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: Becca Marriot

Becca Marriot, Lyric Soprano
OperaUpClose credits include: Amelia Un Ballo in Maschera, Tosca Tosca

 The interview below was taken in May 2013. 

What’s your favourite part of your job?
Discovering the ins and outs of different characters really excites me. I also love debating their psychological states with anyone who will listen; this is usually my mother and usually includes a lot of red wine. I also love the moment when the notes seem to have found their way into my body and just fly out without me having to concern myself with shoving them out.  

And your least favourite?
I can't stand the thirty minutes before I am about to go on stage, or the whole day before I am about to go on stage when it's a press night. I cope with that by getting everyone around me to be nervous for me and by telling bad jokes.

How did you get into theatre/opera?
I have always wanted to be a performer of some sort but the route into opera was a bit skewed. I started singing aged 14. I love singing but I gave up aged 17 because I didn't feel I could ever get music 'right'. I did a lot of acting too and at University I was in a number of plays, Macbeth, Hedda Gabbler, The Cherry Orchard and The Guardians (a play about the war in Iraq by Peter Norris). Then I also started doing improvised comedy and musical theatre with a troupe in Oxford. This led to stand up comedy and more improvised comedy in London.  Then about 3 and a half years ago I was lucky enough to be asked to be a part of the extra chorus for Carl Rosa Opera's production of The Yeoman of the Guard at The Tower of London. Sitting in the Sitzprobe it was like I had come home. That was when I decided that opera was what I wanted to do with my life.  I started singing lessons and three teachers and numerous coaches later I was accepted onto the MMus course at Trinity Laban. Just before the course started I was offered the role of Tosca with OperaUpClose and the rest...is the future.

What is the best / most exciting/ inspiring theatre production you’ve ever seen?
Gosh!  What a question.  I am not sure that my first answer will be the right one but the one that comes to mind is a show called Lily Through the Dark which I saw at Edinburgh in 2010 (I think). This was a truly magical puppet show about a little girl who had lost her mother and was having nightmares. It was absolutely beautiful with amazing lights and costumes.  It was hugely sensitive about the child's grief as she tried to understand what was going on. There was also some great live music. I would love all theatre to have that sort of magic and wonder about it.

 What is your dream role?
Well, I think it was Tosca, but that ship has sailed so I have 3 that I would now love to do, in no particular order; 1) Magda The Consul 2)  Ellen Peter Grimes and 3) Violetta La Traviata. 

What is the most embarrassing / funniest thing that has ever happened to you on stage?
Well, the soles of my shoes fell off in the middle of Ballo two nights ago which was...amusing.  But not the worst.  While in the middle of an improvised comedy show at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival 2009 I was in the middle of a scene that was getting particularly few laughs until I coughed and a very large bubble of snot came out of my nose.  I was mortified but the audience enjoyed it.