Renowned baritone Todd Thomas is coming to central New York to perform "La Traviata" in Syracuse — but first, a family connection will bring him to Auburn for a rare solo recital.
Thomas will perform Thursday, Feb. 1, at St. Mary's Church, where his nephew Philip Fillion has been music director since June.
The two have wanted to collaborate for "quite some time," said Thomas, an Elmira native who now lives in Philadelphia. His voice is a Verdi baritone, meaning he can sing consistently in the higher part of the baritone vocal range. That ability led The Chicago Classical to call Thomas "one of America’s most sought after artists."
That ability also led Fillion, 24, to grow up in Rochester idolizing his uncle.
"Todd was always a tremendous inspiration to me, traveling around the world to perform but loving every single minute of it," he said Tuesday.
Fillion went on to earn a bachelor's in organ performance at Wheaton College in Chicago and a master's in church music at Westminster Choir College in Princeton, New Jersey, before coming to St. Mary's. There, he said, he's been working to give the congregation at every Sunday Mass "something that'll speak to them and make them want to come back next Sunday."
Through promotion and programming, attendance at the Auburn church's musical events has also been climbing, Fillion said. About 350 attended a December concert by Symphoria, he added.
"Because of that, the church will get stronger and be someplace people know they can come and get beauty and authenticity," he said.
Fillion found another opportunity to strengthen the church's musical reputation when his uncle booked his role in Syracuse Opera's "La Traviata." Thomas will sing for about an hour in Auburn the night before his first of two performances of "La Traviata." However, he said his role in Verdi's show, Germont, is the one in his repertory that he's performed most.
"I can really do this part falling out of bed," he said.
With Fillion on the church's 1908 Steinway piano, Thomas will perform arias from "La Traviata," "Pagliacci" and "The Flying Dutchman," as well as lieder (German poetry set to music) by Schubert and Strauss. The program will also include sacred music written specifically for Thomas' voice by friend and composer Paul Jones.
"It's a lot of opera for a song recital, which requires Philip to make the piano sound as orchestral as he possibly can while doing the lieder sections specifically for piano and voice," Thomas said. "It's a pretty great mix of literature and voice, and should be an enjoyable evening."