Nathan Gunn: Baritone Extraordinaire


Sophia Rozycki , Staff writer

Nathan T. Gunn, a prominent American operatic baritone who grew up in South Bend before attending our very own Saint Joe High, has traveled the world to perform at some of the most prestigious stages known to man. Gunn is an alumnus of the University of Illinois, where he is currently a professor and Swandlund Chair, in addition to being co-director of Lyrical Theater.

As a child, Gunn grew up similarly to most kids his age: attending school, spending time with friends and family, and playing sports, most especially competitive soccer, which he played all throughout high school. He attended The Stanley Clark School for his elementary years, and continued on to Saint Joe in 1985.

“What I really liked about Saint Joe were actually the religion classes, I found them to be really interesting and beneficial.” In addition to this Gunn noted that Saint Joe had “a great balance of scholastics, music, arts, and sports, it was small enough so that everybody could get personal experience with each teacher.”

He vastly enjoyed not only the format of schooling at Saint Joe, but also the teachers in which he believed made a major impact, offering not only lessons pertaining to school, but also about life. “One thing Saint Joe high school taught was that it’s … about getting the good out of life.”

One thing Saint Joe high school taught was that it’s about getting the good out of life.”

— Nathan Gunn

While describing his experience at Saint Joe, Gunn also shared a story he had been ‘keeping a secret’, explaining that he had started the largest food fight imagined, his senior year, and was even “hit in the face with a milkshake.”

His junior year was what truly changed his life forever. He had auditioned for a role in the musical featured that year, Die Zauberflöte, an opera by Mozart. Gunn was pleasantly surprised to receive a major role. This was the moment he realized that opera was something of definite interest to him, and possibly even a future career. He began to have regular voice lessons at age eighteen, where his teacher asked him to perform in a small opera production. After much hesitation, Gunn accepted the role, stating, “After that performance I realized people actually really liked hearing my voice.”

He then decided to continue his opera career into college. After high school, Gunn attended the University of Illinois to truly begin pursuing his professional opera career. While studying music, he also sang regularly in competitions, in order to earn some form of income, and get a sense for how critics would be judging his performances. Gunn began steadily improving, and his scores began to rise. After placing third at one particular competition, a judge approached him and asked if he would be willing to perform at the National Council auditions for the Metropolitan New York. Gunn agreed to perform and ended up winning the entire competition, helping launch his career in opera. Gunn then joined the Met’s young artist program, and began climbing in popularity as a performer.

From this point on, Gunn began to perform in various productions on some of the most prestigious stages in the world. His biggest role being the character, Papageno, from the opera, The Magic Flute. He continued to play this role for multiple years, at the Met, in New York. Some of his others notorious roles include, Figaro, Don Giova, and Billy Budd, for which he was awarded a Grammy for in 2010.

Due to the eager demand for his vocals, Gunn was allotted vast opportunities to travel. Gunn claimed that his two favorite places to perform at, were, Theater an der Wien, in Austria, and Wigmore Hall, in London. After twenty-five years of excessive traveling to perform, Gunn and his wife, Julie, were offered a position on the faculty board, at the University of Illinois, where they are both alum. After accepting the position, both Gunn and his wife had redesigned the opera department, now calling it the Lyric Theatre at Illinois.

Gunn expressed that “This redesigning was essential to making the program more relevant for today, and allow for more wellness, flexibility, and creativity.”

This program has become a major success, and still continues to benefit students in many different aspects. Gunn is currently a professor and Swandlund Chair, and continues to help others accomplish their dreams, just as he did.