Bejun Mehta (born June 29, 1968) is an American countertenor who performs in operas, recitals and concerts.
Early life and family
Mehta was born June 29, 1968 in Laurinburg, North Carolina, and grew up in Ann Arbor, Michigan. His father, Dady Mehta, a pianist born in Shanghai, China of Indian parents, is a cousin of conductor Zubin Mehta. His father was professor of piano at Eastern Michigan University. His mother, Martha Ritchey Mehta of Altoona, Pennsylvania, was a soprano and journalist who worked in the development office of the University of Michigan Museum of Art, and she was Mehta's first voice teacher. His brother, Navroj Mehta, is a violinist, and the artistic director of the Ventura Music Festival.
Early musical career
From the ages of nine through fifteen, Mehta was a solo boy soprano in concerts and recordings. Of his CD for the Delos label in 1983 (Bejun DE 3019), Leonard Bernstein commented, "It is hard to believe the richness and maturity of musical understanding in this adolescent boy." He was named by the magazine Stereo Review as the Debut Recording Artist of the Year.
After his voice changed, Mehta studied the cello, both as a soloist and orchestral player, studying with Aldo Parisot at Yale University. Mehta graduated from Yale University with an honors degree in German literature. Concurrently he completed an internship at Delos, where he had recorded as a boy. This led to his working with many artists as an independent recording producer for labels such as Sony/CBS, BMG/RCA, Deutsche Grammophon, and Delos. His production of Janos Starker’s final recording of Bach’s Cello Suites (BMG/RCA 61436) won the 1997 Grammy Award for Best Instrumental Soloist Performance (without orchestra).
Mehta had attempted for several years to sing as a baritone, without much success. "I was average, just average," he says. He became intrigued with idea that he might actually be a countertenor, after reading a 1997 New Yorker profile of the countertenor David Daniels, whose early experiences seemed to mirror his own. He began to experiment with singing in this range.
In 1998, Marilyn Horne, who had known of his boy soprano work, offered him sponsorship through the Marilyn Horne Foundation, an organization which works to develop new talent and preserve the art of song recital. He made his operatic debut as a countertenor that same year, cast as Armindo in a New York City Opera production of Partenope by Handel. Two months later he substituted for David Daniels when the latter fell ill on an international concert tour.
Mehta has appeared in leading roles in many opera houses,including Covent Garden, Bayerische Staatsoper, Opéra National de Paris, Théâtre du Châtelet, La Scala, Theater an der Wien, Berliner Staatsoper, Théatre de la Monnaie, Netherlands Opera, Barcelona Liceu, Teatro Real in Madrid, Metropolitan Opera, Chicago Lyric Opera, Los Angeles Opera, San Francisco Opera, and New York City Opera. He has performed at the festivals of Salzburg, Glyndebourne, Edinburgh, Aix-en-Provence, and Verbier, and at the London BBC Proms.
Mehta's operatic roles include, among many others: Orlando in Orlando, Tamerlano in Tamerlano, Giulio Cesare in Giulio Cesare, Bertarido in Rodelinda, Orfeo in Orfeo ed Euridice, Telemaco in Telemaco, Oberon in A Midsummer Night's Dream, Farnace in Mitridate, Didymus in Theodora, Hamor in Jephtha, Cyrus in Belshazzar, Arsamenes in Xerxes, Andronico in Tamerlano, Radamisto in Radamisto, Riccardo Primo in Riccardo Primo, Arsace in Partenope, Masha in Eötvös's Three Sisters, Ottone in Agrippina, and Emone in Antigone.
His orchestral concert work and recital partnership with pianist Julius Drake, in programs ranging from the Baroque to contemporary music, have been presented at leading concert venues including the Amsterdam Concertgebouw, the Wiener Konzerthaus, Brussels’ Palais des Beaux Arts, the Wigmore Hall, Carnegie Hall, Zankel Hall, the 92nd Street Y, Bremen Musikfest, the Palau de les Arts Reina Sofia in Valencia, Teatro de la Zarzuela's Ciclo de Lied in Madrid, the San Sebastian Festival, and the Cité de la Musique in Paris.
Bejun Mehta has been profiled by CBS (60 Minutes II), A&E (Breakfast with the Arts), ORF 2 (Austria), Arte (France), and ARD (Germany). He was nominated for the Olivier Award for his portrayal of Orlando at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden. His main voice teachers have been Phyllis Curtin of Boston University (baritone) and Joan Patenaude-Yarnell of the Manhattan School of Music and Curtis Institute (countertenor).
The British composer George Benjamin wrote a lead role for him in his opera Written on Skin, which premiered in 2012 at Aix-en-Provence. In 2013 he gave a "visceral and beautifully-sung performance" in the world premiere recording of that opera.
Mehta is currently under exclusive recording contract with Harmonia Mundi. His first Harmonia Mundi CD, an aria recital entitled Ombra Cara, with the Freiburg Baroque Orchestra conducted by René Jacobs, was released in November 2010. A CD of English songs entitled Down by the Sally Gardens, with pianist Julius Drake, appeared in September 2011. A complete recording of Agrippina conducted by Jacobs with the Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin was released in October 2011.
- Bejun. (Solo album). Arias and songs. Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra. Delos DE 3019
- Handel’s Giulio Cesare. (Tolomeo). Les Musiciens du Louvre, Marc Minkowski. Archiv Produktion CD 4742102
- Handel’s Messiah. (Alto/Middle Brother). Fully staged production by Claus Guth, Ensemble Matheus, Jean-Christophe Spinosi, Theater an der Wien. Unitel/Classica DVD, C-Major Entertainment 703104
- Mozart’s Mitridate. (Farnace). Les Musiciens du Louvre, Marc Minkowski, Salzburg Festival. Decca DVD, Unitel/3Sat
- Handel’s Theodora. (Didymus). Freiburg Baroque Orchestra, Ivor Bolton, Salzburg Festival. Unitel/Classica DVD, C-Major Entertainment A04001521
- Ombra Cara. (Solo album). Handel operatic arias. Freiburg Baroque Orchestra, René Jacobs. Harmonia Mundi HMC902077
- Down by the Sally Gardens. (Solo album). English songs. With Julius Drake. Harmonia Mundi HMC902093
- Handel’s Agrippina. (Ottone). Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin, René Jacobs. Harmonia Mundi HMC902088.90
- Kenneson, Claude, (1998), Musical prodigies: perilous journeys, remarkable lives, Hal Leonard Corporation, ISBN 1-57467-046-8
- New York Times, March 4, 2001
- Kenneson, Claude, (1998), p.333
- New York Magazine, February 15, 1999
- Listing on Grammy.com
- Kohn, David (February 11, 2009). "The Countertenor". CBS News. Retrieved 23 July 2013.
- CBS News, January 29, 2001
- On a High Note: Bejun Mehta, Countertenor, on Top New York Times, March 24, 2001
- IMG Artists
- Walton, Kenneth, (August 20, 2009) International Festival Review: Bejun Mehta/ Julius Drake The Scotsman
- "George Benjamin Releases Recording of New Opera WRITTEN ON SKIN Today Read more about George Benjamin Releases Recording of New Opera "Written on Skin" Today". Broadway World. July 9, 2013. Retrieved 23 July 2013.
- Bejun Mehta | Official Website
- Bejun Mehta at Harmonia Mundi
- Bejun Mehta singing Handel's "Sento la Gioia" (video)
- Bejun Mehta and Rosemary Joshua singing Handel's "Sosarme (1732): Duetto Per le porte del tormento (II, 8)" (video)
- Bejun Mehta singing Ottone's Aria from Handel's "Agrippina," "Coronato il crin d'alloro" (video)