Music critic and journalist
     Cheryl North :: Interviews

Cheryl North Interviews Christopher Ventris

ANG Newspapers Classical Music Column - June 30, 2000

Christopher Ventris has taken a few unconventional turns along his path toward a major operatic career. The London-born tenor is currently in San Francisco for his U.S. debut singing the title role in the San Francisco Opera's current production of Richard Wagner's Parsifal.

His first major stage experience happened when he was 12 and sang the lead female role In Gilbert & Sullivan's The Sorcerer for his all-boys' school.

"Stage acting was much more fun than schoolwork," the genial singer said during a telephone interview last week. "When my voice changed. I continued by participating in England's very good amateur operetta program. I was initially a member of the chorus, and we did 2 shows yearly. While I was there, I met Joy Mammen, a wonderful Australian voice teacher who had sung with both Joan Sutherland and Luciano Pavarotti. After studying with her for two years, she arranged for me to have an audition with the Royal Academy of Music."

While at the Royal Academy, he earned extra money working as a clerk at the British retail chain Marks & Spencer and at a garage fitting tires. The Royal Academy, however, proved to be a launch pad for bigger things, since major coaches, teachers and performers from both the Royal Opera and the Glyndebourne Festival regularly worked with Academy students. Ventris was eventually given an apprenticeship with Glyndebourne and was assigned to be the understudy for the role of Tom Rakewell in The Rake's Progress. A little later, he served as understudy for a production of Jan�cek's Katya Kabanova which, coincidentally, was directed by Nikolaus Lehnhoff, the director of San Francisco Opera's current Parsifal production. The young tenor made an important operatic debut in 1992 as Steuermann in the Leipzig Opera production of Wagner's Der Fliegende Hollander, which was followed by an appearance there as Narraboth in Strauss' Salome. The role of Kudryash in Katya Kabanova was the vehicle for his Covent Garden debut in 1994.

A major bit of serendipity occurred in 1998 when he received a telephone call asking if he would be willing to substitute for an ailing tenor and sing the role of Max in Der Freisch�tz at La Scala the very next day. After taking a few seconds to recover from the surprise, he said yes and prepared to board the next plane from London to Milan (he had sung the role in Cologne only two weeks before). According to Ventris, the La Scala performance went very well, even though he had only a single afternoon's rehearsal. His name became familiar throughout the Continent, since the performance was broadcast live all over Europe. "And, you'll never guess who the conductor was," Ventris said. "Donald Runnicles! We talked, and in August, Lotfi Mansouri auditioned me in London for the role of Parsifal - and here I am."

Now in his late-30s, the 6-foot 1-inch blond tenor pondered his future a bit. "Despite what my resum� says. I have not sung the role of Tamino in Mozart's Magic Flute. Although Mozart is usually the route tenors take towards the lighter Wagnerian roles, I personally find singing Mozart very difficult," he said. "Mozart requires a certain care and delicacy. One is expected to stand and sing beautifully in a Mozart role. But I feel more comfortable singing a broader, vocally more physical line. With Wagner. I can be doing something like falling to the floor or clutching at my head while I sing!" This led to an inevitable question. "When will you take on Siegfried in the Ring?" I asked. "Not for quite a while," he answered. "Siegfried is one of the most difficult of all the written roles in opera. One is on stage singing for nearly five hours. I'd like to do Lohengrin and the role of Siegmund first," and after a moment's hesitation, he added, "Wagner, you know, is the graveyard of so many tenors."

Here is a link to the Christopher Ventris website, which includes this interview.

. . . . . . . . .