An interview with Duncan Rock

Duncan Rock, Billy Budd (Festival 2010). Photo: Alastair Muir

Duncan Rock (right) in Billy Budd

You won the first Chilcott Award for young British opera singers last year, does winning such a celebrated award change your career?

Absolutely yes - awards like that help in a number of ways.  There is a sort of instant recognition that comes initially with winning an award of that kind that continues when people recognise you as a previous winner. Also the prize was extremely generous and that type of financial boost can make a huge difference in the early stages of a career. The selection panel for the Chilcott Award was a group of highly influential people. Even some of those that didn't win the prize itself walked out of the room with contracts at major opera houses - so we were all quite happy. 

The thought of an opera without any female roles may seem daunting to some opera-goers, what would your advice to them be?

There is a lot of testosterone on board the ship that is for sure! But it doesn't need to be daunting.  This is my third production of Budd and the main comment I have heard is that some audience members took some time to get used to the sound scape not having the higher female voices.  But once you settle in it is an extremely impressive and unique piece. 

You debuted in Billy Budd three years ago and are returning to Michael Grandage’s production once again in the 2013 Festival, alongside taking a key role in The Rape of Lucretia on Tour. The productions are vastly different to stage. As a cast member are there any parallels between the two roles in these Britten productions?

In terms of character Billy and Tarquinius could not be more different.  With Billy being  representative of honesty, integrity and 'good' and Tarquinius with a much darker edge.  As a baritone I have the good fortune to tackle all different sorts of characters and that is a massive part of what makes the job so interesting and special.  I think the important thing to remember that good or bad all characters are entirely human so as an actor you need to find relatable qualities in each so they don't become one dimensional. With characters like Don Giovanni or Tarquinius it is important to try and find their humanity so as not to play a pantomime villain. 

Are you particularly drawn to Britten’s work or has it simply been fate that you will appear in both of Glyndebourne’s Britten productions in his centenary year?

It has been a bit by chance but I am certainly not complaining - I love Britten's operas.  Budd has been particularly significant by chance. I graduated from the Guildhall in 2010, which coincided with Budd at Glyndebourne, and then graduated from the National Opera Studio in 2011 which coincided with Budd at English National Opera (where I sang the role of Donald).  Glyndebourne and ENO have been the two most significant companies for me so far, and I find it almost poetic that Billy Budd was my debut for each.  It was fortunate that there was a demand for young, burly men when I most needed it!

Other than that Tarquinius is one of the roles I have been dying to play for a long time and I am thrilled to be in this exciting new production.  I also have Owen Wingrave and Demetrius coming up in my immediate future.

You have had a wonderfully eclectic career so far, much of it at Glyndebourne, what are your career highlights to date?  

The opening night of Budd in 2010 was something special, I will never forget the feeling of listening to the audience reaction.  I had a wonderful challenge earlier this year singing Billy Bigelow in Carousel at Theatre du Chatelet in Paris.  It was the first time Carousel had been performed in Paris and there was a lot of media attention, the reception was huge.  Also singing Papageno at ENO was a lot of fun - I never thought I could make 2500 people laugh!

Now you have cultivated such a successful stage career, what’s next on Duncan Rock’s horizon?

After Lucretia on Tour I am with the Royal Ballet doing a brand new chamber piece, I have quite a few connections with the ballet world so it is very exciting for me.  Next year I have my Opera North debut singing Marcello and then my German debut with that role. After that some more Britten both here and overseas and my first Giovanni in the US.

Will The Rape of Lucretia be a first in terms of working with renowned actress and director Fiona Shaw or have your paths crossed before?

I saw and loved her Figaro at ENO and had the pleasure to meet her earlier this year and chat about the opera and the character.  I think we are in for something special with this new production - but I don't want to get too excited too soon. 

In Billy Budd and The Rape of Lucretia, you’ll be appearing with other talented performers that have come through the Glyndebourne Chorus. What is that makes both the Chorus and the pathway it creates to accessing principal roles so unique?

Glyndebourne puts a lot of effort into developing young singers and each year gives a golden opportunity to come sing in the chorus as well as sing small roles and cover larger ones.  The jerwood program can be a fantastic spring board to launch the start of a career - it certainly was for me.  While a jerwood artist I was the recipient of the Christie Award and glyndebourne also sponsored my studies at the National Opera Studio - so I really owe the beginnings of my career to that support. It is a pleasure to be able to come back now and contribute as a more experienced performer. 

On the road again with the Glyndebourne Tour, do you find touring gruelling when you are taking in seven different venues and hundreds of miles. How do you relax on Tour?

Touring is all about the people you are with. Thankfully this cast is full of friends and much loved colleagues - it should be a laugh!

Duncan Rock receives the first Chilcott Award for young British opera singer

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