Meet Don Giovanni: Duncan Rock Q&A

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Baritone Duncan Rock talks to us about returning to Glyndebourne this autumn to play the title role in Don Giovanni, fresh from his stint as Demetrius in the Festival 2016 production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

Having played Don Giovanni in the past, how will you approach the role in this production?

This is my fourth Don Giovanni so I have a certain amount of experience with the character to draw from. This can be very helpful, but I’ve found it’s also a case of ‘the more you learn, the more you realise you don’t know’. The more time I spend with this incredibly complex and interesting character, the more I feel I’ve only scratched the surface.

It’s extremely difficult playing a character with so much ‘theatrical baggage’ – meaning the character is so well known (not just in opera, but in literature generally) that many people come to the show with a predetermined idea of what the character should be. This is a shame because it limits the scope of interpretation that is available in the score.

I hope to present a Don Giovanni that’s true to the score, but also shaped by my own thoughts and experience. To be authentic and believable, it needs to be an interpretation unique to me. I hope the audience respond to it well.

Duncan Rock as Novice’s Friend in Billy Budd, Festival 2013. Photo: Richard Hubert Smith

You’ve sung six Britten operas and four Mozart operas in the recent past. What is it about these two composers that fascinates you and makes you come back for more?

Is it that many? I’m obviously getting old!

Although I do love the composers, it’s as much a function of practicality as it is choice. There are some great young baritone roles in the repertoire of those two composers, and I’ve been fortunate enough to tackle them and have the pleasure of performing them.

For Mozart I love the simple elegance of the music and especially enjoy the freedom of the secco recitative, which allows each performance to be free and different.

With Britten I’m drawn to the fact his music so perfectly lines up with the dramatic sentiment. His music can be fun, dark, romantic, aggressive, sweet, and even ugly when the occasion calls. It makes for excellent drama.

Kate Royal as Helena and Duncan Rock as Demetrius in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Festival 2016. Photo: Robert Workman

A Midsummer Night’s Dream was something of a reunion for the cast of last year’s The Rape of Lucretia. Did you enjoy working with some familiar faces this summer?

It’s always lovely working with old colleagues. One great thing I’ve learned is that no matter where you are in the world or how long it’s been you can pick up where you left off and continue the friendship. It makes the international community of opera singers feel much more communal and cosy.

Michael Sumuel as Junius and Duncan Rock as Tarquinius in The Rape of Lucretia, Festival 2015. Photo: Robbie Jack

Could you tell us a little about your history at Glyndebourne, and the role it has played in your career?

Glyndebourne has simply been the most important company in my career so far. They gave me my first contract and awarded me the John Christie Award [in 2010] as well as sponsor me through the National Opera Studio.

After that the offer to sing Tarquinius both on Tour in 2013 and in the Festival in 2015 was a huge boost to my career, and I have now become somewhat known for the role.

I love it here and am so thankful to have a strong relationship with the company.

After Tour 2016 what’s next for you?

I head to Teatro Real, Madrid, for a new production of Billy Budd (more Britten!), then for my first Count Almaviva in Le nozze di Figaro (more Mozart!) at Garsington. Then I’m very excited to make my Metropolitan Opera debut later next year (although I can’t announce the opera yet!)

Don Giovanni is on stage at Glyndebourne from 15 October-4 November, before travelling to Milton Keynes, Canterbury, Norwich, Woking and Plymouth as part of Tour 2016.

The Don Giovanni cast and orchestra also appear in Don Giovanni: Behind the Curtain, an exciting new event exploring the essence of opera.