Andrew Staples: Messiah and multi-tasking

Andrew Staples: Messiah and multi-tasking

Jenna Simeonov

British tenor, director, and photographer Andrew Staples is currently in Toronto, between performances of Handel’s Messiah with Sir Andrew Davis and the Toronto Symphony Orchestra. Staples splits his time between performing, directing opera, and keeping up with his increasing demand as a portrait photographer. He’s also a founder of Opera for Change, which brings music and opera, in partnership with artists in Kenya, Tanzania, Botswana, Malawi, South Africa and beyond, to discover “what it truly means to collaborate interculturally.”

Andrew Staples spoke about Messiah, about Opera for Change, and what it’s like to juggle several artistic hats.

What does it feel like to sing the Messiah? How many do you think you average each year?

It’s always a joy to sing the Messiah. Ever since I was a treble years ago. Christmas isn’t the same without it. I think I’ve probably averaged about 4 or 5 a year over the last ten years.

How do you keep a piece like this fresh for you, when it’s so well-known?

Music for me is all about collaboration and context. When you sing and play this piece with new people in different places it has to evolve. Each performance is different from the last and as people bring their collective experience and contexts together, a new version comes alive. Aside from all that, the music is so rich and detailed that, similar to the butterfly effect, tiny changes in one place can have huge effects elsewhere. It’s a team game so you rely on each other to keep it exciting and honest.

Can you tell us a bit about Opera for Change?

Opera for Change is about stories and songs and the power of music and the arts to change lives. Embedded in the project is the belief that making music together brings people together, fosters understanding across all types of borders and promotes education and communities. So far we have travelled from Kenya to South Africa planning a cross arts festival based around The Magic Flute. So far our growing number of partners are musicians, singers, artists, dancers and communities from Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Malawi, Zambia, Botswana, South Africa, Europe and the US.

How do you balance wearing multiple hats (singing, directing, photography, charity work)?

By having a very big head?

Everything I do I see in some way as problem solving. I love the way things connect in my life. For example when I’m on stage between arias in the Messiah I have time to think about another project. You can’t move, check your email or be distracted by anyone - it’s like meditating. You can focus in that charged moment on solving something or dreaming some new crazy scheme.

Why do you think Messiah is such a staple of the holiday season?

It is a remarkable thing. It has its own language that speaks to us in a deeply manipulative way. Handel uses all the tricks in his late Baroque book to make us engage with the music and feel things while we listen to this extradition art piece. It is a crowning achievement of humanity written by a man clearly deeply inspired by higher things.

Messiah runs at the TSO until Sunday, December 20th at Roy Thomson Hall. For details and tickets, follow the box office links below.

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