Stephen Gould, a tenor who after a detour into musical theater established himself as a leading interpreter of Richard Wagner’s operas during performances at the Bayreuth Festival in Germany and elsewhere, died Tuesday in Chesapeake, Virginia. He was 61 years old.
His death was confirmed by his longtime agent, Stephanie Ammann. Early this month, Mr. Gould announced on his Web site that he had bile duct cancer, that the disease was terminal and that he was quitting singing.
The Bayreuth Festival paid tribute to him on its website after that announcement.
“Stephen Gould was, with interruptions, one of the mainstays of the Bayreuth Festival from 2004 to 2022,” the festival’s post said. “He was highly appreciated by the public, the press and within the festival family and was rightly called the ‘Wagner Marathon Man’. He thrilled audiences with his distinctive voice and fitness in countless performances.”
Mr. Gould emerged as a reliable heroic tenor, a singer who takes on heroic roles, mainly in the German repertoire, which require a particularly powerful voice. Such roles are among the most demanding in opera.
He first appeared in Bayreuth in 2004, playing the title role in Wagner’s “Tannhäuser,” a production that dazzled Olin Chism of The Dallas Morning News.
“One of the heroes was the American tenor Stephen Gould, who sang the title character,” Mr. Chism wrote. “This was his Bayreuth debut and by the end of the evening he had become a festival favourite.”
He remained so for the next 18 years, appearing in 20 Bayreuth productions; he regularly sang the title role in ‘Siegfried’ and Tristan in ‘Tristan und Isolde’. He has also performed at leading opera houses around the world, including the Metropolitan Opera, where he made his debut in 2010 as Erik, the Hunter, in Wagner’s ‘The Flying Dutchman’.
Mr. Gould knew that the most important roles he took on required a certain maturity.
“Everyone wants their heroes to be young and vibrant and look like Brad Pitt in his early days,” he said in a 2019 interview with German news channel Deutsche Welle. “But you have to give the voice time to develop.”
As his voice developed, he noted in the same interview, so did his perspective on how and why he used it.
“I try not to sing in public anymore,” he said. “Of course I did that when I was younger. You want to be popular, you want the critics to love you, you want your career to boom and all that. Now when I’m on stage, what I enjoy most is discovering something for myself.”
Stephen Grady Gould was born on January 24, 1962 in Roanoke, Virginia. He studied at the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston before joining Lyric Opera of Chicago’s development program for young artists, the Center for American Artists. He initially introduced himself as a baritone before switching to tenor.
He was tested at age 27 when he had to replace Chris Merritt in the demanding role of Argirio in Gioachino Rossini’s “Tancredi” when Mr. Merritt fell ill during a performance in Los Angeles, where the opera was being jointly staged by Lyric Opera and the Los Angeles Music Center Opera.
“He playfully tackled Argirio’s patriarchal passion with a light, often pinched voice and a reasonably dramatic presence within the static staging context,” wrote John Henken in The Los Angeles Times. “The stratospheric climaxes were forced outward as high-pressure bleats, and initially much of the passage work was smeared out. But he seemed to gain strength and composure, and more than held his own in the great Act II duet with Marilyn Horne in the title role.
Shortly afterwards, on what he said was a whim, he auditioned for the national touring company of “The Phantom of the Opera” and was cast. He spent several years with that group, taking on several roles, but not one of the male leads.
“When I finished musicals, I just wanted to quit,” he said in 2019, “but I wanted to give it another chance and met a teacher from the Metropolitan Opera who told me I had been singing wrong from the very beginning. “
He rededicated himself to opera, worked on his technique and developed into the Wagner roles for which he became best known.
“By then,” he said, “I was at the right age to actually sing Wagner. Too many singers these days are thrust into their big Wagnerian roles in their twenties.
Information about the survivors of Mr. Gould was not immediately available.