Nicholas Phan brings voice to RiverCenter

When tenor Nicholas Phan (pronounced PAAN) performs at the Bill Heard Theatre Saturday, it won’t be his first time in Georgia.

He’s performed with the Atlanta Opera twice and the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra once.

“Atlanta is one of my favorite places to work,” Phan said. Because several friends live in Atlanta, he’s felt at home. He even helped the assistant concertmaster of the Atlanta Symphony move into his new home last June.

“I’m excited about it,” he said of his trip to Columbus. “I’m really looking forward to it.”

Phan, 31, was in the Houston Grand Opera Studio, a training school for operatic singers for five years, so he got the flavor of the South.

Phan grew up in Ann Arbor, Mich., and went to the University of Michigan, where his father is a professor in the medical school. Calling himself a “university brat,” Phan said his father is Chinese and his mother is Greek.

His parents steered him into music with a violin as his fourth birthday present.

“I was upset because I wanted toys,” Phan said. “My lessons were during recess every Friday and I hated it.”

But when he was 11, he started playing in the school orchestra and fell in love with music. Phan had originally wanted to become a concert violinist, but when he was a freshman in high school, he found himself in the school production of “The Music Man.”

“That’s when I found my voice,” Phan said. “I slowly made the transition from the violin to singing. I started seriously taking lessons when I was 15 and at the age of 16, I felt the call to go to music school.”

Phan said he had no idea what that would mean. Because opera companies are closing because of the economy, work is harder to find.

So he diversified. Phan now sings opera and oratorios, presents recitals and performs with orchestras.

“That’s good for me,” Phan said. “It has forced me to flex my artistic muscles and develop an independent way of doing things.”

He doesn’t sing pop songs because he says he sounds silly. However, after some tequila, you might find him in a karaoke bar.

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