Times Staff Writer

Having just completed a four-year apprenticeship in West German opera houses at Kiel and Dortmund, Jonathan Mack says he has cut that apprenticeship short for many reasons--personal, professional and musical. Last month, the tenor from California moved himself and his family back to Long Beach.

Long Beach?

This is no abdication of responsibilities to his musical career, but merely taking a chance on bucking the (German) system, Mack revealed Monday, over a short but hearty breakfast.

Fewer than 36 hours after his last engagement, singing the role of Don Ottavio in the L.A. Opera Theater production of "Don Giovanni," and just eight hours before his next rehearsal, for a Hollywood Bowl concert with the Los Angeles Philharmonic on Thursday night (he is replacing the indisposed Jerry Hadley in a Mozart/Handel program), Mack explained the move.

"All my German operatic advisers told me that I should hang in there, move up in the ranks, continue to sing in the provinces.

"And, they all promised, within six or eight years I will hit it big," the 36-year-old, USC-trained American musician explained.

That is, if he will continue to sing the same lyric roles he has already conquered--Tamino in "Zauberfloete," Lionel in "Martha," Belmonte in "Die Entfuehrung aus dem Serail," Fenton in "Die Lustigen Weiber von Windsor," for instance, roles Mack was singing up to 75 times a season in these past four years--then the opportunities to sing them in larger and more important houses will, as a matter of course, come his way.

But Mack has other ideas.

"I never said I would stay in Germany permanently. My purpose in going there (he moved to Kiel in August, 1981) was to get operatic stage experience, to learn the language and to get a foot in the door."

And, having accomplished those goals in both Kiel and Dortmund, where he also sang a considerable number of operetta performances, the former horn player says he can now pursue the career from a California base.

"Of course I'll be going back to Europe, the first time in January, when I report for a revival of 'Zauberfloete' in Dortmund. I'll be there through the end of March. The performances are all spread out, and I'll also be doing a number of concert performances--Haydn's 'The Seasons,' a Mozart Requiem, a 'Messiah' in English. . . . "

In this country during the same season, Mack already has been engaged for a number of concert and operatic appearances, most notable among them the L.A. Opera Theater production of Alban Berg's "Lulu," scheduled in October. The bonuses in returning to the United States at this time are many, Mack believes. First among them, professionally, is the chance to do more concerts and recitals.

"In Europe, you are considered either an opera singer or a concert singer," Mack explained. "There are even different managers for each field. And if one has a contract with a certain house for the season, there are very few chances to accept outside engagements. I had some nice opportunities which I got to take, and some others I couldn't. Altogether, I missed the concert work.

"And then there is the bureaucracy, set up in such a way that, just to get out of town, one has to go through five different government levels for permission to go."

Mack says he is not knocking German culture, but that it is quite different from most of California's life styles.

For reasons of life style, then, the tenor says he and his wife, Mindy (an administrator and teacher in the Montessori schools), have chosen to raise their children, Shannon, 4, and Allison, who'll be 2 on July 29, in this country.

And there are, Mack believes, advantages to the American operatic system.

"I'm still optimistic about opera in this country, despite everything," he says. "Look at the good things happening in Los Angeles since I left.

"Yes, there are constant budget problems, and too little rehearsal. But let me tell you, people try harder when money is scarcer and time is scarcer. Being a civil servant--as most singers in German opera houses are--is no guarantee of quality."

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