Faulty technology worked in Bryan Hymel's favor in his Academy of Vocal Arts homecoming Monday, on a day when other logistical realities threatened to keep the event from happening at all.
With his wife in New Orleans (his hometown) on the verge of childbirth, the 35-year-old star tenor made a stop there after a performance in Dallas, was told she'd had a false alarm, but with travel delays didn't arrive at AVA - the epicenter of his now-international career - until 15 minutes before giving an in-person preview of his new disc, Héroïque, which entered the Billboard classical charts at No. 3 earlier this month.
The promotional video for the Warner-label recording, however, was temperamental, buying Hymel warm-up time so that when he did sing Meyerbeer's "O paradis" and Massenet's "No pouvant réprimer," accompanied by Danielle Orlando, he was every bit the tenor that he is on disc.
Singing well amid chaotic circumstances, as much as his artistry, explains his career. "I thought that all you need is one big break," he said, having now discovered otherwise.
The burly, ebullient tenor who graduated from AVA in 2008 seemed to be headed for a breakthrough with Carmen in 3D, an international simulcast and DVD some five years ago that was technologically ahead of its time. But not until late 2012 and early 2013 with a series of last-minute replacements in Berlioz Les Troyens, both in London and the Metropolitan Opera, did the word spread of his tenor voice with heroic weight but easy high notes.
The new Rossini/Meyerbeer French aria disc, though, was "the hardest thing I've ever done," he said. Besides the concentration required by six-hour days, the engineers calculated that Hymel sang 85 high Cs over a week's time. A bonus cut from the album, apparently available only on iTunes, has him singing a high D.
"High notes, I've always had," he said.
More important, they don't sound like a feat. "It's beautiful singing - connected to the word, connected to the music ...," said Christofer Macatsoris, long-time AVA music director and one of the toughest critics in the business.
Some arias had to be learned for the disc - no problem for Hymel, who adds multiple new roles every season. Since Warner Classics is now French run, diction coaching was scrupulous. "No longer can you make an album with the same Italian arias," he said.
The best news is that he's heard amid first-class company. The Héroïque disc was made with full chorus and the Prague Philharmonia under the excellent Emmanuel Villaume (now conducting Manon at the Met). His latest DVD is Verdi's Les Vepres Siciliennes (the French version of I Vespri Siciliani) in a handsome, intelligent, musically idiomatic Royal Opera production, directed by Stefan Herheim and conducted by Antonio Pappano.
Friday's BrAVA Philadelphia gala at the Kimmel Center has an alumni mixture of major stars, medium stars, and others who started strong but now have questionable futures. Hymel, who sings La Boheme in Dallas that night, is in the first category - no glass ceiling in sight.