Melbourne-based baritone Michael Lampard was born in Tasmania and is emerging as one of Australia’s leading young operatic baritones.
Already amassing extensive experience in opera, musical theatre, oratorio and recital, Michael has appeared in major Australian cities, as well as in the United Kingdom, Asia, Europe, and the United States of America. Making his operatic debut at age 16 his repertoire encompasses roles from the medieval period to many world or Australian premieres. A keen, and acclaimed recitalist, Michael has performed most of the standard repertoire with a focus on the German lied of the Romantic period and of English Art Song. A supporter and regular commissioner of Australian music, Michael has performed works by many leading Australian composers and encourages the commission of new works.
An experienced composer and conductor, Michael has worked with opera companies, choirs and orchestras in Tasmania presenting a wide variety of works. Michaelʼs compositions have been performed in Australia, Italy, Japan and the United States
Photo Credit: Shelly Higgs
THE STREET SPOKE TO MICHAEL LAMPARD PERFORMING AS THE SOLDER IN THE WORLD PREMIERE OF THE WEIGHT OF LIGHT.
OUTLINE THE ART OF BEING A BARITONE SINGER?
George Bernard Shaw said that opera is when “a tenor and soprano want to make love, and are prevented from doing so by a baritone” and this pretty much sums up what the role of the baritone is in the world of opera. Yes, there are operas where the baritone takes a different role, but the operas and roles that excite me fit this mold more often than not. One of the nice things about the baritone voice is that it so closely echoes the natural speaking voice range of most men. I think this is why baritones excel so much in the world of art song and song cycle. There is an immediacy and naturalness to the sound that speaks very easily to the listener’s ear.
THE TEAM BEHIND THE WEIGHT OF LIGHT IS IMPRESSIVE AND COVERS A LOT OF TERRITORY. HOW DID YOU COME TO BE A PART OF THIS NEW WORK?
I was very lucky to come into this work before the last round of closed workshopping late last year. I was lucky to have worked with Caroline Stacey a few years ago on an opera in Melbourne, and when my name was suggested to premiere this work I was chosen to bring it to this exciting premiere season here in Canberra. It’s wonderful to be involved in this work with such an experienced and passionate team.
HOW HAVE YOU CRAFTED YOUR CCHARACTER AS THE SOLDER IN THE WEIGHT OF LIGHT?
It’s one of the interesting things about this work; we have the opportunity to create the character for the very first time! That’s so exciting. Getting into the right headspace for this role has been very important. Finding a way of relating to his experience, his emotions, struggles and nightmares. While we, the average civilian, may have a theoretical knowledge of the world he has inhabited, we cannot possibly plumb the depths of the horror you would experience on a day-to-day basis serving in that part of the world. So to craft a character like the Solider in the The Weight of Light requires finding a relatable, human element in his grief and anguish. It is my job to take the audience on his journey and make them have an emotionally moving experience themselves witnessing a part of this man’s story.
WHAT HAS BEEN YOUR JOURNEY IN THE WORK AND THE PROCESS IN THE REHEARSAL ROOM?
When I came into the room, I had formed ideas about the man himself, but I wanted to be completely open to how the work would be presented. We are treading new ground here in many ways. We are fusing genres and with no real blueprint on how this style of work is to be presented. Song Cycle has a distinct and very traditional way of being presented. So presenting the work in an operatically stylized presentation opens the door for a lot of experimenting, and gives me the performer, and the whole creative team a chance to step out of our comfort zone and drive the work in a new direction. This has been fascinating to see, and experience, because it allows me to take on a beloved genre, the song cycle, and bring new levels of drama and passion to the presentation. It’s also exciting to have to explore this character.
HOW DO YOU FEEL THE SONG CYCLE AS A FORM IS HARNESSED IN THIS WORK?
I think this work takes the form of the song cycle and says ‘let’s make this uniquely Australian and distinct from it European cousins’. So we have the traditional structure of songs and interludes, similar to that of the great song cycle composers like Schubert, Schumann and Mahler, as well as their English speaking counterparts like Finzi and Rorem, but by using immediate and more first-person language it thrusts the work very quickly into the immediate and present land of 21st Century Australia. There are moments in the cycle that are very beautiful and traditional in the world of song, and then it quickly turns a corner into a powerful, dramatic and very modern musical landscape.
WHAT ARE THE CHALLENGES FOR YOU PERFORMING IN THE WEIGHT OF LIGHT?
The challenges are many! But those challenges are equaled or surpassed by the joys of performing in The Weight of Light. This is an epic work. It requires amazing stamina and mental attention. It’s musically and vocally challenging. It forces you, the performer (both Alan and I) to extend our selves and our skill set to encompass the depths of the work. Most importantly, however, it challenges dramatically. This work is so moving, every corner opens up a new emotional world to us, and the audience, and riding that wave from the depths of grief to the heights of passion requires balance and concentrated skill from the performers. Meeting those challenges and riding that wave is incredibly fulfilling and hopefully the audience will be moved by the work we put in too.
ART SONG IS A RIGOUROUS MUSIC GENRE. HOW HAVE YOURSELF AND PIANIST ALAN HICKS ESTABLISHED YOUR RELATIONSHIP? WHAT IS IMPORTANT TO SUCCESS?
Amazingly, this is the first time Alan and I have performed together. We have both admired each other’s work for a number of years, but never had the chance to work together. I think that mutual admiration very much helped establish a strong connection through respect and a deep appreciation and dedication to the art form of song performance. We have been working on this now since December, on and off, and have established a wonderful working relationship allowing us to trust each other and find a great way of presenting this music together. I think for it to work, we also have to both love the work we are performing. Every day Alan and I find new things to say in the work and new ways of bringing out the elements in the score that James and Nigel have so painstakingly created.
YOU HAVE WORKED AS A COMPOSER AND CONDUCTOR IN AUSTRALIA? WHAT HAVE BEEN SOME OF THE AUDIENCE RESPONSES OVERSEAS?
I am lucky that I have had a small number of works performed outside of Australia, and I am lucky to have a song cycle or my own being performed towards the end of the year just outside of London. The music I compose is pretty conservative I suppose. I try and write what I would want to hear or be given by a composer if it were written for me. Connecting words and music is very important and audiences respond well to that. A few years ago I had the pleasure of singing a couple of my own songs in a recital in Kyoto, Japan. I chose to set one song in Japanese. I worked closely with the poet to make sure I was setting it correctly, and matching my music to the emotional journey with in the poem. When I performed it, the audience both responded very warmly to the music itself, but also to the immediate connection they were able to have to the music through the text they could understand in their own language. It was a very moving experience.
WHAT IS YOUR VIEW OF THE OPERA SCENE IN AUSTRALIA?
Australia is blessed to have an incredibly high number of exceptional singers. We have a strong history of singers reaching the very top of the art form. There are a number of singers on the rosters of the world’s leading opera houses that were born and trained here in Australia. The opera culture in Australia is not as strong as it is in Europe, so companies must work harder to get audiences to attend performances. The product we produce however, in terms of singers and productions is as good as anywhere in the world, often better, and I not being biased in that statement. We have a handful of excellent professional opera companies here in Australia and a number of wonderful independent smaller companies who punch well above their weight. It’s great to have such a depth of opera in a country where, as a genre, opera is not part of our every day experience.
WHAT HAVE BEEN SOME OF THE MOST CHALLENGING ROLES FOR YOU AS A BARITONE?
I think ‘challenge’ comes in many forms. The Weight of Light certainly carries a great number of challenges that I enjoy, but other works will challenge us in ways that are as different as the works themselves. There are roles that challenge in terms of the technical mastery required to perform them property, I think of something like Orestes in Gluck’s opera Iphigenie en Tauride, which requires such control, power and refinement that must all be in balance. There are roles that challenge in terms of the stamina required, those like Wolfram in Tannhauser or Kurwenal in Tristan und Isolde. But then there are roles that challenge from a character perspective, I think of Scarpia in Tosca. Scarpia is a man whose moral compass is very different from my own and yet to play the role effectively you must find some way in to understanding him. I love being challenged as a performer, and I love being pushed to find ways to bring truth to performances. A role like the Solider in The Weight of Light is a gift for a performer because of this.
DO YOU HAVE ANY ADVICE FOR SINGERS?
I teach singing in a private studio in Melbourne, I have had singers ranging from teenagers auditioning for their school musical, to professional singers preparing for performances and auditions all over the country. The advice I give every singer, and everyone who wants to sing is to sing. Just sing. If you are passionate about singing, if you give your heart to it, and if you let it come from deep inside you, your performance will shine. Being a professional singer is not easy, and it is certainly not glamorous but the magic is real and the excitement and heart-breaking passion will never leave you. Learn from good teachers. Listen to those who have trod the path before you. But love what you do. Find a way to make singing part of your life, not just something you do.
WHAT IS INSPIRING YOU CREATIVELY AT THE MOMENT?
I like to say that I am easily inspired. I am like a child in a candy shop and I get easily addicted to things. So when I sit down to compose, it will work when my mind is alight, and when my heart starts racing I know I am on to a good thing. Inspiration can come from anywhere. You can read a great poem, or have a great conversation with a fellow inspired mind. You can hear a sound, or a line in an opera and something will click. The same goes for learning a role. The moment you latch onto something real, something that moves you and makes the hair stand up on the back of your neck, you are in and there is no turning back. People inspire me. The people I love keep me sane and keep me wanting to strive for something more than I am capable of now.
WHAT ARE YOU CURRENTLY READING AND WATCHING?
I am currently between books. I read a lot of academic works on music and history, so when I want to turn my mind off I will generally read some kind of action or thriller novel. Something with an historical edge or something that explores an interesting idea or concept. In terms of what I am watching, well this is a hard one to answer. There is nothing better than settling down to watch a good movie, but time to do so is always in short supply, so I watch a lot of shorter TV programs. I have always loved sitcoms and short dramas, but try and avoid reality TV as much as I can. I also love stand up comedy, and have a small collection of stand up DVDs, which are always on high rotation.