PerformerUpClose: James Harrison

PerformerUpClose interview, 17 March 2016

James Harrison Baritone
OperaUpClose performer credits: Escamillo in Carmen,Germont in La Traviata, Scarpia in Tosca

How did your career in opera start?
I was at university doing the first year of a law degree when a friend asked if I wanted to audition for the chorus of New Zealand Opera. I'd always sung in choirs, including the New Zealand Youth Choir, and the audition went well. The first opera I experienced from start to finish was Turandot and I was singing in the chorus. The minute the curtain came down I knew it was what I wanted to do. 

Did you always know you wanted to become an opera singer?
I always knew I wanted to be a performer. I went missing in the supermarket at the age of three and when my mother (and several members of staff!) eventually found me I was out at the front of the shop singing with a busker, who asked if I could stay as he was making a fortune. I've always loved sharing music with an audience but my love of opera came later. 

As a singer, what would be your all-time favourite role to perform? Have you been lucky enough to perform this role already?
One of my dream roles was Scarpia in Tosca, which was first role with OperaUpClose. I still have people approach me after other shows and say they remember being scared of me which is a huge compliment. As for other roles, I'd really like to sing Don Giovanni and Sharpless in Madam Butterfly

If you could swap voice type, what would you be and why?
I think all baritones have secretly longed to be a tenor for a day or two. Not permanently, just for long enough to be the hero a bit more often rather than the best friend, the father or the third tree on the left. 

What are you up to this season?
I'm about to rejoin Opera Holland Park, where I'm singing Alcindoro in their production of La Bohème. After that I'm off to Norway for the first time to sing Count Almaviva in Le Nozze di Figaro. 

If you weren't a singer, what would you be doing instead?
I already do quite a lot of teaching so I would guess I'd be doing more of that. I currently work with a lot of teenage singers. I help them to find their voices and then be brave enough to use them. It is something I really love doing and find hugely rewarding.  

What's the most embarrassing thing to have happened to you on stage?
I was playing Jesus in a staged Passion while at college and during the scourging scene the act of removing my robe proved a little troublesome! In most of the performances the robe caught on the carefully constructed loincloth showing a little more of the Son of Man than either the director or myself intended....

Bellini or Britten?
Britten. I love music but I also love text and few composers combine the two as effectively or as beautifully as Britten. There are wonderful tunes in Bellini but after a while even the most exquisite tune can be a bit empty if it's not saying anything. 

What's the most obscure thing a director has asked you to do in your career?
I had to learn the choreography for Michael Jackson's Thriller to perform during the party scene of Die Fledermaus. It was so much fun but well and truly outside of my comfort zone. The improvised contemporary dance while dressed as a Catholic schoolgirl and singing 'Three Little Maids from School' was fairly out-there too!

PerformerUpClose: Prudence Sanders

Prudence Sanders, Soprano
OperaUpClose performer credits include: Musetta La Boheme, Adina The Elixir of Love, and Violetta La Traviata.

This interview was taken in September 2013.

What’s your favourite part of your job?
The night before and then the first day of rehearsals - there's such a great sense of anticipation. I also really love the collaboration between directors, fellow cast members, conductors, musicians etc during the rehearsal period. 

And your least favourite?
Sitting at the piano and learning a difficult role when vocally you are not at your best. It's a real challenge and a tough thing to work your way through the technical problems and find your motivation again, especially if you are repeating the same phrase over and over again, trying to get it right. I have very understanding neighbours...

How did you get into theatre/opera?
I started music and theatre from quite a young age, and I was lucky to have a wonderful department at school with some very inspiring teachers, so it grew from there really. Apparently my great great grandmother was a French cabaret singer, so I'd like to think an element of the theatrical stemmed from her!

What is the best / most exciting/ inspiring theatre production you’ve ever seen?
That's a tough one...it's an even pick between ENO's production of Peter Grimes back in 2009 or Don Carlos this year at Covent Garden. Grimes because of the superb energy and hair raising chorus, and Don Carlos down to Jonas Kaufmann and Anja Hartenos - some seriously sublime singing.

What is your dream role?
I'm not sure there is one particular role, but high on the shortlist is Anne Truelove and maybe one day, Ellen Orford. Violetta is also there, but soon I can say that I've sung it! the great thing about opera is that you can revisit your favourite roles more than once, and often, whatever you are singing at the moment will be your favourite. It changes all the time.

What is the most embarrassing / funniest thing that has ever happened to you on stage?
I've fallen down flights of stairs on stage, ripped off my skirt by accident and been dropped by people, but the most embarrassing was when I was quite young and entered a singing competition. I made a mistake at the beginning of my song, and burst into tears . Instead of stopping, composing myself and then starting again, I spent the remaining 3.5 minutes unable to make a single sound but instead mouthing all the words with tears rolling down my face. Horrendous.

PerformerUpClose: Louisa Tee

Louisa Tee, Soprano. 
OperaUpClose performer credits: Donna Anna Don Giovanni (King's Head Theatre); Rosalinde Die Fleidermaus (King's Head Theatre); Violetta La Traviata (Soho Theatre, Tricycle Theatre, UK tour); Countess The Marriage of Figaro (King's Head Theatre, UK tour) and Micaëla Carmen (Soho Theatre).

This interview was taken in February 2015.

How did you get into opera?
I started working for Opera Holland Park (OHP) in their chorus and enjoyed it so much that I decided to train as a classical singer. I'd originally trained as an actor and had worked in musical theatre but then when I worked for OHP I realised how much I loved opera... and that was about 10 years ago.

What would you say, are the highlights in your career?
Playing Violetta in La Traviata! It's my favourite opera and absolute favourite role. Performing Violetta last summer at the Soho Theatre with OperaUpClose was a dream come true. Another would be performing Carmen at the O2 Arena in front of 14,000 people- you don't realise until the lights come up in the auditorium, how vast it is and what a huge number of people there are watching you! Quite an amazing moment, to perform in a venue that huge.

What is it about Violetta that attracted you to the role?
From an acting point of view it's her complexities. You go on a very difficult journey with Violetta from start to finish and there's so much colour in the character and so much you can play with. She's incredibly strong and yet at the end when she's dying, she's so vulnerable. She's treated so badly by the men in her life throughout the opera and yet she's forgiving at the end. She's one of opera's greatest and most complex female roles.

Are you excited to sing Violetta once more in the Tricycle Theatre this June?
Yes! I can't wait to go back to it. I've missed La Traviata a lot, so I cannot wait.

What would you most want to perform, given the chance?
Really, if I had the voice it would be Lady Macbeth! Haha. But it's not my fach unfortunately. Yes, that would be a role that I will never play, but would have absolutely loved to.

What is your favourite part of the job?
I love the challenge of getting it right musically as a singer, technically singing the best that you can, whilst at the same time being real in the moment. To be able to hit the top notes and do it with conviction and truth and its a big challenge but when you get there, when you get it right, it's fantastic.

What's your least favourite part of the job?
Not working. Haha! Not necessarily in financial terms, but more the period of having nothing to work on.

As a singer, do you prefer opera in English translations or opera in it's original language?
There's a real immediacy when singing in English. The audience know what's going on and you know whats going on! It can really change your performance for the better when you sing in your own language. And I love that. But Italian is much easier to sing than English. So the singer in me prefers Italian and the actor prefers the English translations! Recently I've been working a lot in English, with OperaUpClose and other companies that use translations.

What's the next step for opera to continue its growth as an art form?
I think, in terms of making opera accessible, the smaller companies who put on operas in smaller venues, are the way forward. It's a more intimate experience, very different experience from the one you get at the opera house. Not a better experience but it does give people the opportunity who very rarely go to the theatre, to see opera, to choose opera over a stage play.

Whats the most embarrassing thing to happen to you on stage?
I wore a dress that was far too tight for me at a recital and at the end I took my bow and the dress ripped open at the back! It didn't quite fall down but I had to sideways step off the stage whilst holding it up. I think the audience knew... very embarrassing.

What's next for you?
I'm about to get married! So I'm about to have a bit of time off on my honeymoon and then back for La Traviata at the Tricycle Theatre in the summer and Carmen at Soho Theatre in the Autumn- which I cannot wait for!!!!