Musician of the Month: Christopher Diffey
When did you first start singing?
I first started singing when I was 5 or 6 I suppose. I attended a weekend “school” for singing and dancing in Melbourne. This progressed to being in a boys choir from the age of 9. I was in my first opera at the age of 13, when I sang in the children’s chorus of La Bohème. Once my voice broke, I began having private singing lessons, which then lead to my completing a Bachelor of Music, majoring in voice.
Do you remember the first time you heard Handel? What did you feel?
My parents had a cassette tape of classical music I remember listening to when I could only have been three or four, and on it there was the Music for the Royal Fireworks. I remember listening to it in the car on long drives – Australia is a big country! – and I remember the timpani and the rhythmic quality to it. Now I guess I would describe it as majestic and festive, but back then I just enjoyed the loud brass and drums!
This event’s title is “Baroque Fathers”. What do you think about the father figure in baroque music?
I think it is interesting that more often in earlier works the father figure would be performed by a tenor. With good writing, I feel this potentially allows for so many more colours and emotions than perhaps are available to the lower voices, though obviously they add gravitas and warmth to these roles. It is simply interesting and allows for different dramatic portrayals. I recently performed a recital of Lyric tenor repertoire from opera, and in the main, from Donizetti through Puccini and into the 20th century, it was all young, romantic types. The few earlier works I performed were interestingly enough the more paternal, royal, commanding characters. I think that with the upper register of the tenor voice allowing for more hightened emotion, the anger and strength of these roles can be portrayed in a different, arguably more effective way.
Your concert will feature music from three different composers, Hasse, Rameau and Handel. What do you feel is the relationship between the music of Hasse and Handel?
There is a definite link, a symetry to Handel and Hasse’s works. How could there not be. They are of an era, linked by time, and geography even to a certain extent. But I feel there are certainly differences. Perhaps Handel had more of a skill for finding the true emotion in the drama? I would by no means say I am an expert on the matter however, either academically or even musically, having only performed a few works by Hasse.
Also, what do you feel is the relationship between the music of Rameau and Handel?
Rameau and Handel are perhaps further removed stylistcally. Rameau’s music is, I feel, more closely linked to dance – it certainly feels like there is a dance element to a lot of his vocal music.
How have other modern Baroque artists influenced you?
I think with Baroque music, the vocal technique required, the size of the orchestras employed, the ability to focus on purity of sound and flexibility, these are all integral to a young singers development. The works also tend to present dramatic differences – difficulties? – when compared with our modern sensibilities, which I feel helps develop a performer’s skills to an even higher level. So rather than always necessarily being able to just play what’s ‘on the page’, we have to really understand the character and every emotion they’re feeling and not only what they are saying. So when I listen to or see a Baroque work performed, I try to watch and listen for these things and let them become a part of what I do as a performer.