David John Pike

David John Pike, Baritone

Pacific Opera Victoria
Scarpia in Tosca

April / May, 2013

Robert Holliston interviews David John Pike.

Baritone David John Pike is making his Canadian mainstage opera debut, his debut with Pacific Opera Victoria, and his role debut as Scarpia in POV's 2013 production of Puccini's Tosca.

Mr. Pike has a widely varied repertoire covering early music, oratorio, symphonic, opera and commissioned works. In his native Canada, in the UK and across Europe, he has worked with leading ensembles including Glyndebourne Festival Opera, Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields, London Philharmonic and the Schweizerkammerchor under the direction of Christophers, Dutoit, Jurowski, Marriner, Mehta, Rattle and Zinman. He now has a growing reputation as an operatic and concert soloist.

Mr. Pike recently made his role debut to rave reviews as Marcello in Puccini's La Bohème in Bamberg, Germany, covered Curio in Glyndebourne's production of Handel's Giulio Cesare, sang oratorios by Bach, Haydn, Handel and Mozart in Canada, Germany and Luxembourg, and gave a series of recitals of English song, featuring works by Vaughan Williams. Other recent engagements include Handel's Messiah in Germany with l'Arpa Festante baroque orchestra (Munich); performances for Les Azuriales Opéra in France; Mozart's Requiem in Germany and Luxembourg; his début at La Philharmonie de Luxembourg performing Martinu's Prophecy of Isaiah, the title role in Mozart's Don Giovanni with Les Musiciens, Schaunard in La Bohème in an Opera in Concert presentation at the Grand Theatre in London, Ontario; Mahler's Kindertotenlieder at Dorchester Abbey, UK, and concerts featuring works of Vaughan Williams and Finzi, and Handel's Messiah at Kings Place, London with the Orchestra of St. John's under John Lubbock. Upcoming appearances include an open air opera gala with the Orchestre Philharmonique du Luxembourg and further oratorio, opera and recital performances in Canada, UK, Belgium, France and Germany.

In collaboration with Luxembourg's cultural broadcaster, Radio 100,7, and the generous support of the Vaughan Williams Charitable Trust, he and accompanist Isabelle Trüb recently completed a recording of English songs by Finzi, Quilter and Vaughan Williams. The CD, entitled Whither must I wander?, has just been released on Signum Records and is featured on British Airways' inflight entertainment.

Mr. Pike was selected to participate in English National Opera's Operaworks programme for 2008/2009, designed to develop professional singers' skills early in their operatic careers. He also participated in the International Vocal Arts Institute's programme at l'Université de Montréal in 2008 and at Virginia Tech in 2011 under Joan Dornemann, Assistant Conductor at the Metropolitan Opera. He recently sang in master classes with British tenor Ian Bostridge and the great American baritone, Sherrill Milnes. Mr. Pike studies with celebrated American bass Daniel Lewis Williams of the Bayerische Staatsoper. He previously studied with Theresa Goble at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, London, Howard Nelson of Opernhaus Zürich, and William Perry at the Royal Conservatory of Music, Toronto.

David John Pike lives with his family in Luxembourg.

March, 2013


Being Scarpia

Psychopathic, misogynistic, murdering ... or misunderstood?

Baritone David John Pike is making his Canadian mainstage opera debut and singing his first Scarpia with POV. Robert Holliston interviews David.

You are working overseas a lot these days - what led you to settle in Luxembourg?

Business originally brought me to Luxembourg and love has kept me there.  I am a reformed Chartered Accountant, and was originally sent to Luxembourg to run a small practice.  Soon after my arrival I met Josiane, a winegrower's daughter, on the banks of the Moselle, and have since "gone native".  We live right on the German border overlooking the vineyards and the river, but at the same time are a couple of hours' drive away from any number of major European cities, and an hour's flight from all the capitals.  My only complaint is that it's too far from Canada - although, you know these days, it often seems easier and cheaper for me to get to Canada from Europe than it is to fly across Canada!

Scarpia is generally considered a fairly dramatic role - how are you enjoying its challenges? Would you consider it totally different from, say, Marcello, or more of an extension?

Yes, "fairly dramatic" is one way of describing it.  Otherwise stated, it is a bloody big sing, and the character is downright evil, so that can also be draining.  But in short (and this is in no way a reflection of inherent evilness in David!) I'm loving Scarpia.  Of course, the role was daunting at first, but soon it came "into my voice," and what I love about it is that it sits in a comfortable range somehow, even though it's fairly high – Puccini was clever in writing in a "preserving style" for my Fach, I guess! In contrast, good old Marcello is just a swell guy, whether from Mimí's, Rudolfo's or the other guys' perspectives.  I like singing a Marcello or Schaunard because of the jovial camaraderie and later the empathetic love and care they demonstrate for both leads. In vocal terms, I like your idea of "extension" as Scarpia is vocally somehow a "bigger" Marcello, as the range is similar and of course those delicious Puccini lines are there.  The other practical challenge is that Scarpia is on stage the whole of Act 2 (directly after the huge Te Deum scene) with little chance for a "singer moment" in the wings. Old Marcello has some big lines, but he gets to put his feet up in between!

How are you looking forward to playing this remarkably villainous character?

I'm very much looking forward to it.  My aim is to offer a slightly more "elegant" (and therefore perhaps even more threatening?) Scarpia, with a bit of contrast so he isn't just constantly barking orders.  Perhaps he does have a moment or two where he really does feel something for Tosca apart from the obvious ... or does he?  Maybe he's simply misunderstood?  In any case, the score has some moments when a real legato and bit of seduction can take the place of the otherwise barking, harsh, commanding, psychopathic, misogynistic murdering rapist!

Is there a particular Scarpia from the past that has inspired you?

Where to start?  Of course, George London's elegant Scarpia and noble sound is inspiring, and Cornell McNeil's enormous impression is an obvious reference. Bryn Terfel's recent interpretation in the 2011 Royal Opera House production was simply outstanding, particularly his acting.  I've also heard a superb recording of Gerald Finley's Tre sbirri .... in English, which is superb.  I've been very fortunate to work with one of the greatest Scarpias ever in Sherrill Milnes, who has generously taught me a great deal about the role and how to sing it.  He's therefore my closest source of inspiration, and probably my model in many respects, both vocally and stylistically. 

Yes, I understood from your website that you'd been working with Sherrill Milnes. Obviously, we'd all love to hear anything about this great experience!

Well, I could go on and on about this. First, I have to say that it has been an enormous honor and privilege working with one of the greatest baritones of his time. On my first encounter with Sherrill in Joan Dornemann's program at Virginia Tech in 2011, I was naturally a bit star-struck during my initial coaching session. Within 10 minutes, though, Sherrill's genuine and down-to-earth character put me completely at ease. Working with him is simply some of the most productive and inspiring coaching I've had. Of course, all the stories from his career are fascinating to hear – he's seen it all, done it all, with all the greats of his time – and there's usually a very practical "moral of the story" to take on board. What makes time with Sherrill so useful, though, is the frankness and straightforward way in which he is able to explain the character and the completely singer-oriented practical advice he offers on "corners" in a score.  He'll say something like, “isn't there a rest there? Well, use it – take a moment and swallow a couple of times," or, “just move through that arpeggio, don't milk it – they want the E natural, not what's before it.” He knows the practicalities of the craft and “tricks of the trade” and the realities of being in situ, however apparently banal – from how to deal with conductors and directors with diplomacy (is there any other way?) to details of dramatic moves that he's accumulated over the years of singing Scarpia with star-studded casts around the world, to how to apparently “eat” on stage before that next entry. One of Sherrill's charms is that his language can be appropriately colourful (especially amongst the guys!) so you're usually left in no doubt as to what Scarpia is thinking! The man loves the business, and clearly loves working with young singers. While he doesn't hesitate to tell you if he doesn't think something is right, his style is gentle and encouraging and you always come away richer.  

Finally, among the Puccini and Verdi roles are there any that you'd especially like to add to your repertoire during the next few years?

Somehow I've missed Sharpless thus far, which would be a great sing – he's a swell guy too, although he too doesn't get an aria – it's a hard life for Puccini baritones! On the Verdi front, there is a huge range of possibilities, but to name a few: I would expect to do a Germont (La traviata) fairly soon, an Amonasro (Aïda) would be good, Ford (Falstaff) is optimal, and of course Rodrigo in Don Carlos is another wonderful character, but there are plenty more ...

Be sure to visit David's website at: www.davidjohnpike.com.

Watch out for Whither must I wander?, David's new CD of English art song with pianist Isabelle Trüb.

CD Covera most enjoyable programme of songs. I enjoyed the CD very music ... a good nutty sound to a lot of old favourites.
Sir Thomas Allen

Musical jewels from the other side of the Channel ... an exemplary recording of this repertoire, to listen to with pleasure again and again.
Luxemburger Wort

With a daunting range of emotional expression and poetic moods, Vaughan Williams' "Songs of Travel" challenge every singer who performs them. Singers performing these songs must have a convincingly profound understanding of the composer's affinity for the poet's (Robert Louis Stevenson) own spiritual wanderlust. Canadian-British baritone David John Pike travels well in Vaughan Williams' universe. He understands the evolutionary push these works gave to English parlour song, moving the art form into the 20th century and unimagined new realms of form and tonality. Vaughan Williams writes with the feel of open-ended free form that nevertheless rests on solid compositional craft. Pike seems naturally at home with this, flowing easily from the lighter-hearted “Blackmore by the Stour” to the mystical and sacred “The Call.”
Pike's dark roast baritone voice is wonderfully robust yet clear and his articulate pleasure at singing art song in English is a joy to hear. His repertoire choice makes for a superb program on a disc that includes works by two of Vaughan Williams' friends and colleagues: Gerald Finzi and Roger Quilter. Finzi's language is more restrained and introspective, qualities that Pike senses and portrays beautifully. But the real surprise on the disc is Quilter's "Three Shakespeare Songs" that Pike delivers with imagination and elegance. Here is an unassailable argument for hearing more of Quilter's work performed and recorded.
Finally, accompanist Isabelle Trüb is stunningly virtuosic without stealing the limelight ... incredible.

Alex Baran, The Whole Note