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Senior's performance, involvement are a tour de force

Author: Arts and Letters


The verdict is in: Nicholas Tonozzi is a bit of a devil.

This may be true of quite a few graduating Notre Dame seniors. But as the music department’s reigning tenor, Tonozzi has had one foot in heaven and one foot in hell in a way few other students have accomplished.

This spring, Tonozzi played Pluto, the host of Hades, in the Opera Notre Dame production of “Orpheus Goes to Hell.” My, but he looked at home.

“After it was over,” he said, "my mother hugged me and whispered in my ear, `Do you feel as typecast as I think you feel?’

He added, gleefully: I most definitely am a youngest child — I like to be the center of attention."

His presence on stage is considered commanding. Up close, he’s more like an energy force waiting to be harnessed. His eyebrows exhibit more expression than most Hollywood idols can muster in an entire film.

Though a devil on stage, Sunday mornings have found Tonozzi in the choir loft of Sacred Heart Basilica, where as a member of the Folk Choir for four years, he sang for the 11:45 a.m. Mass, often soloing. Rev. George Rozum, C.S.C., rector of Alumni Hall, said that Tonozzi often appeared at the hall’s 10p.m. Sunday night Mass, playing the cello and singing the responsorial songs.

“He’s very conscientious, well-liked, and a great R.A.,” Father Rozum adds, revealing another side of Tonozzi. R.A.s, undergraduate members of a hall’s staff, provide support for the residents.

Tonozzi’s caring presence, noted by Father Rozum, also has been obvious to his vocal instructor, Mark Buedert.

“He’s the type of person that people seek out,” Buedert says.

Tonozzi’s voice is, Buedert says, “a magnificent instrument,” and it next will be in the hands of Northwestern University, which has given him a full scholarship for further his vocal studies.

Buedert credits Tonozzi for his grace in making his way both through preparation for “Orpheus” and his subsequent April 23 senior recital, in which he sang pieces in four languages.

Cellist Karen Buranskas, associate professor of music, knew of Tonozzi’s interest in the cello, but quickly ceded hopes that he would be her student. She recalls that in his freshman year, Tonozzi was cast as the lead in the campus production of the opera “The Happy Prince.”

“The quality of his voice and the maturity that he displayed with his presence on stage was truly impressive,” Buranskas recalls. “His contrasting role in this season’s `Orpheus goes to Hell’ was a tour de force that gave Nicholas an opportunity to display his formidable vocal talent along with his acting skill.”

As for the work in the Folk Choir, “That is something just for me,” says Tonozzi. “It helps keep me focused and sane. I think it’s important to be in a Catholic activity at a Catholic university and I think Folk Choir embodies the Catholic spirit in a way few other groups on campus do.”

The Folk Choir’s director, Steve Warner, said: “Sometimes people who have a huge talent move in different circles than the Folk Choir. What I’ve always appreciated about Nick is that he’s kept his spiritual life in focus, and that’s fleshed out in his participation in our ensemble.”

This summer, Tonozzi will be appearing as a teller at his hometown bank, where customers who know his voice from church services often press him for impromptu performances.

He recognizes a professional performance career, if successful, would conflict with his personal goal: “I want to have a bazillion children. That means five.” He sees himself in law school in the distant future, preparing for a career that could support a brood.

Just when you think you couldn’t have met a straighter arrow, Tonozzi comments on the opportunity for finding women who also want large families.

“I was dating someone last year. She wanted to have a very large family. Oddly enough, she’s decided to be a nun.”

An eyebrow arches, a finger wags: “After me, I guess, there’s just God.”

Originally published by Gail Hinchion Mancini at on May 17, 2006.