Opera singer and Niles native Gary Lehman returned to Warren's Packard Music Hall Tuesday evening to discuss his opera career and what growing up in the Mahoning Valley taught him about hard work.
''Everything I learned here I brought with me throughout my career. It's been a fabulous ride,'' he said.
He was the third guest in the speaker series ''It All Started Here.'' The series features Trumbull County residents who made their marks nationally or globally. It is being sponsored by the Tribune Chronicle to help mark the 200th anniversary of newspaper publishing in Trumbull County.
Niles native and opera singer Gary Lehman spoke Tuesday in Warren
The 1982 graduate of Niles McKinley High School - who happens to be one of the world's premier heldentenors - said he was honored to be asked to participate and was excited to share his story.
Being from the Mahoning Valley, Lehman refers to himself as a ''blue collar singer'' and takes the lessons he learned from his father and family to the stage every day.
''The work ethic. My father worked for RMI, he was a coal miner and a World War II veteran,'' Lehman said. ''I bring my lunch-pail and put on my hard hat.''
Tribune Chronicle / R. Michael Semple
Niles native and opera singer Gary Lehman, right, talks with his former boss, Barney Macali, after speaking Tuesday at the Packard Music Hall in Warren. Lehman was the third speaker in the Tribune Chronicle’s ‘‘It All Started Here’’ speaker series.
Lehman talked throughout the evening about two of his biggest supporters: Mike Weiher, his choir director at Niles McKinley, and Dr. David Starkey, his teacher and adviser at Youngstown State University.
''Unfortunately, two of the most important people don't live in the area anymore,'' Lehman said prior to the event.
It was Starkey and Weiher who pushed Lehman into focusing on a career in singing.
''I never heard an opera until I went to college. I would always sing to the songs on the radio, but my first solo was in ninth grade,'' Lehman said.
He shared the story of when he realized that he wanted to pursue an operatic career.
It was ''the end of my freshman year at college and a grad student took me down to the listening library. He put in a recording of George London, and we sat and listened to this and I said, 'I want to sing like that','' he said.
Having lived in Chicago and New York City, Lehman and his wife, Susan Foster, also an opera singer, have returned to the Valley and now live in Howland.
He spoke of his time ''covering'' - the opera equivalent of an understudy in the theater - for Placido Domingo, and when he finally made his debut at the Metropolitan Opera in New York in 2008 performing in his favorite roll, Tristan from Richard Wagner's "Tristan und Isolde."
During his career, Lehman has performed around the world in some of the most famous operas of all time, such as Ruggero Leoncavallo's "Pagliacci" and "Tristan und Isolde."
''That's one of the things that I really like about it,'' he said of the characters he must portray as he sings. ''When I get into a character, I'm not Gary anymore. I absorb the character and live the words.''
The evening began with Lehman and a pianist performing a selection of arias.