Teddy Tahu Rhodes is one of Australia’s leading opera performers, in demand on opera and concert stages world wide. This month he will perform in two concerts, organised by Opera North West in Armidale and Inverell on September 21 and 22. We asked Teddy what he enjoys most about being part of events like this.
Why did you become an opera singer?
I was brought up with classical music and always had a deep love for it. It was really a progression from singing in my school choir. When I auditioned for the New Zealand National Youth Choir, I was required to take singing lessons, which I continued while I was at university. After graduating, I was working as an accountant when I was noticed and began my journey down that path.
How did it come about?
It wasn’t something I searched for; I just fell in love with that genre of music. It really came about because of the people who recognised a talent in me that gave me the opportunity to expand on and explore opera.
They are truly beautiful people who did it for no benefit for themselves, apart from wanting to see someone achieve their dream. I hope I can do the same.
What parts do you enjoy performing the most?
I love a lot of the modern operas I have done, in particular the role of Joe in Dead Man Walking. I love playing Don Giovanni and Mephistopheles.
How do you approach playing darker characters?
It’s interesting playing a character like Mephistopheles, because you don’t necessarily have to play the evil. Evil can manifest from the ways the other characters perceive and respond to it. Sometimes it comes through charm.
You have performed internationally – tell us about some of the highlights.
I have been lucky enough to sing at some incredible opera houses around the world. Quite frankly, the highlight is that I am still asked to perform. I have just performed in Bangalow at a beautiful festival. Highlights don’t necessarily come from performing in major opera houses, but can come from any musical experiences. They are all special.
What advice would you give young singers who want to make singing a career?
When I was back in my home town of Christchurch and was working as an accountant, when the opportunity came, I was prepared.
Even though I felt like I had no prospects of becoming an opera singer, I lived on hope. Living on hope meant that I would go home and practice. I continued with singing lessons and practiced at home, regardless of whether I felt I had any prospects, because you never know when the opportunity is going to present itself. You have to be ready for the opportunity. You can’t take an opportunity that’s given to you, unless you’ve done the work in the first place.
People often talk about lucky breaks. I was very fortunate in getting a lucky break, but I wouldn’t have got it if I hadn’t have been ready to take the opportunity. I spent hours and hours and hours in the practice room, just because I loved doing it. I was learning pieces that seemed to have no end purpose. As a result, I was ready when someone asked me.
Do you think the filming of opera by companies like the Met in New York can capture the magic? Should this become more widespread, with Australian and other opera companies following suit, to increase access to great opera productions – particularly in regional areas?
I have performed in a couple of the Met broadcasts, as well as being broadcast by Opera Australia. I don’t think you can beat the live experience, which is visceral. The response I receive from people around the world who have seen the filmed performances is that they would not be able to access the performances otherwise, so I do think it’s important – more so in this day and age, where immediate access is so important.
I always thought it could be a great social event, particularly in some of the regional areas. It could be treated as a “Night at the Opera”.
What’s the best thing about performing to regional audiences?
I always say that it doesn’t matter where you perform; the audiences are there because they love the music and the experience. It’s often more intimate in the regional centres. The venues aren’t as large, so there’s a wonderful intimacy about it. Because there’s not as much access to it, it creates a great sense of event that you don’t often get in the big cities.
Whether I perform to one person or 1,000 people, the performance has to be the same. Every performance is equally important.
When you last performed at Opera in the Paddock in 2016, you appeared on stage with tenor Bradley Daley wearing black tie with shorts and Blundstones. Can we expect to see a repeat of this sartorial extravagance?
I don’t think the audience wants to see these old legs again! The legs will be well and truly hidden, unless there is a special request. While it was a lot of fun and appropriate for the paddock, I think there’s a more sophisticated sense of style that we will adhere to for the Town Halls.
You have performed previously with Opera North West. What are you looking forward to when you return in September?
I’m very much looking forward to performing the comic duet from the Elixir of Love with local opera star Peta Blyth, as well as performing with Ruth Strutt and Henry Choo. Henry is a beautiful singer and very entertaining. I think the Inverell and Armidale audiences are in for a treat.
I’m very much aware of the challenges people are facing dealing with the drought. It is a pleasure to be able to allow people to feel and bring them some enjoyment. It’s a bit like trying to imagine the world without birds. If we didn’t have the birds and the beautiful sound they create, a great beauty in life would be gone. I think that’s what music’s like. Imagine the void that would be left if we didn’t have the magic of music in the world.