BWW Interviews: Christopher Purves talks Houston Grand Opera's DAS RHEINGOLD
Houston Grand Opera's first ever Ring Cycle is about to kick off with what is promised to be a spellbinding and incredibly visual production of Richard Wagner's DAS RHEINGOLD. As audiences grow all the more eager to see the show of this groundbreaking show, I chatted with Christopher Purves, who is portraying Alberich, about his career and what audiences could expect from this and highly anticipated production.
BWW: How did you first get involved in opera?
Christopher Purves: I first started opera about twenty-three years ago. I was singing in professional choirs in Britain at the time. My ego got the best of me, and I just wanted to be out in the front, rather than in the back row of the basses. I always wanted to be involved in opera in some way. I auditioned for a small touring opera company called English Touring Opera, and they selected me. The rest, I believe, they say is history. [Laughs]
BWW: When did you know you wanted to perform professionally?
Christopher Purves: I'm one of four boys, and I'm the youngest. I found that the gene pool didn't give me sufficient brainpower, as it were. My brothers all got the brains, and I got the noise. I worked out that if I was loud and could show off, then my parents would notice that I was alive. Actually, that's not such a bad thing to have if you want to go into opera because being loud and showing off [Laughs] are prerequisites.
I don't know, I think it's something you either feel comfortable with, you learn to feel comfortable with, or, for most people in the world, they can't stand the idea. For me, for some reason, it wasn't a problem. I loved the idea of being a little bit of an exhibitionist, and it sort of went from there, really.
BWW: This production of DAS RHEINGOLD features groundbreaking visuals by La Fura dels Baus and has been described as having a decidedly 1950s Sci-Fi B-movie aesthetic to it. What can Houston audiences expect from this take on the classic?
Christopher Purves: There's a lot of 50s-60s science fiction. It sounds a little bit trite. It sounds as if there's going to be a lot of slightly old-fashioned technical moments, but actually it's extremely visual and amazingly imaginative. That's what struck me first of all. I mean, it's always very difficult when you put on something that is otherworldly, as it were. I mean, how do you portray the land where the gods live and the land where Alberich and the Nibelungens live? How do you portray Rhine maidens swimming in the Rhine? It's really difficult, and I think the solutions that the directors have come up with are really truly wonderful. As a visual feast, it's incredibly exciting for us all to be involved in. I mean, it really, really is a thing of great beauty.
Yesterday, I watched the end of the opera, and it's something that is just mind blowing. It really is. You know, there were some fairly hardened opera-types in the auditorium yesterday, and we all started applauding because it really is so beautiful. And, that was just a piano/technical rehearsal. So, I think when the orchestra is playing, and you've had two and a half hours of this rich, beautiful music, I think the audience is really going to take off actually. I just think it's so exciting.
Christopher Purves: For me, in my role as Alberich, the most challenging aspect is really the physicality of it. He is supposed to be a dwarf and very ugly. I would say I don't have a problem with the ugly bit, but I do have a problem with the dwarf bit. There is a physicality you can bring to bear for Alberich, and I'm finding that now. That's a challenge. It's not a particularly difficult one, but it's an interesting one.
The most challenging aspect is the text and the way that my role has been written by Wagner. How do you describe it? It's very wordy. It's bitty. There are no sort of nice long, nice Verdian lines. It's full of impact. It's full of cursing. It's full of drama. It's a wonderful role. It's a brilliant role to do, but it's incredibly hard work. I don't want to be particularly technical about the vocal demands, but all I need to say is it's high, it's loud, it's long, and I think that is the most challenging part. There are so many words, and it's a language that it partly made-up. It's very colloquial. That is the real challenge.
BWW: Do you find that you and Alberich are similar in any ways?
Christopher Purves: I hope not. [Laughs] I have to draw, of course, every actor and every singer draws from their own experience or draws from what they believe a character could be like. I know people who are [pauses] tricky characters. We all know them. We know people who've got short tempers. We know people who lie as a sort of way of life. It's not so different from this sphere of reference that we all have. We all know people who have characteristics that are similar to Alberich's, so you draw from that knowledge base and use it as much as you possibly can in portraying a character. Sometimes you get it right, and Wagner, I think, has written very specifically for Alberich. He is one of the only real human beings. Everyone else is a god. He is a Nibelheimer, an underclass of worker, who works for the gods, really. So, the way Wagner has approached it, he is using and drawing on human characteristics, so in that respect it's not so far removed from real life.