Addicted to Bass

The following article was first published in the June 2016 edition of Viva Lewes magazine:

Velvet-voiced Christopher Purves returns to Glyndebourne

“Where’s home?”, I ask baritone Christopher Purves as we sit in the gardens at Glyndebourne. He’s taking a break from rehearsals for The Cunning Little Vixen, an opera that weaves love stories around a forester and a fox. “Apparently it’s in Oxford”, he laughs. “I’ll be back home Saturday afternoon and then back here on Sunday evening, very late. So I get a day and a half at home, which is not enough but that’s just the way it goes. We’re relatively used to it.” These days Christopher sings his way around the world, staying in temporary accommodation when performing in Europe, the United States and Australia. “When the kids were small I would not go abroad, just because I thought ‘this is ludicrous, not being able to see them at all’. I couldn’t think of a good enough reason to ruin my life so completely.”

It’s now 20 years since Christopher first came to Glyndebourne as an understudy before returning to perform in 2007, 2009 and – in a ‘truly fearsome and mesmerising performance’, according to Opera Today – the title role in Handel’s Saul last year. “It’s a wonderful thing to have your so-called art appreciated to such an extent”, he admits. “It was the best fun I’ve ever had.”

Christopher Purves has been singing since childhood. “I’m the youngest of four boys in the family. I think I had to fight for attention.” As a youngster, he was a chorister at King’s College, Cambridge. In his 20s, he spent several years as part of doo-wop band Harvey and the Wallbangers before heading into opera. But where does the acting come from? “I’ve got no idea”, he tells me. “If you talk to anyone and ask them what they’re doing, they’ll try and explain it to you in ways you can understand. I think opera is precisely that. We’re given scenarios that are rather weird and we have to explain them. It’s an extreme version of talking.”

His role as the Forester in The Cunning Little Vixen is “quite a soulful man”, Christopher says. “He’s not sad, he’s not desperately happy, but he’s normal. I think a lot of people can understand where his life is going. It’s very touchingly human.” And the internationally-travelled singer who portrays him is equally down-to-earth. “I love being at home. It’s an extraordinary thing but it’s true. I can take my dog for a walk, I can cook an evening meal, I can spend time talking to my sons – my daughter is away at the moment – you know, just normal life that people take for granted. For me it’s such a blessing. But I still enjoy the buzz; I still enjoy the excitement of starting up a new rehearsal period for a new opera. So, I think while that excitement still exists, I will carry on.”

Glyndebourne Festival 2016 runs until late August. The Cunning Little Vixen opens on Sunday 12 June. glyndebourne.com