Duncan Rock

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The Fame Reporter interviewed Opera baritone and performer, Duncan Rock, he is about to play the title role of Don Giovanni in Opera Queensland’s new production.

Duncan Rock studied at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama and subsequently at the National Opera Studio.

He is the winner of the 2012 Chilcott Award – the inaugural award from the Susan Chilcott Scholarship to support a ‘major young artist with the potential to make an international impact’.  A Jerwood Young Artist at the Glyndebourne Festival, he was the recipient of 2010 John Christie Award, given by the Worshipful Company of Musicians.

His engagements in the 2017/18 season include Schaunard La bohème for his debut at the Metropolitan Opera and for his return to Covent Garden and Moutjoy in a new production of Gloriana for the Teatro Réal in Madrid.

He has sung the title role in Don Giovanni for Glyndebourne, the Boston Lyric Opera and the Welsh National Opera; Tarquinius The Rape of Lucretia for the Deutsche Oper, Berlin and Glyndebourne; Il Conte Le nozze di Figaro for Garsington Opera; Papageno The Magic Flute for the English National Opera; Belcore L’elisir d’amore for Opera North; Marcello La bohème for the English National Opera and Opera North; Billy Bigelow Carousel for the Houston Grand Opera and the Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris; Marullo Rigoletto at Covent Garden and Donald Billy Budd  and English Clerk & Guide Death in Venice for the Teatro Réal in Madrid.

Future seasons see him return to the Metropolitan Opera and to Covent Garden, and make his Australian debut with Opera Queensland and his debut for the Gran Teatro del Liceu in Barcelona.

Highlights on the concert platform include the The Last Night of the Proms with the BBC Symphony Orchestra and Sakari Oramo; the London Symphony Orchestra with Sir Simon Rattle and Valery Gergiev; the Münchner Rundfunkorchester with Paul Daniel; the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra with Nicholas McGegan; the Orchestra of Madrid’s Teatro Réal with Ivor Bolton; the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra with David Hill and the Borusan Istanbul Philharmonic Orchestra with Sascha Goetzel.

A keen recitalist, his appearances include the North Norfolk Music Festival with Tim Horner, the Oxford Lieder Festival with Sholto Kynoch and St John’s, Smith Square with Joseph Middleton and he has sung Britten’s Canticle IV Journey of the Magi with Ian Bostridge accompanied by Julius Drake.

He has been a Samling Scholar, a Royal Philharmonic Society Young Artist, and he has won the Overseas Award from the Royal Overseas League Singing Competition as well as Australia’s most prestigious young singers’ award, the Marianne Mathy Award, presented to him by the late Dame Joan Sutherland.

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We talked to Duncan about his career so far, playing Don Giovanni for a 21st century audience, how his outlook on the role has changed and more.

See our insightful look below!

How did you begin performing and what is your favourite thing about the art form?
I started opera quite late. Throughout high school I played a bit of music, I played bass guitar in a jazz orchestra. I also attempted to play guitar and sing in a rock band, mainly to try and meet girls. You know you are not good if you are in a band and you still can’t get girls to like you. I went to law school after high school. I was at the University of Western Australia. I had friends in the music department and became very interested in it. I took some units in music and started to like classical music and singing.

A girlfriend of mine at the time suggested that I audition for WAAPA (Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts) because she heard me sing and said that I probably have a better voice than the singers that are there studying music. I auditioned for WAAPA completely ignorantly and ended up getting in. So I concurrently did WAAPA with my law degree.

It was nice because there wasn’t any pressure on my singing; I really just did it because I enjoyed it. People kept on giving me compliments and I ended up singing for the West Australian Opera and they said you know you could be a singer. I didn’t know what that meant as I didn’t know any singers or that it was a thing that people could do.

Growing up in Perth, it’s not like opera was presented to you regularly. They put me forward for the Australian singing competition which I won and that gave me a scholarship to go to London and study.

What is Opera Queensland’s version of ‘Don Giovanni’ about for those who don’t know?
It’s the story of Don Giovanni and his sidekick Leporello. They spend their lives chasing women. The actual opera is the telling of his last few days on earth and everything finally catches up with him. We see his descent into hell essentially.

Tell us a little about your role in ‘Don Giovanni’ and what drew you towards it?    
Don Giovanni is an incredible character. It’s a character that exists not just in opera but in fiction. A lot of literature from different countries has a sort of Don Juan/Casanova-esque character. A thoughtless or rampant womaniser who spends his life devoted to hedonism.

I think Don Giovanni is the darkest distillation of that because he’s not just interested in pleasure or sex, he likes to destroy people. Whether that be destroying a relationship by seducing the wife, destroying the reputation of a young woman by seducing her before marriage or destroying a life by killing someone.

I think he’s the darkest version of that kind of character.

What is it like rehearsing for this ‘monstrous’ role?
It is really interesting. This is the sixth time I’ve sung Don Giovanni, hopefully by now I know the notes and the lyrics. Every time you come to it, you have to work on it vocally because your voice develops and changes with age. This was the first role I did after college. I sung it with the Welsh National Opera. That was when I was around 27 or 28 years old. I am now 34 years old and the voice changes in 6 years for men.

It’s such a complex, intriguing and morally ambiguous role, that every time I come to do it I feel like I find something new and interesting about the character. Every production and each director has something different they wish to bring out in the piece. Hopefully this six or seventh time will be similar and we’ll find something new in the character.

You have been in Don Giovanni several times, has your outlook on the role/show changed?
Whether it was because of me or the production I happened to be in, I have always been more inclined to find some kind of innocence in Don Giovanni. I think it’s easier to see him as a bad guy, whereas there is a bit of life in the libretto for ambiguity of a kind. You can tone up the negative qualities of the other characters and dial down his in conjunction.

Certainly when I was younger I was interested in finding that side of him, I think in this production we’re are going a bit more straight down the line. He’s a nastier guy, almost a psychopathic character who doesn’t have any empathy for anyone else. The first scene in the opera is very pivotal. He sexually assaults and rapes the character Donna Anna and then her father catches him in the act and Don Giovanni murders her father. That is the event that sends him on his downward spiral.

You can play the role in many ways. There are certain productions I have done where Donna Anna was almost complacent in the sexual act so it wasn’t a rape, she spends the rest of the opera almost lying to cover up for her behaviour which led to her father’s death.

In some productions I’ve done the commendatore (father) attacks Don Giovanni and almost kills him in self defense. However in this production it really is a rape and he did not have to kill the commendatore to get away, he chose to kill her father. Lindy Hume, our director wants it to be as brutal as possible.

How do you believe the themes of the show are received by a 21st century audience?
One element of Don Giovanni is the kind of power that he has through social class, structure and wealth. In the original setting which was late 18th century, he is a character that could get away with more because of his social status.

We have set this production in Victorian England, which is very clever because it was a period of time that had a very strong facade of aristocracy and politeness of honour and dignity. But actually all you have to do is scratch the surface and you find this terrible underbelly of opium dens, brothels and murder. This is how they think ‘Jack the Ripper’ was able to get away with his crimes, he was most likely a nobleman who would come to the seedier parts of East London and kill prostitutes.

As a modern Australian audience we fortunately no longer have such a strong class system. Although it’s very poignant in 2018 with everything that’s been going on in the media, particularly with Harvey Weinstein and the ‘Me Too’ movement. Men who have power still use it to manipulate women to do what they want, often that is sexual gratification. I guess it means the story is still relevant. I think the way Lindy Hume (Director) has chosen to portray Don Giovanni is much more straight down the line as a nasty character. I think it’s a more appropriate way of telling that story in 2018.

I don’t think we want any sense of blaming the victims of his crime. I believe that’s the story we are interested in telling.

What do you love about performing in Australia?
It’s sort of my first time performing in Australia. When I was in Western Australia I sung in the chorus for the West Australia Opera. In fact I did a show with Lindy Hume (Director) a while ago and it’s been a joy coming back to Australia and I kind of forgot how much I missed it.

I grew up in Perth and before I arrived in Brisbane I spent a week in Perth. I caught up with friends and saw places I grew up loving. We went to Margaret River and drank plenty of wine. It was a very cathartic and wonderful experience.

I forgot how much I connected with Australia, it’s a joy to come here and perform. I’m really happy to be here.

What do you hope audiences take away from this production?
The wonderful thing about opera is that you can take away all of the elements or the aspect that most interests you. We are so lucky with Don Giovanni to have this incredible story with interesting complex characters. The story is somewhat morally ambiguous and it’s a really fascinating piece of theatre. Then of course on top of all that, it’s set to the most sublime music and we are really fortunate to have this fantastic group of singers.

If people leave thinking about the relevance of Don Giovanni in a 2018 context or angry at Don Giovanni or if they come away thinking that music is incredibly beautiful that’s great too. I hope people come and enjoy it for whatever reason has an interest to them. Thankfully there’s a lot to be enjoyed.

Speed round

Favourite Opera?
La bohème

Spirit Animal?
Not sure about mine but Don Giovanni’s is a Wolf

Favourite song?
Low down life by Amos Lee

Essential dressing room necessity?
Cup of tea

Any pre – show rituals?
Big steak or kangaroo steak and I stretch

Favourite scene in Don Giovanni?
Act 2 finale

Place you most want to travel to?

Favourite thing to do with family and friends?
Eat and drink wine

Finally do you have any secret talents?
Flip an 800 pound track tyre. In London I train at a kind of strongman gym. They have this big tyre that most people can’t flip and it’s sort of like a rite of passage and I flipped it half way through last year. It was quite a milestone.

Get your tickets to the thrilling Opera Queensland production of Don Giovanni in the Playhouse Theatre at the Queensland Performing Arts Centre from 19 October to 3 November 2018.

Book your seats here – https://bit.ly/2Nt3WG4

Interviewed by Founder of The Fame Reporter, Ellen Goddard.

Follow his future adventures on social media here!
Instagram @duncan.rock
Twitter @DRock_baritone
Website http://www.duncanrock.co.uk

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Images – Supplied