Posted 16 Jul
David Douglas is co-founder of Ayrshire Opera, one of Scotland's innovative operatic ventures. David recently spoke to Stephen Fraser of OperaScotland about his career and Ayrshire Opera's work.
Where do you come from originally, David?
I'm an Ayrshire lad from Irvine. I did all the music I could at school, Burns competitions and other stuff - choirs, everything. Then I went to the RSAMD as it was then and [afterwards] continued to the Royal College of Music in Manchester. From there I just continued to work in London and Manchester. About a year or two ago I moved back to Scotland and started basing myself here.
What was your first experience of opera?
My first experience of opera was in the chorus of Dido and Aeneas and Acis and Galatea at the RSAMD as it was then. When I got into the B.Mus course I hadn't actually seen an opera; we didn't have that experience around my home town. My family wasn't really all that musical and when I was growing up there wasn't much around. I knew I loved to sing and did not know I liked opera until I was well on my way training as a singer.
Did that first exposure to Baroque opera set you on your way?
No, I think that just happened naturally. I went down the normal route of doing what the teacher tells you to sing. My voice just fell into the Baroque repertoire. I was always being pushed in that direction, so that's what kind of made me stick to Baroque, but the main thing is it suits my voice, I just really enjoy it.
What was your first professional engagement?
When I was at college we were doing oratorio and my first paid appearance was the Monteverdi Vespers. I remember I did two performances - it was such a big deal being booked as a tenor to do this and I was delighted. Next the first job after finishing college was [at the] Buxton Festival, a full season doing three operas. I was actually working in the chorus with professionals learning from them and seeing how it all worked. For me that was a fantastic thing, being in Manchester meant I didn't have to travel very far, I could go through every day. Buxton was a lovely little place. It was a great first experience of working as a professional.
You would be working in two or three different languages?
Yes I did two years at Buxton. I'm not sure what we did in the first year but we did a Donizetti and this opera called the Barber of Baghdad in an English translation and we did Idomeneo by Mozart. It was a great experience to throw yourself in and start learning properly. You don't really learn to be a singer until you are working full time. I don't think anything prepares you for all these rehearsals every single day - at college we are so precious. But then you realise you're rehearsing one day and singing the next, performing one opera one night and the next opera the next day. If you don't learn to cope with it, I think that's where people learn technique, and then you either sink or you swim.
Has there been any risk you wouldn't enjoy it?
Not at all, I was loving it, getting paid for singing and playing I feel relaxed. I feel I am doing what I enjoy. I don't have time to think about other things, just what I'm doing with that job. For me I always enjoyed working professionally and I do enjoy quite taxing contracts. I don't mind getting a Megabus overnight like all young singers, travelling overnight if I've got to travel back and forward to London. I don't enjoy it as much as I used to – maybe I'm getting a bit older!
How did you get into French baroque music?
I came across a guy called Jean-Paul Fouchécourt on recordings and his voice to my ears sounded like what my voice sounded like or what my voice could sound like. When I researched he was an Haute-Contre (High Tenor). I looked into the repertoire of Rameau and started to find other singers like that and I just loved it. I actually love that style and I just focused on it because I knew it was right for me and I knew it was right for my voice and I stuck to it. Then a couple of auditions came up for that type of music and I had the music ready because I recently done a full final recital with half the stuff French Baroque. So really I prepared myself at College. I remember an audition for the first one in Dartington (for an advanced opera course with Actéon) and got the part. Then ENO came up and ENO were doing Medea and I was in the chorus for Medea and then Glyndebourne were performing Hippolyte et Aricie and I got that, then through that I became invited to audition for the Les Arts Florissants and I got that as well.
How long were you over in France?
I was over a month at a time, I was over twice, so we were doing the Mondonville Grand Motet and the Rameau Grand Motet that was really great. My sung French is okay, I'm not great at speaking it - over there we were working in French, all the rehearsals were in French. It was hard trying to find out where I was sometimes but you get thrown in at the deep end and you have just got to learn - yes that was a great experience.
You do get fed up with the travel I love really being home I love Scotland I have tried very hard since last summer to build a base here and create more and give back to the community in order to create experiences from other people as well are to fulfil my own need to be working and to be singing and be creative.
How much work did it take it to get into the role of Actéon and his transformation?
We do the change during the music afterwards, straight after his aria. It's quite a strenuous time because it is quite dramatic trying to portray how it's happening. You change into a stag so it's got to be very physical, you will see that tonight. He struggles internally and he does turn into a stag – it's all in the music. The music makes you feel the whole thing. I remember the first time I did it I was sat in a pool of water, the bath of the goddess. It was a square metal bath and I was sitting in it fully clothed!
You've got another performance on Arran?
Yes we got a matinée over there and we're excited about that - taking it to a different area and spread our wings a little bit.
We find Arran quite supportive and really keen to have us over there. It was really quite easy to set up as a performance because with assistance from people over there, a lot of the stress is taken away. It's been brilliant for us because we focus our energy on this and next Saturday we go over and have fun. The main thing for us it's an experience. Our chorus are all made up of amateur singers and the energy coming off them is brilliant because this is the first time they've stood in this theatre and sung in opera. That is something completely different for them and for us as well. We want to give the people who are involved in it the experience of being an opera.
How do you find the Scots translations working now?
I can't hear it any other way any more from the French that I've done, when I hear all the tunes, all Diana's music, I hear them in the Scots language. I think it really works especially if you understand the language as well. It follows it in a much different way, you'll see. Of course it works musically as well. Chris Waddell who did the translation and claims to know nothing about opera says it sounds like it fits.
That would be fascinating just to detect how the audience respond to it.
We've got singers who are still studying and learning something in Scots is a new thing for them. They've had to learn how to do it, how you shape your vowels, how do you make it authentic without messing up your technique but keeping it Scottish. It's a really creative process.
Did you have any singers who have had to learn Scots as a foreign language?
Not now, but in the summer we had someone from Germany and someone from down south who said it felt like a foreign language!
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