James Clayton’s challenging darkness in WA Opera’s Macbeth

James Clayton’s challenging darkness in WA Opera’s Macbeth

WHEN James Clayton says he has been an opera singer for 20 years, he can sense many people think he has an easy dream job where he just stands on stage and sings.

If only they knew the challenge he was facing in the title role of WA Opera’s season Macbeth, which is sung in Italian with English surtitles.

Where most people would struggle just to deliver the standard Shakespeare play, Clayton’s mind is moving between the original text meaning, the Italian translation and correct pronunciation, how to sing the notes and what he is meant to be doing on stage while performing it.

“It’s a bit of a head juggle and there are only so many things your brain can cope with at one time,” Clayton, of Burswood, said.

“The rule of thumb is 100 hours of preparation for a role before you walk into your first rehearsal. I can say that’s an average because I think I’ve done 150 hours on Macbeth.

“But it’s totally worth it because the more challenging it is, the more satisfying it is when you pull it off.”

The production of Verdi’s opera is a new imagining by director Stuart Maunder who is mixing traditional with modern interpretations, including a design by Roger Kirk which is somewhere between Braveheart and Game of Thrones.

The October season at His Majesty’s Theatre will be followed by another staging in Adelaide next year of the WA Opera co-production with State Opera of South Australia.

Clayton, who used to play French horn and studied at Perth Modern School, WAAPA and UWA, said Macbeth worked brilliantly as an opera because it ticked all the right boxes – love, betrayal and death.

Also in the cast is Antoinette Halloran as Lady Macbeth, Jud Arthur as Banquo and Paul O’Neill as Macduff.

Brad Cohen is conducting WASO and the WA Opera Chorus where the women’s chorus is split into three groups to perform as the three witches.

“Shakespeare is an interesting thing and a bit like wine, where you don’t appreciate it until you’re older,” Clayton said.

“It’s challenging and my wife would probably say that it’s challenging for our relationship. It does invade your persona, so if you were interviewing her now she would say that when I play villains I’m definitely a more irritable and sensitive person.

“A lot of the time in rehearsal we don’t do everything right from the start; we don’t have blood from the start. So I’ll be in rehearsal with Antoinette playing Lady Macbeth, touching her face thinking it’s quite intimate and then Stuart reminds me that I’ll have blood all over my hands, smearing it across her face.

“It’s disturbing and difficult to switch off. Often I’ll wake up in the night with the music going around in my head like a carousel.”

Clayton has had a long and fruitful partnership with WA Opera, working as a young artist with the company in 2006 and 2007.

His next ambition is to travel to Europe in 2020 for an audition tour and additional coaching to “have a proper go at the international scene” before potentially moving his family there in 2021.

“At the moment it looks like Berlin might be the frontrunner,” he said.


What: WA Opera’s Macbeth

Where: His Majesty’s Theatre

When: October 19, 22, 24 and 26