|Rodney Earl Clarke|
TELL US ABOUT YOUR UPBRINGING IN ENGLAND AND YOUR EARLY MUSIC INFLUENCES.
Being the middle child of five children with three brothers and one sister, I very quickly got used to being told what to do and mastered how to do the telling. With fun loving parents, siblings, an enormous army of toy soldiers and of course our trusty Amstrad CPC 6128 computer, I was pretty much ready to stay a kid forever. I had to grow up though and education was hot on the agenda in the household. I attended a Catholic primary school in what seemed to me at the time as being way out in the sticks (in Kent). I loved the train ride though, I can still recite the stations in order (sign of things to come eh – elephant memory) but it was here that I gained my earliest performance experience. But rewind for a bit, my first exposure to music I can remember came from the talking story book The Town mouse and the Country mouse. It was read by a man whose voice I can still imitate and set to Vivaldi’s Four Seasons I later learned. Back to primary school, I was one of few boys who could sing and it seemed I was destined to play the leading role in the Nativity Play, not Joseph but MARY. Stuffed with a basketball up my gown, I sang, as Shakespeare puts it “round wombed,” It went down a treat!
YOU SANG IN A BOY’S CHOIR AS A KID, SO TELL US ABOUT THE EXPERIENCE AND WHAT YOU LOVE ABOUT CHORAL MUSIC.
Yes, I sang in the choir of St. George’s Cathedral, Southwark not to be confused with Southwark Cathedral. I draw our readers’ attention to this not because of denominational differences but more significantly because the choir I sang in did not have lay clerks who were paid but was an entirely voluntary ensemble. This made for very interesting rehearsals. Varying abilities but with one aim to achieve high standards, we were put through our paces and I personally developed my ear and memory skills here. I cannot express how important my time was here – there was a true sense of camaraderie. I joined when I was around nine and left when I was nearly seventeen. I had a stable diet of Byrd, Palestrina, Lotti, Allegri to name but a few. Solo opportunities on major feast days in front of large congregations tested my nerves. I remember my head twitching uncontrollably at times. Thankfully this became less and less each year I sang the solos.
|Rodney Earl Clarke|
I’ve been told I have a nice smile and a kind face so playing the good, honest, hard-working, and loving Jake was kinda straightforward for me. But I do have a dark side, I mean a side that I like to channel into dark, dramatic characters. That’s the beauty of singing Crown. It’s an actors gift playing a drug addict , an alcoholic and general arse-hole. Rehearsals are fun as I work out my own interpretation of this character. There’s no fun in just rehashing material from past productions. I find it is imperative to tell the story but as Rodney playing Crown. This way, I believe the audience stands a better chance of connecting with the character and the story itself which, despite me growing up in England resonates strongly within me. My parents are from Jamaica and my ancestors suffered the same trials just like others but whose stories began in different locations as a result of which boat they ended up on.
YOU CREATED THE ROLE OF ANASTASE IN EMILY HALL’S SANTE, WHICH DEALS WITH THE RWANDAN GENOCIDE. TELL US ABOUT PERFORMING IN OPERAS ABOUT CONTEMPORARY LIFE.
You have a duty as an actor and a singer to tell the story. I worked very closely with both composer and director to ensure that everyone was satisfied that respect was being shown to the subject matter. Playing a high- octane, murdering lover required careful rehearsal. I had to place a lot of trust in the director and also found myself apologising to the attending survivor of the genocide as she explained the person I was portraying slaughtered her family.
Operas which give us an opportunity to delve into modern day affairs, conflicts and dilemnas enable us as performers to examine issues from a personal stance without fear of reprisal rather like the function of the Greek Play. It also gives us as society a way into that which might be taboo.
Rodney Earl Clarke sings Some Enchanted Evening:
DO YOU HAVE ANY DREAM ROLES? FAVOURITE COMPOSERS?
Well I do love the Don and Escamillo but Javert in Les Mis would be quite cool for me I think. I know it is not opera but it is great music and would suit my voice. I’m also a sucker for Rodgers & Hammerstein and sing quite a lot of this old school musical theatre rep these days. I try to show my versatility whenever I can so from singing the Ferryman in Britten’s church opera Curlew River to I Wont Send Roses from the musical Mack & Mabel, I feel quite at home.
HOW DID YOU FIRST FIND OUT THAT YOU WERE ON BARIHUNKS AND WHAT WAS YOUR REACTION?
I was curious about the term BARIHUNK as it was bandied about during a rehearsal in London then thanks to google all became clear. Upon seeing myself listed my reaction was something one could only describe as being undeniably West Indian - IRIE! (meaning WICKED). No seriously, to be on a site with so many accomplished artists is quite overwhelming.
DO YOU THINK SINGERS SHOULD BE AS CONCERNED ABOUT THEIR BODIES AS THEIR VOICES? DO YOU HAVE A WORKOUT ROUTINE?
Ok, I don’t know about you but my voice is part of my body. I sing with my body so it is impossible for me to separate the two. In terms of looking after your body, you have a duty to maintain the apparatus so that it performs at its best at all times. Looking great and sounding great is an unbeatable combination. My routine, well that’s a secret.
Rodney Earl Clarke sings Ol' Man River:
WE COULDN’T HELP BUT NOTICE THAT THEY’VE ASSEMBLED A GOOD LOOKING CAST FOR PORGY & BESS. IN THE AGE OF TELEVISION, DO LOOKS AND APPEARANCE MATTER IN CASTING?
Well, as I said before, aiming to look and sound great is an unbeatable combination. When I say looking great however I mean looking great for the part! Remember what I said about telling the story? Good looks get you the role of the good looking guy,a portly person will be cast for a portly character. We are moving into a world where the audience enjoys the greater sense of reality experienced from certain casting choices but having said that I think they still want to be able to clearly distinguish between television and theatre. So, this encourages skilled acting choices and a balanced approach all round.
|Rodney Earl Clarke|
SOME SINGERS LIKE FERRUCCIO FURLANETTO ARE REFUSING TO WORK WITH DIRECTORS WHO HAVE GOTTEN PARTICULARY OUTRAGEOUS IN THEIR CONCEPTUALIZATIONS. ARE THERE PRODUCTIONS OR DIRECTOR REQUESTS THAT WOULD TURN YOU OFF?
Firstly, I’m not in that enviable position to decline work but moreover can’t wait to collaborate with other artists on telling another story. There it is, that word again ‘story’. As long as it is being told I don’t really have a problem, in fact I relish the bizarre, the controversial and the physically challenging production. I enjoy putting my body in odd positions whilst singing and to that extent have had a pretty good time with directors. I just have to remind myself to stay inwardly strong and keep my integrity.
HOW DO WE MAKE OPERA MORE RELEVANT TO TODAY’S AUDIENCES WHILE STILL RESPECTING THE ART?
We don’t dumb down. Give them the real thing and nothing less. However, giving them the real thing doesn’t mean presenting the old, fuddy-duddy age old production all the time. You can still don a curly Mozartian wig in a vibrant and sexy way but just do one thing and they’ll be happy – tell the story. We should have courage to present the stories truthfully allowing them to resonate in audiences as they enjoy the fantasy of going back in time or the head on, eye watering truth in operas depicting current affairs.
DID YOU INITIALLY SING AS ANOTHER VOICE TYPE BEFORE BECOMING A BARITONE? HOW DID YOU DISCOVER THAT YOU’RE REALLY A BARITONE?
I was a treble until the age of fifteen and then it all dropped and settled in the same summer holiday period. Since then, nothing has changed. I have made one outing as a counter-tenor but don’t get too excited, that was once and not to be repeated. My head of Music at my secondary school realised I had a voice worth training and he put me in touch with the Head of Vocal Studies at the Royal Academy of Music, London one Professor Mark Wildman. I took my father along with me to have a consultation session and after singing one baritone aria, Professor Wildman closed the piano lid and said “There would be something terribly wrong with this world if this boy doesn’t have a career”. And so that was it for me in terms of singing.
Rodney Earl Clarke sings Gabey's Song from Lonely Town:
WHAT DO YOU LISTEN TO WHEN YOU’RE NOT LISTENING TO OPERA?
After the pleasurable silence, I love to listen to people talking. I’m a great one for sipping a cappuccino in a café and just people watching. I take many mental notes of style, behaviour and emotions displayed and store them up for later use. When I work out however, Stevie Wonder gets a good hearing!
ANYTHING ELSE THAT YOU THINK OUR READERS SHOULD KNOW ABOUT YOU?
Well, I mentioned earlier my elephant memory. I actually have a photographic memory which helps me learn music as well as shock people when I remember what they wore weeks ago. I recently performed a Philip Glass opera called Sound of A Voice and the edition I had was printed on separate pages with music on one side and blank on the other. I was having trouble memorising the music until I rearranged the pages so that they were like a normal book and I could differentiate the contours of each page easily and thus commit them to memory.