Seeing the film of Peter Schaffer’s Amadeus convinced a one-time chef and hospital nurse to devote himself to singing, and led to a career which currently involves performing in one of Welsh National Opera’s most important recent productions.
Daniel Grice is singing in Schoenberg’s Moses und Aron, a vivid, spectacular opera famous for the six naked virgins dancing during the Golden Calf scene in Peter Hall’s legendary Covent Garden staging.
“My family moved around a lot so I went to very many schools. We lived in Zimbabwe, Botswana and China when I was a child as well as all over the UK.
“I never really sang or had an interest in singing in those days, but I vaguely remember being made to sing Mr Bumble in Oliver when I was at school in Birmingham where I remembered the song but forgot the dialogue. I had no idea that I needed to practise it in order to do it on stage! And at a school in Leamington I had to sing the Admiral Bunting Blunder – I remember the character’s name but I’ve no idea what it belonged to,” recalls Daniel.
Daniel then explains how he moved towards singing as a career.
“ I was a chef in Cornwall after I finished my A levels. I was interested in opera but never sang, just listened. By the time I was nursing I was taking a few lessons and teaching myself to read and write music, and by then the interest had become curiosity as to how to actually do it – it was quite a while later before I considered that people actually made a living singing and that I might try the same.”
So seeing Amadeus was his Damascene moment?
“Well, it was the thing that got me interested in opera. It didn’t get me singing per se but I remember seeing the Don Giovanni scene and being gripped by the sound these basses made and was curious to find out if I could do the same. Later I went to see opera and found out more about it and gradually the interest became more important in my life until I decided to train properly, at the Guildhall, and see where it led.”
Where it leads at the beginning of any rising young singer’s career is the need to accept all kinds of roles with all kinds of enterprises. I ask Daniel which opportunities does he turn down, and how does he think his “Fach” (style and repertoire) will settle.
“I turn down things that I don’t think I would do as well as I would like to in the context that they are offered,” he frankly admits.
“For example, a role that I might be comfortable trying in a smaller, less high-profile venue I might perhaps still not want to do yet in a larger one so for the same role I might say yes to one place and no to another.
“Obviously I’d turn down anything I felt I absolutely couldn’t sing or sometimes if there is the fortunate situation of two clashing offers I’d do the role I am more interested in. On the whole I only get offered things I can do and usually at a time I can do them so that problem doesn’t arise much – casting directors are pretty canny at sussing all that out.
“Fach-wise I’m pretty firmly a bass-baritone. It leads to a diverse sort of repertoire – Mozart roles obviously and things like Escamillo in Carmen, but because I can sing patter and coloratura and legato and can also be very loud when necessary I end up doing bits and pieces of all kinds of repertoire – as at the moment, where between shows of Schoenberg I’m singing Monteverdi and next go on to Boheme.
“I don’t have a repertoire defined by vocal limitations beyond the voice’s range and experience as such, so it can be confusing for people who like voices to be easily categorised. It may become obvious in time that a certain repertoire suits me above others, but for the moment I do all sorts!”
Daniel’s first stage performance was in Stratford-upon-Avon, where his mother and brother still live.
“When I was debating whether to give training as a singer a go I thought ‘well I need to find out whether I actually can and like singing in front of an audience before I do this’ so I performed as the Mikado in The Mikado for the Stratford-upon-Avon Opera Society. I was terrified, but I learnt I could do it, and more, that I really wanted to.”
* Welsh National Opera performs at Birmingham Hippodrome: Moses und Aron on June 18 at 8pm; Nabucco on June 19 at 7.15pm; Fall of the House of Usher on June 20 at 8pm; Nabucco on June 21 at 7.15pm. Details on 0844 338 5000.
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