Opera Hits Truman School

A little before 10 a.m. at Truman School, and Mark S. Doss had the whole world in his hands. Shiny and green, reflecting a persistent, glorious sunlight off the surface. Buoyant but delicate, like nothing could weigh it down. He flashed a maniacal grin at the audience, pulled it out from behind his back, and opened his mouth wide. 

Ecco il mondo, 
Vuoto e tondo, 
S'alza, scende, 
Balza e splende.

His voice trembled as it spun a demon into being. It coasted over a group of middle school band students and dripped from the walls, knocked at the closed door and asked to be let out into the hallway. Mephistopheles had arrived. 

Doss, an internationally recognized bass baritone, brought his vocals to New Haven’s Truman School Monday morning as part of the Drozdoff Society's Impromptu Classical Music Recital Series, a teaching and outreach arm of the group. He was accompanied by Queens-based pianist Reed Tetzloff. 

 Mark S. Doss. Lucy Gellman Photos. 

Mark S. Doss. Lucy Gellman Photos. 

The event is an outgrowth of the Second Movement Series, which organized teaching sessions at Truman School last year before founder David Perry moved away. 

As Doss performed for Jeff Jones’ Monday morning band class, students leaned in to listen, their eyes glistening as Doss jumped from one character to the next, sometimes jumping between centuries and languages with each piece. At the top of the hour, he was Stephen Colanti’s Selfish Giant, mourning the long winter as it trudged ever forward with its snowy feet. The sunlight streaming through the windows was no match for Doss’ words, delivered in a gravelly, rolling stream that soaked the room. 

I cannot understand why the spring is so late in coming
The snow and the frost remain
The north wind blows, the hail beats down
The sky is still gray
Oh how I long to see the sun once more

He kept shape-shifting. From a giant of Colanti’s making, he became devilish, his face twisting as he took on Hector Berlioz’ Temptation of Faust and then Arrigo Boitos’ Mephistopheles. Five minutes later he was knee-deep in praise, urging students to clap along with a contemporary mash up of Amazing Grace and Newborn Again.

 “It feels so fun, like you could do it. The emotion … that’s what I love," said sixth grader Jasmine Pinos, who plays trombone. 

“It feels so fun, like you could do it. The emotion … that’s what I love," said sixth grader Jasmine Pinos, who plays trombone. 

“It makes it worthwhile to do the work that I do,” he said to the group of his era-spanning commitment to craft. “To practice and study, and then go out and share that, and say ‘This is what I worked on! Look!’”

He lives it, he added—to keep his mind agile, he adds ring-juggling, hula-hooping, sentence diagramming, ear training and scarf tricks to his daily routine, going over long libretti as his hands do something entirely different. He challenges himself in long games of internet chess, doing the mental gymnastics required of the game. 

In the front row with her hand raised for much of the hour, student Jasmine Pinos said the message resonated with her on multiple levels. After choosing the trombone as her band instrument earlier this school year, she found herself watching Doss’ every move, trying to figure out how she could translate his emotion and vocal range into her performance as a trombonist.   

“For me, it’s amazing—like I could try it,” she said, noting that she’s often moved by emotion in songs that she hears on the radio and on YouTube (she referenced Lil Dickey’s “Freaky Friday” as a particularly influential text). “It feels so fun, like you could do it. The emotion … that’s what I love.”

“The last part, when he was loud, was so cool,” she added. “I’m like: ‘I wanna try that one day.”