In Opera Philadelphia’s production of “Magic Flute,” tenor Ben Bliss plays Tamino, a young prince who sets off on a whirlwind adventure to find his true love. In real life, it turns out Bliss himself embarked on a similar adventure, to discover his true love for opera.
The Kansas City native grew up in a musical household, and his mother even sang in the opera chorus and lyric opera there — but he wasn’t interested at first.
“I didn’t gravitate towards the opera when I was younger,” Bliss admits. “We always had comps to the Sunday matinee, which was during the Chiefs game. It was really stiff competition for my attention.”
In high school, Bliss participated in theater and choir, which sparked an interest in film production. He decided to go to school for it but needed a scholarship.
“I figured my best shot was singing, and Chapman University offers choir scholarships even when you’re not a music major. I sent them a CD of myself singing a solo with the high school choir and the dean started calling my house every week,” Bliss says.
While still pursuing a degree in film production, the future opera star sang in two choirs and took voice lessons. Then he performed in his first opera, which turned out to be “Magic Flute.”
“My voice teacher told me he would flunk me if I didn’t try out for the opera — so I did,” he says. “I actually really ended up enjoying it between the challenges of the language and being on stage.”
Despite this, Bliss stayed on course with his film production career and moved to Los Angeles to work on the Dr. Phil Show.
“Working on the Dr. Phil Show for three seasons was enough to make me never want to work in television again,” he admits. “So I called up my college voice teacher and told him I was ready to sing as a career.”
From there, Bliss was on the fast track to success in the opera world and has since won a number of awards, like the Martin E. Segal award from the Metropolitan Opera, the Mozart and Placido Domingo awards at the 2015 Francisco Viñas International Competition and many more.
Given his history, Bliss admits that performing in Opera Philadelphia’s “Magic Flute” feels a lot like “coming home to an old friend.”
Under the direction of Suzanne Andrade and Barrie Kosky, this particular production is a mix of live action cartoon and 1920s silent film aesthetics, which makes for a completely transportive experience, especially when combined with the genius of Mozart.
“It’s great for people who’ve never seen opera because you forget you’re watching opera,” Bliss says. “When you’re so entertained by the production, you are caught off guard by the sheer beauty of the music.”
So given his adventures, what does the tenor behind the role of Tamino think of Philadelphia?
“I spent some time in New York City and Boston and [after those experiences] — thought I was a West Coaster through and through. But I would totally move to Philadelphia,” he says. “It’s a great foodie city, the architecture is phenomenal, [the] people are super nice, there’s a million great museums, [and] great hiking in the Wissahickon — it’s an incredible city and Opera Philadelphia fits right in with that.”
If you go:
Sept. 15 through Sept. 24
Academy of Music
240 S. Broad St.