Spotlight on: Jeremy BowesInterview
Why do you sing, and why are you doing it professionally?
I sing because I could not stop if I wanted to. When I picked up a violin to play it at age 9, I would just sing the line instead, and wonder why I was battling with this awkwardly shaped, hairy piece of wood. For me the human voice always was, and always will be the most musical instrument, and although I always showed an aptitude for math and sciences, that would have inevitably been a square peg in a round hole.
I sing professionally because, in spite of all the curious choices I have made — not to sing competitions, love first, career second, passing on gigs out of sheer pride etc. etc. — companies bafflingly keep paying me a good wage to do it, and directors keep noticing me. It is an incredibly rewarding life and career, full of strange and wonderful experiences and personalities along the way.
What does “good singing” mean to you? What does it feel like when you achieve it?
Good singing is singing that achieves the musical and dramatic goals that the composer intended, and in the case of opera, that the Regie team is after.
If I am sitting in the audience for act 2 of Bohème, listening to round, monolithic, bass tones from the Colline, but not understanding why in heaven’s name he is singing about chicken right now, and what dramatic purpose it serves, then I consider that a failure.
If I am witnessing the portrayal of a raping, murdering, pillaging and plundering soldier coming from the voice of a perfectly aligned, relaxed, clinic on chiaro scuro from a famous Posa, then I am probably going to be looking at my watch before long. It all depends on the context. There is no one, single ideal of good singing for me. Its definition is as manifold as the art form itself.
What do young singers need to do more of? What should they do less of?
Focus on their strengths, not just fixing their weaknesses. What really are your money notes? What kind of a personality are you? Do you excel as a villain or the romantic lead? Is yours the voice and personality we want to hear for hours on end, or are you more of an exotic spice to be used in measure? Hey, I love Sibelius’ violin concerto as much as anyone, but I probably don’t need to hear it in a trombone, regardless how great your chops are.
The singing world is rich with possibility, and it needs every part of the machine to fire in order to succeed. That said, do not blend in, for heaven’s sake. Ruffle some feathers! If I hear tisking from one end of a panel, and see ear to ear smiles from another, I know I am on the right track.
Do you have any “bucket list” roles you’d like to sing?
I am not so much the bucket list type. Perhaps what I enjoy most is returning to roles, and digging further into the psychology of the characters as the opera finds its way further into my bones. Although admittedly, I am an unhealthily huge fan of Tristan und Isolde. I once watched three different casts in three weeks, which is no simple task, free time aside. I would love to sing König Marke one day, “mein Held, mein Tristan!”
How do you explain your job to non-music folks?
I suppose this is meant for the Ford Nations of our world. In conversations with these folk, I am yet to hear one convincing argument to the question, what does mankind do that is more important than its art?
Art is a noble cause, if a strange one, but if I have learned anything it is this: we are all fighting windmills in some one’s eyes.