Return of the accidental opera star
Then Anooshah Golesorkhi strides on stage, cloaked in a wine-colored robe and golden headband, his entrance is dramatic in the extreme. He embodies rage as he sings, “I will crush him and grind his bones into dust,” referring to the Biblical hero, Samson. The music swells in support of his deep baritone voice, and his evil plan begins to unfold.
Last February, Golesorkhi made his San Diego Opera debut as the High Priest of Dagon in a lavish production of “Samson and Delilah” that enlisted a cast of more than 100. A professional singer for decades, Golesorkhi regularly performs with leading opera companies throughout the world (after San Diego, he jets off to Shanghai, Athens and Leipzig, Germany). “Coming back to San Diego is like the return of the prodigal son, because it all started here.”
Sitting in the firelit living room of the Degheri Alumni Center one morning between performances, the Persian-born singer seems the antithesis of his stage villain. Dressed casually, he uses laughter and lively gestures to punctuate the tale of how he landed this unexpected career. As a chemistry major, Golesorkhi ’76 had no interest in singing until a friend cajoled him into taking voice lessons.
“We were chatting about life, and on our way back to the dorms, we were singing … Well, she was singing, and I was yelling,” he recalls. “I’ve heard better sounding water buffaloes,” he jokes. But Robert Austin of USD’s music department detected something different when he heard Golesorkhi for the first time, telling him, “There’s a voice in there.”
When Austin invited him to join the opera workshop class, Golesorkhi was still not convinced he had talent. “If you happened to be a walking male with a 98.6 temperature, they would take you because there were only four men.” Self-deprecation aside, he concedes that this was the spark that lit his career, or as he describes it, the disease that began to consume him.
“I suppose it’s like malaria. Without knowing, it’s contracted.” Golesorkhi viewed singing merely as a hobby for a dozen years while earning a master’s in chemistry at San Diego State University and then working for a venture capital firm in Los Angeles. His professional opera debut came about by accident in 1988.
The opera singer Carol Neblett, for whom he had sung as a student, recommended him as an artist-in-residence at the now-defunct Opera Pacific in Santa Ana, Calif. Still having a day job, Golesorkhi negotiated to participate just part-time as an understudy. When he got a last-minute call to perform his role in the opera “Aida,” he had no chance for even a real rehearsal.
“I didn’t have time to get nervous,” he recalls. Things picked up steam, and by 1993 he had a steady stream of gigs coming to him. That’s when Golesorkhi quit his day job and made the leap to full-time professional opera singer. “And thank God, to my own amazement, I’ve been steadily working ever since.”
Today, Golesorkhi spends most of his time on the road performing, occasionally returning to his home in Norway or Germany. Yet he doesn’t view his life as glamorous; in fact, he laughs at the very idea. When asked about the beautiful cities he visits, he explains, “You basically have your hotel and the theatre, and you go back and forth. After seven hours of rehearsals, you just want to put your feet up.”
Show days, he says, are particularly grueling. “By the time you get out of makeup after the show, all the restaurants are closed. So you go to your hotel room, order room service — if there is any — and watch TV until four in the morning until the adrenaline goes away.” The performance itself, however, he describes in almost spiritual terms. Feeling the vibrations of the orchestra beneath his feet, engulfed in the music of the masters, he calls it “a sublime nexus to the creative energy of the universe. There is no passage of time.”
Looking back, Golesorkhi credits the people at USD for nurturing his multiple talents, planting the seeds of what was to come. “Clearly, if the experience here had not been positive or not possible, then God knows what would have happened,” he says. “Maybe I’d be selling shoes now.”