, titled ‘Sing for Your Life,’ details are given about the 30 year old’s struggles with his violent temper as a kid growing up in Virginia.
Living in a bullet riddled trailer, among other things, are illuminated upon, as well as his discovery of opera and how it helped him to overcome his aggression. Green says his love of music began to develop behind those detention center walls, listening to the Top 40 hits of 1998 when rewarded with a radio for good behavior.
It wouldn’t be until attending a performance art high school and mistakenly being placed in an opera course that Ryan would discover his new passion. From the moment he realized the expanse in story and vocal skills opera had to offer, Ryan says he has pursued it ever since. Though those who are familiar with Green’s work may be accustomed to his booming baritone and unwavering bass vocals, that wasn’t always the case.
‘Sing for your Life’ documents Ryan’s shift from the untrained tenor vocals he had developed listening to his favorite pop singers, to his awe inspiring vocals heard in Met performances today. Just as opera served as a redemptive tool to young Ryan, his training as a vocalist is metaphorically enlisted to mirror his progression away from a life of anger and violence in a way that impressively serves to illustrate Green’s continuing journey.
In a recent interview with Terry Gross for NPR’s Fresh Air, Ryan went into detail about his aggression problems, his love of opera, and his training as a vocalist. Green tells Gross it’s hard for him to imagine the mindset that landed him doing time in Juvie all those years ago, but reiterates something many people with anger problems seem to have in common, a lack of understanding by peers and teachers early on.
Much of ‘Sing for Your Life’ is a testament to good teachers who didn’t give up on Ryan, who says he’s lucky to have people and passions others in his shoes don’t. Opera, Green says, was never something that was put in front of him and was something he happened to stumble upon by chance. Being put into an opera class that needed more boys, Ryan quickly discovered his blossoming baritone-bass voice and became serious about pursuing opera. Much like the characters of La Boheme, Ryan Speedo Green’s life has taken some major turns from the days when it was rooted in anger and violence.