We speak to Robert Barbaro about life on the road with his recent world tour with the Ten Tenors.
How did you get into the group?
The Producer of The Ten Tenors (“TTT”) had sent out an expression of interest so I sent in an application and some DVD clips of my singing. They then offered me a live audition and flew me to Brisbane. Then a few weeks later I got the call inviting me to join the group for an upcoming tour in USA in 2014. I was quite nervous in preparation for the live audition. I remember buying an outfit for the audition – matching the inside of my collar to my pocket square…I wanted everything to go right…oh and the singing! Ha ha..
How would you describe life on the road?
Generally it is pretty much go go go. Every hour of your life becomes accountable and part of the schedule. It is kind of comforting not to have to schedule/plan your day. Of course things you have to be prepared for things to change from time to time. It is cool knowing that more or less every day you are going to see a new town/city/country. What I find interesting about an intense tour is that you leave you home town (Melbourne), enter this ‘bubble’ and return home months later…The time just disappears. It’s a weird feeling. Life on the road is an experience, which really links you to your team but it also teaches you about yourself, your real likes and dislikes, personality traits and realising your strengths and weaknesses as a performer and a person.
On the road consists of a lot of waiting around: transit in tour buses and airports, waiting for sound checks, performances and media events. You get good at ‘hanging out’. One weird memory is a line up of us tenors sitting in the USA Border Security Building at 3am coming back into USA from some shows in Canada…yep…random indeed.
What advice would you give to someone who’s about to tour?
Have a good external hard drive – You will get very accustomed to binge watching of new HBO shows and movies! You do have to spend many hours at a time with your team and that means it is important to get on with them. I have been lucky that traveling with this group of guys is fun because they are good people and we make each other laugh…a lot!
What is a most grueling aspect to touring?
When there is long stretch of shows in different locations every day and you aren’t feeling 100%, you have to stick it out and dig deep to get through. You do push your body to the max when touring – it is a good test.
What do you most enjoy about the 10 Tenors?
It is easily the most unique performing experience – on and off stage. It isn’t a concert, it isn’t a musical/opera, nor a variety show – it is a combo. I enjoy the fact that a group of blokes get to combine skills, voices, styles, personalities and we have fun and move audiences (emotionally). Getting to perform with guys that under other circumstances I would unlikely be cast with – I enjoy the collaboration. We share ideas and skills with each other, so that is a special thing. The friendships have been the best part, the group is made up of guys I respect and care about.
What was the best gig you ever played?
We performed last year at Homebush in Sydney for the annual Rotary International Convention. During the intro music for our first number, a giant LED screen lifted and we entered the stage on a giant white travelling stage which moved towards the audience (around 15,000 people), it was a pinch yourself moment. Also, probably the most crazy and random gig was singing a few Christmas songs on a giant multilevel Christmas tree in a square in Zurich, Switzerland. Thousands of people in the square and looking down at the crowd wearing a tux and red elf hat..yep…how often does that happen!? Then we performed in the Seoul Airport last month. That was a performance, which will remain in my mind for a long time. Looking up at some audience members moving on escalators, yep, pinch yourself moment… ha ha!
What’s your funniest tour story?
During a show, I think during the preview shows on the ‘On Broadway’ show, I think my second TTT show, I was to stand with a group of tenors behind the soloists during ‘Bring him home’. I missed the cue and didn’t go on stage. I thought if I just really slowly entered the stage during the solo and went to my spot that no one would notice. I thought it was dark in my part of the stage. Oh how I was wrong, everyone noticed! The boys wouldn’t ever let me forget it! The Music Director and Producer after the show telling me “Yeah Rob, don’t do that again please”. At least it provided a story…for over a year. Of course, messing up the words to a solo in probably the most famous song in the world ‘Amazing Graze’ will provide giggles to my colleagues forever.
What do you miss most about home?
Naturally it has to be my family and friends. In terms of lifestyle, I miss cooking so much. You get to try all sorts of food on the road but you never cook because we either have catering or we got for dinner (there isn’t a kitchen on a tour bus or hotel room).
Where is your favourite place in the world and why?
Many amazing places but a few places come to mind: New York City, Washington State, Berlin. The most incredible setting and building we encountered was the Neuschwanstein Castle in Füssen. The clouds were floating around the rocky surroundings and it was just breathtaking. The opera nerd came out, as I had to play some Wagner on my phone and the music finally made sense! The Disney castle is based on this building. As a country and vibe, I fell in love with Belgium and it’s chocolate…you just haven’t had chocolate until you eat it in Belgium (and I was in Switzerland the week before!!).
What cultural aspects did you pick up on, or weren’t aware of previously?
Opening hours of retail stores are so different in other counties. For example, in Germany, shops are open during the week until very late, around 9pm, but on Sunday, it is tumbleweed and silent. Perhaps only the sound of a distant church bell could be heard. A country’s general ability to make good coffee is so varied. As surprising as this sounds, in a recent trip to Seoul in South Korea, I had the most amazing double espresso. Yes we have Japanese restaurants everywhere in Melbourne, but sushi in USA is the winner. I suppose travelling around, you notice that different locations attract different qualities – i find that really interesting. As Australians we love to J-walk…you just don’t see that in Germany!
What’s your number one travel tip?
Don’t over pack! I am so guilty of this. You never know what cool shops you will run into to buy clothes and other items. I have a weakness for sneakers, boots and baseball caps…they accumulate on the road. Stay on top of your health, try and get enough rest and keeping vitamins up or whatever other methods for keeping healthy. Also, try and find ways to keep fit if you don’t have access to a gym. Work outs in a hotel room becomes part of your life…I won’t say too much more about that 😉
Any moments when you thought “Why am I doing this?”
These moments definitely happen and that’s when having Skype is important, to connect you to your loved ones, wherever they are in the world they are. As a cerebral person, sometimes in the depths of touring it is a little difficult to get perspective of why you are touring. But then, when you do a performance and you connect with the other fellas and the audience things become clear again. Also, sometimes, you are walking around in a foreign place and you think to yourself, “I don’t want this food, I just want a simple Aussie meat pie and carton of ice coffee!, why am I here!?”… Then I realise… I’m here because I can be here and that makes me pretty darn lucky.