Music: Basso Behind the Desk

With his firm jaw and conservative business suits, Robert Oliver, 36, is the picture of a successful executive. And so he is: boss of management development at California's missile-making Hughes-Aircraft Co. But when he talks, his voice is that of someone else: an oldtime Wagnerian "black bass," echoing with rare depth and timbre. Executive Oliver's voice is so unusual, in fact, that when Composer Igor Stravinsky first heard him, he added a specially low voice role to his last great work and asked Oliver to sing it.

At Venice's International Festival of contemporary music...