Singer David enjoys return feast with Philharmonic

David Soar, Worksop-born organist, singer and conductor
David Soar, Worksop-born organist, singer and conductor

“HAD singing not taken over I’d probably be leading a rather lovely life in a cathedral close, playing the organ and, or conducting the choir, and looking forward to sherry at midday every Sunday!”

Meet David Soar, the soloist in Walton’s Belshazzar’s Feast with the Sheffield Philharmonic Chorus at the City Hall next Friday (October 7) when the curtain goes up on the 2011-12 Sheffield International Concert Season.

It will be his third outing with the Phil, the last being Handel’s Messiah in 2008, while you might have missed his first in 2007 if you blinked, the same composer’s Dixit Dominus when he came on stage, sang 20 bars of music, and disappeared again.

It wasn’t the singer’s first visit to the City Hall, though, far from it.

Born in Worksop, he grew up in Creswell and says he has known Sheffield all of his life – “I had my first McDonald’s there!” he quips between performances as Leporello in a new Welsh National Opera of Mozart’s Don Giovanni in Cardiff, the opera he makes his New York Metropolitan debut with, as Masetto, next year.

“My first musical association with Sheffield was going to concerts in the Philharmonic series (now International Concert Season) thanks to Bill Fox who was my choirmaster at St Mary Magdalene, Creswell, and sang with the Philharmonic Chorus.

“My first time performing in Sheffield was an organ recital on the fine Willis organ in City Hall, which I was offered due to membership of the Sheffield and District Organists’ and Choirmasters’ Association – the exact year escapes me, probably around 1996/ 97.

“I then gave three further organ recitals at City Hall in consecutive years, all of which hold great memories for me.”

His interest in music, he says, began when he became “fascinated” watching and listening his oldest friend practising on a ‘home’ organ, then “for some reason, we ended up going to church one Easter Sunday and I fell in love with the sound of the organ.”

Encouraged to join a church choir – “as a 13 year old bass!” – he began taking piano lessons, followed by organ lessons at the ‘Crooked Spire’ in Chesterfield, went to Worksop College as a music scholar and, in two gap years before going to the Royal Academy of Music, was organ scholar at Southwell Minster followed by Chichester Cathedral.

Throughout, he continued singing, mainly in choirs, and when he went to the RAM in 1996 to study the organ, as it become as much a part of his musical life as the organ, he took it as his second study.

“As well as being organ scholar at St Bride’s Church, Fleet Street, during my RAM years, I deputised as a bass in the choirs of St Paul’s Cathedral and Westminster Abbey and had my first experience of opera with the Geoffrey Mitchell Choir on several recordings in the Chandos ‘Opera in English’ series.

“I was, to say the least, rather well-off for a student!” After graduating in 2000, he spent three years teaching, singing (again, mainly in choirs), giving organ recitals, conducting a choral society in Hampshire and held the post of director of music at All Saint’s Parish Church, Kingston

Also during this time, an operatic career having been suggested to him, he sang with small amateur opera companies to gain some experience treading the boards and, being “given some good roles, ended up feeling very comfortable in the theatre.”

Failing to get into a music college to study postgraduate singing in further pursuit of opera, his singing teacher suggested a chorus job – “a good way of learning some of the skills of an opera singer while being paid for it!” – and she knew Welsh National Opera had a vacancy.

“Having very few operatic credentials on my CV, I didn’t think I’d stand a chance but was offered the job and accepted without a second thought.

“I moved to Cardiff to take up the job in September 2003 and, with many opportunities for WNO chorus members to sing supporting roles and understudies, signed up for everything on offer.

“Being ambitious, though, I knew that if I stayed in the chorus – a rewarding, not to say settled life – for more than two years, I’d probably end up staying there.

“I applied for a one-year course at the National Opera Studio in 2005 and got in.”

He went armed with the offer of a one-year contract as an Associate Artist from WNO with a guarantee of specific roles when he returned which was quickly extended to two years and then four. “The WNO connection is still obviously very strong, but the contract came to an agreed end in summer 2010 when I began to spread my wings internationally in Salzburg and Bilbao before my debut at the Royal Opera House and Glyndebourne debut this summer as Masetto in Don Giovanni.”

During his four-year WNO contract he sang 23 roles ranging from Mozart’s Figaro, through a host Verdi bass roles, to Escamillo (Carmen) and the Doctor in Berg’s Wozzeck, his most memorable performance, but not for normal reasons, being the opening night of Verdi’s Otello in September 2008.

“I was suffering with chronic back trouble and wearing the heaviest costume I’ve ever worn – and a massive hat! It was agony, but I was thankful to be playing the Venetian Ambassador (Lodovico), so no acrobatics were called for!”