Andrew O'Connor is an Australian bass baritone, and will join Pinchgut Opera this year for Splendour of Venice, Médée by Charpentier and our concert series Purcell & Charpentier. By year's end, you'll know his distinct sound intimately!
1. What are the main differences you've found between the industry in WA and the industry in NSW?
I count myself really lucky to have been born and to have trained in Western Australia. Not only is it full of natural beauty (everyone should visit) it was for me, and many others before me, a place of great opportunity. Because it was a smaller 'scene' more generally, although by no means much lesser in quality, I was able to develop a really interesting 'portfolio' career across opera, concert, theatre and ensemble singing. In a way, if you were really serious about pursuing a performance career as I was, it forced you to be 'scrappy' in that way and develop a diverse range of skills. I enjoyed all of those projects and I love to get back to WA whenever I can. I also think many people would be surprised to know just how many 'west coast' artists are present on 'east coast' stages – Pinchgut audiences in particular will know the voices of Taryn Fiebig, Emma Pearson, Fiona Campbell and Sara Macliver.
Because of those early opportunities, by the time I arrived in Sydney to join The Song Company full-time at the age of 25 in 2015 – I already had a lot of 'stage time' and I certainly think that set me up well for that particular role. Now that I'm freelancing again, I'm enjoying being able to once more take on a diverse range of projects.
The joy (and difference) of a place like Sydney is that it is home to a range of cultural organisations and venues that can operate full time – and that's reflected in Sydney being home to almost all of the major australian orchestras, opera, and dance companies. I'm really fortunate to perform with many of these organisations – and of course I relish every opportunity to join the Pinchgut Opera team, particularly in these concerts, which showcase not only the wonderful Australian voices of Cantillation but also the amazing players in the Orchestra of the Antipodes.
2. Can you tell us a little about your relationship with the music in Splendour of Venice?
We had the privilege of performing most of this program last year for a private audience in Dangrove – an art storage and performance space that belongs to Judith Nielson. The main hall of Dangrove is more or less modelled on the 'Turbine Hall' of the Tate Modern in London. Those who know that particular space, will know that it is cavernous, and Dangrove has corresponding dimensions and acoustics. Most of the music in Splendour of Venice was written for St Mark's Basilica, Venice – and with its rather unique dimensions, and plentiful balconies, the Basilica encourages polychoral textures, with different groups of singers, instrumentals, and soloists arrayed around the assembled congregation. Sydney University's Great Hall also has a great acoustic for choral music, so I'm sure this repertoire will sound equally fabulous there – and we'll find ways to deliver an authentic Venetian polychoral experience to our audience.
3. You have a busy schedule in the coming months. Can you tell us about something you're looking forward to?
I'm fortunate to be involved in a number of different projects across the coming few months – Verdi's Attila, Handel's Messiah, a concert of Faure and Durufle, Handel's Esther, a concert of Schütz, Senfl, and Hassler, and Bach's St John Passion – along with my ongoing work at St Mary's Cathedral and my studio teaching. Amidst all of this I'm genuinely looking forward to revisiting this particular concert project again (it's always nice and surprisingly rare to revisit a program) and also beginning my 'armchair work' ahead of rehearsals for Charpentier's Médée which begin in May.
4. It seems as though your time is pretty stretched between singing and teaching. How do you find balance in life? What do you like to do in your spare time? (if you have any!)
Teaching has always been important to me. I was very fortunate to have exceptional teachers (not only in music) in my youth, and when I first began my university studies I actually interviewed for a place to commence a Bachelor of Music Education. Eventually, I moved into a dedicated performance stream, but I took as many education electives as was possible during my studies. I think master educators and teachers are exceptional people – and there is much any artist can learn from the process of teaching and engaging with their craft in a different way.
These days almost all of my time is spent performing – but I do have a small stable of singing students at Aloysius College and also assist with a couple of choirs. Across my year I have some engagement with the choristers and scholars at St Mary's Cathedral, and I always particularly look forward to the mentoring and performing I do as part of the Moorambilla Voices program in Regional NSW. Young people have extraordinary capacity to make, create, and tell stories through music (and other performing arts) and it's a great joy to see them find that connection.
To find balance, I'm always on the hunt for an excellent coffee, a great bowl of pasta, or a coastal walking track. I love to hop in the car and get out of Sydney – even if it's only for a day – and both the Central Coast and Sapphire Coast are favourite destinations of mine. Closer to home I really enjoy seeing live theatre and I try to get to Sydney Theatre Company or Belvoir performances as often as I can.