Opera singer Gavan Ring: ‘Aged five, I was in my bedroom, trying to imitate Pavarotti’
Irish baritone Gavan Ring will make his Welsh National Opera debut in the title role of Don Giovanni this month. He tells Simon Fearn about the challenges of making the arch seducer relatable in light of the #MeToo movement…
Do you come from a musical family?
Growing up in rural Ireland, music was a big part of life. Traditional Irish music featured heavily when I was younger. My grandmother was very musical – she taught herself piano and had a fine voice. I suppose that’s where my early inspiration came from.
What was your first experience of opera?
I was five years old. My mother had a tape of Pavarotti, Domingo and Carreras and she put it on in the car. I remember being spellbound; the sound captured my imagination. The following morning I was up in my bedroom trying to imitate the sounds they were making.
Do you have any advice for aspiring opera singers?
Surround yourself with people you trust. Opera’s a tricky profession because of the intensity and level of proficiency expected. The skills an opera singer needs are numerous; you’re always juggling several balls. That can be overwhelming. If you have a support mechanism, that’s the key.
What is it about Don Giovanni that you are most excited about?
Any baritone aspires to a handful of iconic roles and Don Giovanni is top of that list. To get the chance to perform it with a great cast, a great creative team and a great company – I can’t say enough how excited that makes me feel. I sort of bound into rehearsals.
How have you approached the character?
First and foremost, Don Giovanni is immensely wealthy and powerful. My wife and I often speak about footballers paid astronomical amounts of money, who get up to all sorts of tricks. Sometimes they believe their own hype; they lose sight of their mortality and humanity. It wouldn’t be a million miles away from the truth to say that’s also true of Don Giovanni.
Might audiences be more hostile to Don Giovanni following the #MeToo campaign?
It’s possible. Don Giovanni exhibits behaviour that could be characterised as misogynistic and cynical towards women (and human beings in general). It may make him less of an anti-hero and more of a villain by today’s standards. That’s a challenge for me and the production team: how do you deliver this hugely complex character, who does all these really nasty things, on stage and at the same time make him relatable?
What’s your favourite scene from the opera?
I adore the final scene of Act II, when the Commendatore comes back [from the dead] to take Don Giovanni to hell. It sweeps me away every time. It’s so cinematic, like a Quentin Tarantino film. There’s this huge drama with Mozart’s [relationship with his] own father tied up with it. It’s legendary.
CV: Gavan Ring
Training: Education and Music at St Patrick’s College, Dublin (2005-08); Master’s and PhD at the Royal Irish Academy of Music, Dublin (2008-16); National Opera Studio, London (2012-13)
First professional role: Colas in Mozart’s Bastien and Bastienne with Opera Theatre Company (2008)
Agent: Maxine Robertson
Welsh National Opera’s Don Giovanni tours from February 22 to April 19