SIKESTON -- Neal Boyd could probably tell countless stories of his experiences singing at Carnegie Hall and the Kennedy Center, but on Wednesday, all it seemed Boyd, who was clad in a baseball cap and sweatshirt, wanted to talk about was the four big bass he'd caught a few hours earlier on the Mississippi River.
"I've never caught a fish in my life until today -- and I caught four bass. That's probably gonna be my next claim to fame." Mocking a speech to a pretend conversation, the Sikeston native said, "Sang at Carnegie Hall? That's nothin'. I caught four bass in one day and didn't even drown."
Since 2000 it's been one big project after another for the 27-year-old tenor, and this week Boyd is revisiting his hometown before the production, "Corps of Discovery: A Musical Journey," makes its world premiere next month in Columbia.
Between working on a master's degree at the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston, Mass., working for Honeywell Co., taking voice lessons and school work, Boyd said he hasn't had much time to get homesick -- but it doesn't mean he's forgotten his roots, he said.
"I know where I come from," Boyd said. "Luckily with support that I received from the community before I left has made things definitely easier, but by no means easy enough."
Boyd's currently taking a sabbatical from school and work to do the show and said he'll return in January.
"Corps of Discovery," is commissioned by the University of Missouri-Columbia using its own students, faculty and alumni who are opera professionals. "Corps of Discovery" is a musical drama on the Lewis and Clark expedition. Boyd plays Clark's slave, York, in the production.
According to Boyd, feedback for the show has been extremely positive and he said the production is beautifully written. It features textures and tones that are in a lot of ways traditional of 17th and 18th century opera and at the same time it has portions reminiscent of modern day composers, he added.
"There are certain, moments in my particular aria, which is called York's aria, in which I detail for the audience my relationship with Capt. Clark as children when we were friends. And as I've grown up, I realize that my place is merely that of just a slave. Of course, York goes through all these emotions throughout the show," Boyd explained about his character.
Concert versions of "Corps of Discovery" received standing ovations at the Kennedy Center, at Carnegie Hall and at national Lewis and Clark bicentennial activities in Charlottesville, Va.
"We like standing ovations," Boyd said with a smile. "The final song called 'America' is a sign of the times. It's so moving and it's just so right for the age we're living in right now. It's gigantic because it's a full chorus coming at you with everything."
"Corps of Discovery" also provided Boyd the first opportunity to create a role. No one else has ever sung in the role of York and Boyd will always be the person who pioneered the role, he said.
With as trying as everything is right now in the country, people want an escape and this show is definitely going to be an escape for people, Boyd said. The audience will get to reminisce on one of the greatest movements the country ever made -- the exploration of the frontier, he said.
"These guys went through a lot of the anxieties and stress and missing their families a lot like the soldiers do today, but at the same time, they had something to show for their lives," Boyd said about the show. "I'm just lucky I get to be a part of this because I get to bring the life of this character that a lot people in history aren't very familiar with."
One of the highlights for Boyd's career will be when he and his colleagues sing for Opera America's national convention June 13 and 15 in St. Louis. "It will literally be like auditioning for every major company in the United States and some in Europe. It's a make or break moment for all of us who perform," he said.
"Corps of Discovery" isn't the only item on Boyd's itinerary. Boyd will audition for "Star Search" in Boston next month. In late summer and early fall, Boyd will audition for the 2004-2005 season of Broadway plays. He also took on improvisational comedy to work on his theater skills and wound up being asked to join the Cambridge Comedy Troupe. Boyd and the troupe will audition for "Saturday Night Live" in New York in August.
Life for Boyd does get overwhelming, but it must be taken in stride. Taking breaks and recouping are ways to avoid burn out, he said.
"Coming home keeps me very humble because family and friends never let you forget who you are. And if you've ever changed, you'd know it," Boyd said.
It's things like taking a fishing trip that also help, Boyd said, getting back to his fishing trip.
"Today was the first day I had ever been on the Mississippi River," admitted Boyd, adding that the river was basically the core of Lewis and Clark's expedition. "I don't know how they did it. To just see the grandeur of it has changed my perspective. It will be easier to do the show now that I've been on that river."
Tickets to see "Corps of Journey" in Columbia are available by calling (573) 882-3781 or (800) 292-9136 and for the June 13 and 15 productions in St. Louis, tickets and information are available by calling (800) 430-2966.