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Young Artist Profile: Michel de Souza

The Brazilian baritone on tackling Strauss’s complex scores and embodying nasty characters.

By Lottie Butler (Assistant Content Producer)

11 March 2014 at 5.30pm | 1 Comment

‘To describe Die Frau ohne Schatten as a fairytale is too light a term,’ says Jette Parker Young Artist Michel de Souza. ‘It is based on one, but the opera has real philosophical, intellectual depth.’ 

Michel, a Brazilian baritone who joined the Jette Parker Young Artists Programme in September 2012, is currently in rehearsals for Richard Strauss’s mythical masterpiece in which he will sing the First Nightwatchman. The opera, an exotic fairytale with a libretto by Hugo von Hofmannsthal, is considered to be one of Strauss’s mightiest and most demanding scores. ‘The music is gorgeous, but very tricky. I was just in a rehearsal and felt like a little kid – it's so hard!’ says Michel. ‘But it’s great to be pushed out of my comfort zone as it makes me grow as an artist. Strauss’s music is absolutely delightful when you get it; once you are in his world, it becomes wonderful.’

Since joining the programme in 2012, Michel has performed in a wide range of Royal Opera productions, including La bohème, Eugene Onegin, Tosca, Don Carlo and Carmen.

Born in Petrópolis near Rio de Janeiro, Michel discovered a passion for opera early. He developed a love of singing by performing in his school choir, the Canarinhos de Petrópolis Boys Choir, and had his first experience on the operatic stage as a nine-year-old, performing in a production of Carmen. ‘In the choir, I sang every Sunday and travelled the world performing, which really developed my skill in singing,’ he says. ‘But on-stage in Carmen, I just loved being in costume and surrounded by all of the Principal singers. It was around two years later that I really felt that it was what I should do.’

Michel graduated with a degree in organ from the School of Music of the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro before going on to study singing, first with Benito Maresca in São Paolo, and then at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music & Drama. Now, as a Jette Parker Young Artist, he works at the Royal Opera House full-time, performing on the main stage and covering roles. Earlier this Season, Michel covered the title role in Kasper Holten’s new production of Don Giovanni. ‘For cover roles, you need to be even more prepared than if you are singing normally. You don’t get as many rehearsals and can get called up at the last minute, so your preparation needs to be much stronger. It is a hugely valuable process.’

The JPYA Programme provides daily coaching in all opera disciplines, including musical style and interpretation, languages and stage technique. ‘Everything you get here as a Jette Parker Young Artist is fantastic, but for me, the techniques related to the body are particularly valuable,’ he says. ‘When great singers come out on stage, they are the character; they are not pretending. To achieve a great performance, you need to find the physicality of the character you are performing - to embody the characters and feel comfortable in their skin; the psychology comes after. The movement classes are a great time to concentrate on that.’

For Michel, it is this performance element that draws him to opera. ‘I find performing concerts much harder than opera. A concert is very personal; you feel naked,’ he explains. ‘With opera, you have a costume and make-up, and you are surrounded by support - stage managers, a conductor and the orchestra. You are not yourself, but a character, and you can lose yourself in this character. Personally, I prefer bad characters – the nasty beasts like Scarpia from Tosca and Iago from Otello. I like exploring their physicality and complex mentalities.’

Following Die Frau ohne Schatten, Michel will sing the role of Baron Douphol in La traviata, followed by Angelotti in Tosca and Second Commissary in Dialogues des Carmélites. ‘I remember going to watch Richard Eyre’s production of La traviata just four or five years ago,’ he says. ‘It is crazy to think that later this Season I will be singing on-stage in the same production!’

The Jette Parker Young Artists Programme is supported by Oak Foundation. Find out more about the programme.

This article has 1 comment

  1. Angela Hurlstone responded on 12 March 2014 at 10:18am Reply

    I saw Michel at the Carmen Insights evening last year. He has such an amazing voice. It was a real treat to see and hear him close-up!

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