Two Minutes with James Clayton

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He played the Mikado in our three city season of the G&S favourite and in June and July takes on the role of Escamillo in Carmen. Baritone James Clayton talks about life on and off stage.

Between singing engagements here and in Australia, you’re a senior lecturer in voice at Te Kōkī New Zealand School of Music. What’s the most satisfying thing about that job?

Making a difference at grass roots level -it sounds cliché but the truth is if I didn't feel like I was able to make a difference, I wouldn't be there.

Singing wasn’t your first job in the music world – you were a French horn player before becoming a professional singer. What was it that made you change careers? Something definite or was it a gradual change?

In the end it came down to finances - there wasn't much work for French horn players but there was regular work as a chorus member. At first it was just another part time job to go with teaching and the horn gigs but soon I started to realise I had more to offer than chorus singing.  Luckily my employers agreed and I was soon offered young artist and small roles; the rest as they say is history

You’ve recently wrapped up the three city season of The Mikado. Byron Coll (Ko-Ko) said you gave some great advice about how to use his voice as a non-opera singer – in particular not trying to blast it like people who have been stretching their voice for years. As an experienced singer with a ‘stretched’ voice – how do you care for your voice?

One of the hardest things to get young singers to understand is that there are two sides to this job.  When you are on stage you're living it up whilst working hard and hoping to earn the audience's favour.  Off stage it can be rather boring; I have to watch what I eat, make sure I get plenty of rest and the right amount of exercise - enough to keep me energized but not so much that I run out of steam when performing at night.

Often you have to say ‘no’ to offers of going out for drinks in favour of a quiet cup of ginger tea and an early night. It's been an ongoing journey for me being a singer - as our instruments are our body and mind.  These are the most important things to take care of - if your technique is sound, the rest will fall into place

What were your highlights from The Mikado season?

There are so many.  It goes without saying that I always have a blast working with Stuart (Maunder, the director) but there were some unexpected surprises this time as well, most notably working with the comic genius that is Byron but also a fantastic group of cast and creatives, ensemble and crew who I was able to forge real relationships with on tour. I always have fun when I'm performing but this was without a doubt the most fun I have had in a decade!

You’re back on stage with New Zealand Opera for Carmen. Have you performed the role of Escamillo before? What are the challenges of this role for you?

Yes this will be my third season of Escamillo for a total of 32 performances in five cities and two countries thus far.  The biggest challenge for Escamillo I think, is that the aria in particular covers quite a large range vocally, has to be knock-your-socks-off powerful but still sound beautiful.  In a sense you have to capture the grace, beauty and raw primal energy of a bullfight and convey it with the human voice.

As a fairly recent Wellingtonian, what’s your favourite thing about the city?

I'd have to say the people - My family and I have been welcomed with open arms into this city and indeed this country. It really feels like home now - of course the scenery is to die for as well!