Samuel Dundas on performing Così’s Guglielmo
Samuel Dundas, Guglielmo in OA’s revival of Mozart’s Così fan tutte, which opens at the Sydney Opera House this month, hurt a disc a couple of years ago when he dived head-first through a French door. In a fat suit. “Try telling that to a doctor,” the singer grins, when we meet for a chat at Sydney’s Opera Centre.
If the tall and lanky baritone finds it easy to laugh at himself, he’s also disarmingly disparaging of his own achievements, chuckling as he repeats the family joke about him and his brother Toby, drummer with the band The Temper Trap. “Toby writes songs; he’s considered the true musician in the family. I’m the classical cover band because I sing dead people’s music.”
Yet this artist is much more than a pretty voice. When we speak for this interview, he has just finished a second week of rehearsals with Così director Jim Sharman. “It’s going fantastically well, we’re flying through it,” Dundas says. Not a small achievement, considering that the production, revived for the first time since its 2009 première, is being reworked by Sharman.
That the Così plot is often thought of as improbable does not faze Dundas in the least. “You have to find the reality of the situation: we all know what it feels like to be jealous. This scenario might be unrealistic; what transpires is not.”
Would he have forgiven a fiancée who cheated on him with his best friend? “No. But then, today we’re reluctant to pass judgment on other people’s behaviour. As long as it’s legal!”
Playing funny can easily fall flat, which is why Dundas does not attempt it. “Jim’s take on Così, with which I agree, is that because of the absurdity of the situation, the straighter you play it the funnier it is.”
This July, Dundas will be reprising another Mozart role when he performs Don Giovanni in Michael Gow’s new production for Oz Opera. He made his debut in the role for Victorian Opera in 2009. “At the time I was acutely aware that I didn’t want to be the 26-year-old who tried to perform Don Giovanni and didn’t quite succeed. I gave it everything I had – it took me a year to learn the role in the way that I wanted to.”
|Samuel Dundas in The Merry Widow 2011|
Like Rhodes, Dundas did not grow up thinking that he’d be an opera singer. But when as a teenager he started singing around the house, his mother suggested lessons. “I was in Year 9 and I thought it was a terrible idea; total social suicide,” he laughs. But the opposite happened; landing roles in school musical productions improved his confidence. “It made me realise that I was good at something. Years 11 and 12 were really positive for me.”
Still, the road to professional singing was not a smooth one. Having completed his music degree at the Melba Memorial Conservatorium of Music in Melbourne, Dundas found it hard to shake off the nagging fear that the big opera career might never happen. “Deep down, I was terrified of failing. Terrified that if I gave it my all, and didn’t succeed, I would feel worthless.” As a Young Artist at the Victorian Opera he did small roles and worked hard at them, “but Richard Gill said of me at the time that he saw potential but that he wasn’t sure that he could extract it”.
It took the break-up of a long-time relationship and the neck injury that resulted from the dive in the fat suit for the penny to drop. “For the first time in my life only music was left, and I was able to devote myself fully to my singing career, and it led to a realisation that I do have the most incredible job in the world. I get to go to work every day and spend time with fabulous people, making music and having fun and laughing. And creating interesting and enjoyable work.”
Fresh out of a two-year stint as a Young Artist with OA, Dundas has given up worrying about the future. “In this career, people are constantly asking you, what will you do if it doesn’t work out, what if you don’t get the next job, what if what if what if. I no longer think about that stuff. I am having a good career and I am now a permanent member of the ensemble (this year he also has small roles in Madama Butterfly and The Barber of Seville) and that’s a pretty good basis from which to have a great life.”