"You'd get up and sing 'O sole mio,' and then people would ask you for their minestrone."

Assistant to the Business Administrator, Annenberg School for Communication
Length of service: 2 years.
Other stuff: Recenty viewed -- "Deconstructing Harry" and "Boogie Nights." Recently read -- "Coffee Will Make You Black: A Novel" by April Sinclair

He's sung in Italy. New York City. The World's Fair in Seville, Spain. Fortunately for local opera fans, Stuart Jasper has brought his tenor and his operatic career to Philadelphia.

In high school in Milwaukee, Wis., Jasper, now 38, loved pop music. Little did he know that he was born to sing. His mother, a jazz and gospel musician, started her own production company and is creating her own CD. His late father played the piano. His sister sings R&B. And his brother, who plays the drums, at one time performed with a rock 'n' roll band.

A passionate moviegoer, he thought "Deconstructing Harry" was disappointing, and "Boogie Nights" was a surprise, especially for the performances of Burt Reynolds and Mark Wahlberg.

Q. Do you work to support your music habit?

A. Yes. This pays the rent, pays for my clothes. I'm a freelance singer and have been for many years. I freelance on the side. Right now, I'm performing with the Concert Opera of Philadelphia.

Q. But how did you become involved in opera?

A. I come from a family who indulges in the diversity of music, to say the least. Before I went to college, I was in a lot of performance groups in high school and into pop music. At college, the professors noticed I had such a wide range and a voice that was flexible.

Q. Flexible?

A. You can do a variety of styles of music -- pop, classical. My teachers really nurtured that gift in the classical direction.

Q. Do you make money singing?
A. I did make a living at it the first four years in the early '80s, when the arts were thriving more than now, because there was more funding. Now there's more competition for fewer spots.

I was a singing waiter in Minneapolis for a number of years, and we did opera and served Italian food. The first place I worked was named Rigoletto's. It had a gazebo in the middle of the floor, and you had a schedule and you'd get up and sing 'O sole mio' and then people would ask for their minestrone."

Q. How do you like to spend your free time?
A. Reading. I like novels. I like to read about voice, magazines, the paper. I read a lot of health magazines. You never know when you're going to be called up to perform. I need to stay healthy.

I got into health when my mother was diagnosed with cancer. I work out a lot. As a performer, your appearance is vital. I also play the piano, and I teach voice.

Q. What are some of the books you've read?
A. I'm reading "Coffee Will Make You Black." I've read some self-help books, "The Artist's Way," about unlocking your creativity, strength, your self-confidence. It helps me to keep focused on what my music is about.

Q. What is your music about?
A. It's about freedom, expression, sharing. It's about being the best that I can be to enhance what I have. It's also therapy for me.

Q. What else do you do with your free time?
A. I love going to the movies. ...Through opera, you have to be an actor. A lot of times when I see movies and I read, I'm looking for expression, how people convey something to their audience. Singing is about what you can communicate to your audience, what you are saying.

Stuart Jasper will appear with Concert Opera of Philadelphia in "A Hand of Bridge" Wednesday, Mar. 25 and Saturday, Mar. 28, 8 p.m. at the Helen Corning Warden Theater of the Academy of Vocal Arts, 1920 Spruce St., Philadelphia. For ticket information, call 610-789-7002.

Originally published on February 12, 1998