Lucas de Jong -- Still Living the Dream
After getting the taste of the stage from being a choir boy and performing in Australian Opera’s Tosca in 1974, Lucas de Jong began classical singing training with Bettine McCaughan in 1983 while studying for a Diploma of Music at the Melba Conservatorium, Melbourne. The following year, he was accepted into the Victoria State Opera (now Opera Australia) and performed in virtually every one of their operas between 1984 and 1991.
Lucas’s singing career has seen him ‘live the dream’ that I’m sure most theatre people have, by travelling the world and performing in some amazing places. Let’s get to know the leading man who has decided to come home and get involved in Melbourne’s amateur theatre scene.
Lucas is a highly accomplished professional musician with over 20 years Australian and international experience as a principal operatic baritone and classical voice teacher.
During his distinguished career, Lucas has performed with some of the world’s leading opera companies, including Royal Opera House Covent Garden, Glyndebourne Festival Opera, English National Opera and Welsh National Opera. He has also performed in Australia with Opera Australia, Victoria State Opera, Opera Queensland and West Australian Opera.
Over the years, Lucas has performed roles in most of the best known operas. In addition to being a master of a technically demanding repertoire, he has also had an equally hectic schedule of concerts and recitals to match. This demanding timetable has had him performing pieces from the grand masters of classical compositions in beautiful locations and opera houses around the globe.
In addition to the classics, Lucas has also managed to include several premier performances of original works by contemporary Australian composers. An incredibly impressive detailed list is available on his website: http://www.ldejong.net.
After a number of years of travelling, living in the UK and various other parts of the world, Lucas has settled back home in Australia, and he has started to enjoy the incredibly high quality of Melbourne’s amateur theatre scene. So much so that he would really like to get involved as a musical director and even as a performer.
The people who were at the Treble Clef on its first performance night (Sun. 6 Feb) were certainly indulged with an absolute wow-factor voice when Lucas sang a couple of numbers. Fantastic!
Lucas, we’ve known each other virtually all our lives and the years have taken us in different musical directions. I know I’ve had some interesting experiences on stage, but you’ve also had some amazing adventures of your own. How about sharing a few?
One of the most exciting moments, early in my career was performing in the opening season (1994) of the new Glyndebourne Opera House in Sussex, UK. (http://glyndebourne.com)
Another memorable time was performing (with another 3 opera singers) at Elton John’s mansion in the UK – talk about facing a wall of celebrities – Michael Douglas, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Pierce Brosnan, Liz Hurley, Elton John -- wow!
An extra highlight was being invited to perform at an exclusive private residence in Nice (France) to George H Bush and his entourage and subsequently being requested by Barbara Bush to sing “Granada”.
I’ve also had the pleasure of sharing the stage at Glyndebourne Opera House with Renée Fleming in The Marriage of Figaro and being directed by Ruggiero Raimondi (probably the most famous Don Giovanni of the 20th Century) in Don Giovanni (1996).
With the good times, there were also... well, not ‘bad’ times but certainly one-of-a-kind moments.
Over the years, I’ve definitely worked with directors who make no sense, i.e. directors who can’t really direct but have to SHOW you what they want. Then again, I didn’t find directors to be the problem; some Conductors could make things more difficult and now being conductor (musical director) of the Melbourne Welsh Male Choir, well... I’d better stop there.
Costume disasters don’t only happen in amateur theatre. I’ve certainly had my share! We arrived to perform Madama Butterfly at a barn that had been newly converted to an Opera house by a typical English eccentric in Longbrough in the Cotswolds. The pit was a foot deep in water from the recent rain (not unlike Qld at the moment), the tarpaulin over the stage inevitably tore open and spread the water all over the lighting. Needless to say the performance was relocated to the church in the local village. As I was dressing for the show, my costume was not to be found anywhere and after making hasty telephone calls we realised it was in a truck on the way back to London (approx 2 hours drive away). It remained for me to perform the role of Sharpless (the American Consul) in my moleskins and a cashmere jacket, borrowed from the company Manager. On top of that, I had to MC the performance as it was a cut down production. Nothing like being put on the spot!
Another nightmare or embarrassing moment occurred when I was performing the title role of Don Giovanni (in Canada). While the Don is supposed to be the master of suave and carry himself with panache, on running across the stage I didn’t realise my pants had fallen down until they were around my ankles, thus showing the audience my white tights and a lot more of my ‘personality’ than I had originally planned. The audience found it incredibly amusing and it took me years to live down.
You’ve been catching up on some of the Melbourne theatre scene recently, both amateur and professional. Being a Theatre People article, I’m sure the theatre people reading this would like to hear your feedback on the shows you’ve seen so far.
Oh yes, I’ve discovered some very high quality singers in the amateur theatre scene recently and also recognise emerging talent when I adjudicate for Eisteddfods.
Not too long ago, I attended a production of Grease by Carey Grammar. This show set a very high standard and I enjoyed it. SHooSH’s production of Kiss of the Spider Woman and PLOS’s production of The Sound of Music were also impressive.
Another concert production that I found very slick and entertaining was Almost Anything Goes depicting the life of Cole Porter, created by John Lidgerwood. It was most enjoyable.
Now, a little change of scene, the Melbourne Welsh Male Choir is certainly a well-respected ensemble that has been going for many years. Please tell us a bit more about your involvement with them.
In 2007, I was conducting The Magic Flute at Monash Opera School. Following this I took up the role of musical director for the Melbourne Male Welsh Choir.
The choir has been in existence for over 25 years and performs up to 12 major concerts per year including interstate and sometimes even overseas. We are planning to go to the land of the white cloud (New Zealand) in 2012.
Our next concert on 6 March, which has already sold out, includes well-known faces from the Melbourne theatre community, e.g. Suade (an a cappella group featuring our own Ian Nisbet) and harpist Alannah Guthrie-Jones.
The Melbourne Welsh Male Choir also donates $10,000 prize money annually for The Singer of the Year competition. This great platform for new talent was launched in 1993 and since then it has become one of Australia's leading Performance competitions. It is one of the few competitions that emphasise performance as a key criteria and I’m very proud to be a part of it. I would like to add that previous winners have gone on to grace national and even international stages, performing in operas and concerts. The 2011 competition is going to be on Sunday 4th September this year. This competition is open to singers under 35 years of age. Entry details will be available on the website in late April: www.melbournewelshchoir.com.au
The Melbourne Welsh Male Choir is always keen to welcome new voices to audition. We sing some Welsh songs but you don’t have to be Welsh to join us.
Notwithstanding your already busy schedule, you are keen to get involved in Melbourne’s amateur theatre scene but this will not be your first involvement. Didn’t you grace the stage in Melbourne before heading off on your operatic journey?
Yes, I performed with the Gilbert & Sullivan Society of Victoria in a small role in The Gondoliers and then enjoyed a great season in the ensemble of CLOC’s production of Sweeney Todd (1983). In 1984 I joined the Victoria State Opera Chorus and started the rest of my life. I continued to perform with them for a number of years before leaving Australia to complete my operatic training in the UK.
... and the rest... my dear theatre people, is history.
Let’s hope we all have the pleasure of working with Lucas on stage whether under his direction or as a fellow cast member or even as a student. I have no doubt that the Melbourne amateur theatre community will welcome him back with open arms.
Brigid DeNeefe is a stalwart of Melbourne’s music scene. She studied classical piano and voice for many years before moving into the musical theatre world. Brigid is a regular contributor to Theatre People and a regular stage and cabaret performer for over 25 years, having had lead roles with many of Melbourne’s theatre companies. She has a Lyrebird "Best Leading Actress In a Musical” award proudly sitting on her mantelpiece.
In addition to musical theatre and opera, Brigid can also found performing as vocalist for a Melbourne big band or singing the blues and/or her own Comedy Cabaret at numerous Melbourne venues.