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New Artist in Residence: Russell Thomas

Posted on: January 25, 2021

How excited are we that Russell Thomas, one of the most in-demand tenors of our time, is joining us as our next Artist in Residence? The answer: incredibly so.  

From now through the end of the 2023/24 season, Russell Thomas will play a huge part in shaping all aspects of LAO, whether he’s helping plan future repertory, weighing in on our next big marketing campaign, or helping us build a better, stronger, and more diverse community of opera lovers in Los Angeles (more on that later). But don’t worry, you’ll still get to see this enormously talented tenor take our stage. He’s set to perform a starring role each season, starting with his stint as leading man Radames in our upcoming production of Aida next spring. 

Needless to say, everyone at LAO is so excited to work with Russell in new ways and learn more about him too.   


Before taking the operatic stage, Russell Thomas was singing gospel songs during church services (plus a ton of Whitney Houston songs in elementary school). “Those are some of my earliest musical memories. I was so in love with church, gospel music, and Whitney,” Russell said. “I enjoyed watching preachers and worship leaders move a congregation.” 

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Russell Thomas as Titus in our production of "The Clemency of Titus" (Photo: Cory Weaver)

Even though young Russell found his voice in church, he credits a slew of different artists as his musical inspirations. “I have too many musical influences to name them all,” he said. And all for different reasons. Nina Simone is a major influence. Her musicality, honesty, and activism are other worldly. In opera, Carlo Bergonzi, Dame Gwyneth Jones, and Kathleen Battle are just three of so many singers I admire. In gospel I wanted to be Daryl Coley and enjoyed listening to quartet groups like the Jackson Southernaires.” 


But when did Russell Thomas discover his love of opera specifically? Pretty early in his life. “I fell in love with opera at the age of eight, having heard it on the radio. When a voice teacher heard me sing in high school, she told me that she believed I could be an opera singer if I studied. I immediately changed all my plans and began auditioning for music schools and conservatories. 

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Russell Thomas as Cavaradossi in our production of "Tosca" (Photo: Ken Howard)

And thanks to that voice teacher (and the operatic forces that be), Russell Thomas has now performed in theaters and on stages around the world with great friends by his side. I’ve been very lucky to work with some amazing people and sing some stunning music. Singing the role of Pollione in Los Angeles with two of my good friends, Angela Meade and Jamie Barton. Singing the role of Otello has been the biggest challenge of my professional career as well as the most rewarding. Singing on the stage of the Metropolitan Opera was a dream and each time I have an opportunity to perform there, I still feel a sense of wonder and honor.”  


As our new Artist in Residence, Russell is spearheading two brand new programs that will get us off the plaza and into the community (even more than we already are). The first is a virtual training program for singers from Historically Black Colleges and Universities across the nation. He’ll mentor eight to ten current HBCU students or recent graduates each season. The other is the new Russell Thomas Young Artists in Training Program, which will give a small group of Los Angeles public high school students from under-served communities long-term vocal training to prepare them for future careers in opera. 

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Russell Thomas as Titus in our production of "The Clemency of Titus" (Photo: Cory Weaver)

“The opportunity to mentor young singers is especially important to me. It is my responsibility, as an artist who has been afforded so much, to give back. The opportunity for young singers who are interested in singing opera professionally to get an early foundation with professionals could be life changing.” 

On top of all that community building, Russell will also join our administrative team to help out with fundraising, marketing, artistic operations, and whatever else gets thrown his way. 


When he’s not diving deep into the ins-and-outs of opera administration, he’ll be welcoming old and new friends on our newly revived "After Hours" recital series. Russell will host and curate this fan-favorite program that explores a variety of different songs and works in an intimate setting. The first new episode will air in the coming months with an online recital called "Black Love," featuring songs by Black composers, and continue with additional programs on our On Now digital platform throughout the spring. Once we’re back in the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in the fall, you can enjoy "After Hours" right in the Founders Room.

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Russell Thomas as Titus in our production of "The Clemency of Titus" (Photo: Cory Weaver)

"This is a huge deal for me, and I'm almost overwhelmed with excitement about all of the possibilities that come with it," he said. "I'm especially committed to connecting with minority communities, particularly the African American community, throughout Los Angeles County and the surrounding areas. I'm really looking forward to extending my involvement with a company that has given me so many opportunities to perform, and excited about becoming part of the Los Angeles community on a deeper level." 

We don’t know about you, but we certainly have a lot to look forward to. Join us in giving Russell Thomas the warmest of welcomes to the LAO team. 

To get even more details about Russell's new role, click here.