The time traveller
Y OUNG baritone William Dazeley was fresh out of music college when he got an unexpected crack at the role of opera's great seducer Don Giovanni.
"It was 1991 in Hull with Opera North and I was understudying Robert Hayward," the singer recalls. "I got my chance and I must have learned more during that performance that I'd ever learned before. And the Hull audience were very good."
Dazeley is too versatile for Don Giovanni to be marked down as his signature role – but he has returned several times to Mozart's score and the ruthless sexual predator whose conquests are catalogued by his manservant Leporello: in Spain alone, no fewer than 1,003.
Twenty-one years after Hull, and following productions for companies ranging from English Touring Opera to Deutsche Oper Berlin, the singer returns to Opera North in a new staging of the masterpiece of 1787.
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"It's a production in which the director sees the Don as a timeless character in legend and literature," he says. "Why restrict him to one particular period of history?
"So we have him travelling through time as well as through countries, from one period to another: from the Victorian age to the 1950s, then back to the 19th century and forward to the present day. It makes for some elaborate costume changes."
Director Allesandro Talevi's admired production, which tours to Nottingham in November, also stresses the dramatic function of the lustful aristocrat.
"Whether as a seducer or as a killer, he leaves an indelible mark on everyone he encounters," says Dazeley.
So was Don Giovanni a role he targeted early in his career?
"It was always on the radar, and not necessarily because it suited me vocally," he says. "The role has quite a narrow range, and it can be sung by basses as well as baritones, but it is also a dramatic role and I love the acting side of opera."
That point is proved by the wide range of his roles since impressing at Hull all those seasons ago. He has chalked off several other Mozart baritone roles but his work extends to Bernstein, Britten and beyond – for instance, creating the role of Jesus in the world premiere of Harrison Birtwistle's The Last Supper, conducted in Berlin by Daniel Barenboim.
Dazeley, married to soprano Gillian Ramm, chats while nursing their two-year-old son George, who has picked up a bug.
The singer comes from a musical Warwickshire family. "Everyone played instruments but I was the first to take the plunge, go to the dark side and turn professional," he recalls. "Both my parents sang as amateurs and played various musical instruments. Father founded both a choir and an orchestra in Rugby and the orchestra is performing to this day."
Young William played the cello and piano but there were early signs of vocal talent.
"I sang as a treble, although not in a cathedral choir. My voice didn't seem to break but just gradually slid downwards via alto and tenor to baritone."
He remains one of several British singers of his generation whose careers were helped by regular work with Leeds-based Opera North.
"The company was good to me early in my career and there was a time when I worked with them for nine years on the trot. I've always felt a close relationship with the company and with this Don Giovanni I feel things have come full circle."
Opera North's Don Giovanni comes to the Theatre Royal on November 21 and 24. The company's Theatre Royal stay also includes Rob Kearley and Ran Arthur Braun's staging of Gounod's Faust on November 20 and 23. Peter Auty sings the ageing man who sells his soul to the devil in exchange for youth and pleasure. Juanita Lascarro is the coveted Marguerite and James Creswell is Mephistopheles. Stuart Stratford conducts.
Opera North will also give a single performance on November 22 of Janacek's The Makropulos Case – a supernatural thriller with Swedish soprano Ylva Kihlberg in her UK debut as the diva Emilia Marty. The production is by Tom Cairns and the musical direction by Richard Farnes.