'Verdi suits my voice'

By William Dart

New Zealand-born baritone comes home for concert with NZSO and talks of his career's new direction.

Tagged a "barihunk'', singer Jud Arthur is also a farrier.
Tagged a "barihunk'', singer Jud Arthur is also a farrier.

Jud Arthur clearly remembers his farming days in Mosgiel, 30 years ago, mustering sheep and working as a horse farrier. He still shoes horses in Sydney, where he is one of Opera Australia's regular and most popular baritones.

Earlier this year, the Sydney Morning Herald credited his character of Pistol in Verdi's Falstaff as "driving the momentum and keeping the foolishness fun". The Age, in Melbourne, was grateful for his Egyptian King in Aida, bringing "a true Verdian cantabile line to the evening".

Tonight he is one of four soloists when the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra presents the composer's Requiem. "Verdi suits my voice," he explains. "He writes such wonderful tunes that catch your imagination. There's some tricky a cappella stuff," adds Arthur, when I ask about the piece's marvellous ensembles.

"It's nice to hear our voices mixing together and I'm sure it'll be great come kick-off." His own kick-off happened when he learned a couple of arias and went auditioning, after a knee injury on the rugby field.

"I thought I was 10 feet tall and bulletproof, and that my background was just as valid as anyone else's," he muses. "But I could have done with a music degree followed by a performance degree to prepare for all the hurdles I'd have to jump as a professional singer.

"It was a long apprenticeship, but if you have an artistic leaning you have to fulfil that desire. I could have picked an easier way of making a living, but it's like seeing something in a shop and you've got to have it. The high that you get after being on stage is like an athlete having a post-performance buzz after running a race."

After 10 years with Opera Australia, Arthur goes freelance next year. His new life is shaping up well, but "you're always worried about inconsistencies of income as well as your instrument, which is yourself. It's difficult to plan a career but that's part of the excitement of it all."

He looks forward to more concert and corporate work, although he is quick to assure me that the YouTube clip of him singing Some Enchanted Evening in a Melbourne gallery a few years back was ad hoc. "My photographer friend Lloyd Godman pulled out his camera, shot it and posted it online."

He can still "roll out" the show tunes like Ol' Man River and Some Enchanted Evening he sang on his 2002 Legends CD, with the NZSO.

Arthur has no shortage of stage stories. The New Zealand production of Boris Godunov a few years ago was "quite gymnastic", he laughs. "I had to jump around a lot, leaping and bounding, but generally I play authority figures like fathers and kings, which require me to be fairly stern and still."

He seems genuinely surprised to learn he is an admired "barihunk" on the internet, as he does not reveal as much flesh as Teddy Tahu Rhodes ("He's renowned. I think it's in his contract").

I mention that Rhodes also donned a gown last year in Bordeaux Opera's Don Giovanni. Arthur retaliates with Opera Australia's The Love of Three Oranges - "I was in a big, long, blue dress and a blonde wig. I got a lot of attention."

When he leaves New Zealand, he has a Don Giovanni in Perth and then plays Hunding in Melbourne's Ring cycle. The move to Wagner looks promising.

"It's probably the size of my voice and something to do with me being 6'2" and an ugly bugger," he laughs.

"But people make too big a deal of Wagner. They try to change the way you sing, but you just have to take your time and allow the music to do it for you."


Performance

What: Verdi's Requiem with the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra
Where and when: Auckland Town Hall, tonight at 7.30pm

- NZ Herald

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