Daniel Belcher Mostly Mozart

Written by: Colin Anderson

Baritone Daniel Belcher is friendly, confident and outgoing. The stuff of an opera singer! We’re talking Mozart, specifically his opera Cosi fan tutte, which graces the Barbican’s Mostly Mozart festival on 17 July, the four weekends themselves starting on 9 July. Cosi transfers from Garsington Opera’s “very lovely and intimate” surroundings. What sort of adjustments are needed for the Barbican, from fully-staged to semi-staged? “I think it’ll be the exact same performance, the major difference will be having the orchestra on stage behind us. The only adjustment will be to space. I think we’re trying to keep the staging and the whole spirit of the production intact, completely in costume, so all the madness of the changes will still be there.”

Daniel “grew up singing in church and doing musical theatre. When I was in University I hit a crossroads. I grew up in Kansas City and I had never seen an opera, and knew no one in the arts. I took a semester off my second year at University and saw my first opera at the Kirov in 1990 right before the Soviet Union collapsed. The bug bit me! I said to my voice-teacher that I’d love to be on the stage. He made me pause and think about what I really wanted to go for. I decided not to go into music education but to give a run at performance. I did auditions for conservatories to do advance studies and was accepted at four of the five. Then I spent four years in New York at the Juilliard School, and I got into the training programme with Houston Grand Opera and was fortunate to understudy some great singers. This really lit the fire in me, and it’s still going.”

Daniel’s repertoire seems focussed on classical and contemporary music, and a fondness for the lyrical. “The high lyric baritone repertoire I’ve definitely favoured. I’ve not yet done any Donizetti, but I have finally done my first Figaro this last year. I’m still exploring this repertoire and I’m not quite ready to leave it yet.”

In Cosi Daniel takes the role of Guglielmo, one of two officers who test the fidelity of the sisters they are respectively engaged to. The opera is subtle; there’s nowhere to hide, it’s a real test of characterisation. “The word subtle is a strong perception, and it’s my perception of Cosi as well. I consider Cosi a singer’s opera. As a spectator I was always curious about it. OK, it’s lovely music, but what does it mean, how do you make sense of the end? They do these things to each other and then there’s this happy chorus at the end, everybody smiling.”

John Cox is directing the Garsington/Barbican performances and has “created something quite extraordinary. These six people, in particular the two couples, once the journey starts, it unravels; the boys have to follow it through and come into the game so unbelievably naïve and come out destroyed – they’ve destroyed a friendship and their perceptions of love. But these people are fortunate that they’ve learnt lessons in one day rather than the years it takes most of us.” As it’s the girls’ fidelity that’s under scrutiny, it could be argued that Cosi is a sexist opera. “It is. Absolutely! But the tables turn and the boys have to realise they’re playing the game too. They’re afraid to look in the mirror. Nobody comes out an innocent. And I’m not sure there’s much to like about Guglielmo.”

That just leaves Mozart. For Daniel, “the meat of Cosi is in the characterisation; the ensembles musically are the greatest Mozart composed. He was able to tap-in so honestly to human emotion and psyche. If you really take the risk to explore that then it’s fascinating for an audience to look at. There’s incredible human drama that’s no different to what we read in the tabloids today. And then you toss-in this beautiful music!”

  • Cosi fan tutte, 17 July, Barbican Hall
  • Mostly Mozart
  • The above article was published in “What’s On in London” on 7 July and is reproduced here with permission

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