Raising his voice: Vocal student convinces sports-radio jocks that opera and sports can mix

Stephen Saharic had something to prove.

The Mason Gross vocal performance major was steamed: Not only was he stuck in epic morning traffic on Route 78, inching his way to a day of classes in New Brunswick, but he was listening to his favorite drive-time sports-radio personalities dis one of his first loves: opera.

Saharic, 21 and a junior at the school, is an avid listener of Boomer & Carton on WFAN radio in New York City (the hugely popular morning sports-talk show runs concurrently as a TV show on the CBS Sports Network). But on October 30, Saharic knew he had to say--or, in his case, sing--something when he heard commentator Craig Carton critique operatic mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato’s performance of The Star-Spangled Banner at game seven of the World Series.

“Craig said, ‘Grown men don’t want to hear an opera woman sing; they want to watch a sporting event,’ ” says Saharic, a baritone who also happened to play defensive end and offensive tackle when he was a student at North Hunterdon High School in Clinton Township, N.J. “That aggravated me a little because I believe opera singers can sing the anthem well. It’s nice to bring a classical idea to the song, that we’ll sing it in the way it was when they first finished it.”

So Saharic, who had performed The Star-Spangled Banner to an enthusiastic crowd at a New Jersey Devils hockey game earlier this year, phoned the station, made it on the air, and belted out The Star-Spangled Banner for the hosts--all while commuting to school.

“I had my headphones in,” he assures an anxious reporter. “But people were passing me and making faces on Route 78 as I sang.”

Saharic’s segment was so successful that the producer invited him to be a guest on the show. On November 6, Saharic visited the studio and bantered with Boomer & Carton (pictured), but this time he sang operatic versions of rap songs and poked fun (in song) at Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez’s history of steroid abuse.

Although the appearance was all in good fun, Saharic admits that he was also on a mission to convince Boomer & Carton and their listeners that opera and athletics actually can mix; in fact, Saharic, who was forced to quit the football team when a hip injury sidelined him, embodies that mix.

Saharic says the injury “was the nail in the coffin for sports” for him, but that it was also “how I got into music. I’d always loved singing. I figured [after the injury] I’d take it more seriously. I haven’t looked back. It’s amazing: One door closes, another opens.”

Saharic says he’s mystified as to why some people view sports and opera “as two extremes . . .  I don’t understand why people in the sports world would find classical music negative and vice versa. I find it strange.”

He says he hopes his appearance on the show, however jovial, proved his point, reminding the commentators and their listeners that jocks can take the stage and hit the low notes, and classical-music singers can talk trash about A-Rod.

“I wanted to say [to Boomer & Carton], ‘I came from both worlds,’ ” Saharic says, “ ‘and I’ve done it.’ ”

Catch a glimpse of Stephen Saharic's appearance on Boomer & Carton here:

Posted November 2014