Christopher Lowrey is the toast of Europe and for good reason. This is his third outing for Pinchgut Opera, having appeared in Bajazet and Theodora. We sat down with the countertenor for a candid chat ahead of his performance in the title role of Farnace.
On his busy performance schedule…
I forget everything that I’m doing. People tell you that you’re working everywhere, but it feels like going from one job to the next. This season, the most exciting was a little tour of Giulio Cesare in Europe- Paris and Bucharest- with Christophe Rousset. I sang the title role- and that was a big dream come true. I have my debut at Teatro Real in Madrid next year, too, doing some Corselli. After that I'm excited to return to the Goettingen Handel Festival to sing Bertarido in Rodelinda as it’s one of my all-time favourite roles.
On the character of Farnace…
I think you have to change the prescription on your lenses to get a feel for him because what you read in the libretto doesn’t immediately translate to modern morality and sensibility. For Farnace, the worst fate isn’t death- the worst fate is falling into the hands of the enemy, or losing your sense of self by being assimilated into a different culture. I think about cultures where honour is so important that it takes precedence over your life, and if you’re dishonoured, you’re considered worthless. You have to understand that going into the text otherwise you can’t understand the stakes in it.
Farnace has this beautiful scene where he says to his wife that her tenacity and will has reconnected him to his own forgotten humanity. He’s aware, in a way, that there are these competing priorities and there’s something about his relationship with his wife that completes him as a person. It’s quite progressive, in a sense, because it’s a woman whose pointing the way to this evolution in thinking, but it also shows that the thinking can evolve. By the end, he cares more about his child and his wife, even if it means they’re going to lose the war. I have no idea how it will end up- whether we play it ironically or straight- but I’m really excited to discover it along with the cast and the director.
On working far from home…
When I come back to a place I’ve worked before it’s this weird time dilation thing that happens where it feels like no time has passed, and I pick up where I left off. I haven’t been in Sydney for 3 years but I’m staying in the same neighbourhood- in Kings Cross- and not much has changed in terms of the layout of things, so I feel like I have a home in Sydney. I tend to get lots of repeat engagements- which I guess is a good sign- I mustn’t give people too much trouble!- and so I tend to find myself going back to places that feel familiar.
I’ve also developed a routine. In terms of cooking, I’ve got 2 or 3 dishes that I cook that I know I can get the ingredients for in every single place that I work. It stops me getting lazy and eating lots of takeaway. I have a system in terms of exercise, too. I try to run everywhere that I work. If it’s a long contract like this I’ll try to find a gym. As soon as you’ve got a gym or a running route and a food routine, then it starts to feel a little bit more familiar.
I like to meet new people and work with new people, but because of the constant moving I feel that whatever can give you a sense of rootedness is super important. I’ve lived in the same flat in London for 10 years, and that’s quite a conscious choice. With all the toing and froing, it’s quite a familiar place to go back to.
On keeping connected…
I have friends in a bunch of different places, so when I’m in Paris I see my friends in Paris, and I have friends in London and back home in the US. In terms of romance, it’s really hard because a lot of people might be interested but when they learn you’re on the road all the time it’s a non-starter for them. I’ve discovered that someone would have to have an inbuilt bias to my job- they’d have to think it’s so amazing, and if that isn’t there there’s this deficit to overcome and you can’t overcome it unless you give up the job, and I’m not prepared to do that.
At my age, you begin to be a little bit more uncompromising. I’d need someone to see the opportunities in my job- someone who could think of it not as a constraint but as an opportunity to travel or see the world at some sort of a subsidy. Sometimes people on dating apps recognise me and I think that’s so funny. If that’s what it takes, then so be it.
Thank God for friendships and family. I won’t compromise on making time to go back to the states to see my family. I might say no to a job if it means I wouldn’t have time to go back home. If I don’t see them with regularity I feel very disconnected. I think this job really favours extroverted people, and if I don’t have enough people in my life who are cajoling me I can tend to sink into my own head and get wrapped in my thoughts. I’ve learnt that it’s good to be around the people that centre me and bring me out of myself and to not compromise on that, because then I would feel disconnected. I’m always in danger of feeling disconnected. Its healthy to have fixed friends, places you return to and family to keep you grounded.