2013 marks the 45th annual Glyndebourne Tour, with its continuing aim to bring world-class opera to a wider audience and to create performing opportunities for young artists. In addition to revival productions of Hansel und Gretel and L’elisir d’amore the tour also includes Fiona Shaw’s new production of Benjamin Britten’s The Rape of Lucretia, an opera that hasn’t been produced at Glyndebourne since its premiere in 1946. Victoria Bawtree caught up with baritone Duncan Rock, who sings the rôle of Prince Tarquinius.
It’s very exciting for us to get the chance to see Glyndebourne out of its usual setting. How does performing on tour compare to performing at ‘home’?
With any tour there are obvious difficulties of travel and the unknown setting. Personally, I’m quite an habitual creature in that I have a bit of a pre-show routine that helps me get into focus and to prepare, and obviously when you’re travelling and in unfamiliar venues that can be disrupted. Fortunately, two things make us comfortable: they choose fantastic venues and our crew and stage management team work tirelessly; they’re there long before we get there and long after we leave. They do a fantastic job of setting it up as close to what we’re used to as possible.
I must admit, seeing the set at Canterbury was quite extraordinary.
The Lucretia set isn’t too difficult, apart from all the ‘crumb’, which comes in baskets and people have to shovel it on. The other shows though, Hansel and Gretel and L’elisir have much more elaborate sets which are more difficult to set up and take down.
You mentioned preparing earlier. Obviously Tarquinius isn’t the nicest character ever created… [he laughs] What are the main challenges when preparing for the rôle?
Yes, it is a challenging rôle. Vocally, it’s extremely well-written, but he’s a character with an emphasis on his physical aggression and anger. Fiona and I were talking about him almost like a spoilt child in a grown man’s body and the danger that if he doesn’t get his way, he’ll hurt someone. This is all great for the character, but you have to remember not to let the aggression come into your voice in a damaging way: to portray that without squeezing, or forcing, or shouting and actually sing it as lyrically as possible is a real challenge. Also personally, I found it really difficult to be mean enough, particularly in the scenes with Claudia [Huckle] who sings Lucretia, who is really tiny and petite. For quite a while, if anything, she was getting frustrated that I was being too gentle. I guess for me to feel safe, it was better to start too gentle and then to slowly add levels of violence and brutality, rather than starting too violent where there’s a danger of getting hurt.
This is Fiona Shaw’s debut directing for Glyndebourne. What was it like working with her?
Oh she’s wonderful, to put it briefly! She’s extremely warm and open both in her personality and in the way she works. Certainly for me there was a sense of intimidation, working with such a renowned actress because as an opera singer, the focus is a lot on the music and the voice, but you absolutely want your performances to be dramatically convincing and believable which is the whole other arm to opera. But there was no sense of judgment from her and she allowed and encouraged our input and opinions. It was a lot of hard work: she’s a machine and could quite happily rehearse from seven in the morning until midnight and be perfectly content, but unfortunately us singers are a little more precious!
The Rape of Lucretia was first staged after the Second World War. Do you think today’s audience still finds it particularly modern or shocking?
I think the subject matter is shocking, regardless of what time you’re in. As with a lot of Shakespeare, the core issues are relevant timelessly. With this piece, the core is the result stemming from the rape and Lucretia’s reaction to the rape and consequent suicide. Things like the violation that Tarquinius perpetrates over Lucretia, and her trust in him and duty to him as Prince, and also the violation of his friendship with Collatinus – these are all quite shocking, at any time.
Going back to Benjamin Britten, this is obviously a big year for him, celebrating 100 years since his birth. How does it feel to be involved in something like this in such a special year?
Oh it’s wonderful. It feels quite significant particularly as this is the first ‘Lucretia’ at Glyndebourne since 1946. It feels like there’s a connection with the composer and with the original cast, including Kathleen Ferrier. The fantastic thing is that so many wonderful productions of Britten’s operas have been staged this year: A Midsummer Night’s Dream at Opera North, Gloriana at the Opera House, Death in Venice at ENO. This year has made a really strong case for the genius that is Benjamin Britten and his place in the opera world among other composers, not just as a British composer, but as an equal – worthy of standing next to Puccini, Mozart and Verdi.
So, what happens for you after the tour?
Actually, I’m rehearsing right now at the Royal Ballet with a new piece called ‘Elizabeth’, which tells the story of Elizabeth I, but through her lovers. There are two dancers, two fantastic actresses and then me singing with a cellist providing the accompaniment. It’s a slightly different project, but really worthwhile and fun.