Celebrated opera singer David Hobson (AUS) talks themed cruises, carols and paying homage to his pop roots

David Hobson is one of Australia’s most celebrated and accomplished opera singers, but he’s definitely not a rigid elitist, as is the popular stereotype for that genre of music. I had a chat to him recently about his experience with the 2015 Bravo! Cruise of the Performing Arts, which he’ll be part of again next year, and the 2015 Vision Australia Carols By Candlelight at which he’ll be performing once more.

They tell me you’re fresh off the 2015 Bravo! cruise, tell us what it’s all about.

Well it is literally like a festival of music and theatre. The ship itself is huge; 1500-1800 passengers and 200 crew. There’s a lyric theatre that seats 1000 people and a stage that fits an orchestra on it and so every night there is a different show. This year for instance, I did a night, then there was Anthony Warlow and Opera Australia did a night. Every night is a different experience on that main stage and then there are other smaller venues where you might get a string quartet or Jane Rutter, Simon Tedeschi, Teddy Tahu Rhodes, James Morrison

So it’s a veritable smorgasbord really…

It is! A veritable smorgasbord of sophisticated talent. Extraordinary really, with Guy Noble at the head of this conducting the orchestra every night.

So basically it’s worth every cent…

Look, if you like music theatre or opera, you’ll get the best of both worlds. From Australia and all around the world too. Next year we’ve got Dame Kiri Te Kanawa, one of the greatest sopranos the world’s ever known! I must admit I was sceptical at first to go on the ship and I couldn’t believe it. I couldn’t believe the amount of talent that was on board. And the passengers were very respectful of the artists.

It sounds a bit wanky, but there was a great sort of community between the audience and the artists. The fact that you’re in such close quarters and also the fact that we got to interact so closely with other artists. For instance, [when] I was there was Slava and Leonard Grigoryan, who are two brilliant classical guitarists. So I decided to bring them on to do a number during my show, which is an added bonus for us and the audience. The audience get more than they probably expect. They get the chance to talk with us and there are Q&A sessions. So there is entertainment everywhere and every night!

There’s a fairly serious line-up of talent on next year’s edition of the cruise. Even at this heavily decorated stage of your career, do you ever get intimidated?

Yeah, always. You get intimidated, but you usually find that the best artists are generally the most approachable and the nicest. I’ve always been surprised by that. I don’t really know Dame Kiri, I know Teddy does, but I’m sure she’s lovely. I’ve just done a tour with Teddy and Greta Bradman, who’s also going to be on the 2016 cruise. She is fantastic.

And Greta is Don Bradman’s granddaughter is that true?

That’s correct, yeah. She sings as well he bats, there’s no doubt about it! She’s probably first drop in terms of singing. She’s coming in at number three, just like Don did (laughs). And then there’s Simon Tedeschi, who’s a wonderful pianist and Rachel Beck

You obviously did Chitty Chitty Bang Bang with Rachel… That was a great show.

It was great fun, wasn’t it?

Wonderful. Especially for me, because I thought you did a brilliant job of bringing a movie that I loved as a kid to life. Given the destination of the cruise, I assume you’ll be performing at least some songs from South Pacific

Gee, it could be on the cards! (laughs). I think so. I think there could be a bit of a “Bali Ha’i” type mood there, yeah. Well actually, the audience can get involved as well. Because Jonathon Welch of Choir Of Hard Knocks infamy gets a choir together and auditions some of the passengers to do a number. So that might work! All in all with this cruise, I could not recommend it highly enough. As I said, I was a sceptic and I’m an absolute convert now! My sister came this year. She only came to spend some time with me, but she’s young and loves a good time and she said she couldn’t believe how amazing it was.

Well that’s a big tick for the Bravo! Cruise of the Performing Arts. To change course a little, the next thing on your radar would most likely be the Vision Australia Carols by Candlelight in Melbourne on Christmas Eve. You’re a mainstay of that program, what do you love most about it?

It’s like a gathering of the tribe. The fact that everyone gives up their time to do it, including all the artists and everyone working on the event, it really is like an annual ritual gathering of the tribe. A feel-good event with lots of goodwill for want of a better expression. I think that aspect of it is the foremost vibe you get out of the night. You feel the weight and responsibility of being involved, but also the honour. To be asked back a few times as I have, I feel very honoured to do it.

Does Christmas hold any special significance for you personally? Do you have a favourite carol?

Well I do get asked to sing “The Holy City” more than probably any other. So they’ll ask me to sing it and I kind of go, ‘Can I really sing it again?’, and they all say they love me to do it, which is an honour because it’s a song I grew up with that my father used to sing.

By virtue of you performing it, it’s also a song that I grew up with because my mother has always been a little bit in love with you. So every year in my house at Christmas time, when you came on to sing at carols everyone was instructed to be silent during your performance, which was a rare thing in our house…

Look it’s a great anthemic carol. It really hits you in the solar plexus and if you sing it with honesty and integrity, then hopefully it rings true.

You’ve made a name as a classical and opera singer, but you actually started out as a rock/pop singer. Do you ever flirt with the idea of paying homage to your roots? So no plans to throw the cat amongst the pigeons and record a duet with Cold Chisel?

I dunno about singing with Jimmy! But yeah, I do flirt every now and then, doing more poppy stuff. Probably my days of singing, you know, Robert Plant are done. But I think if you’re going to sing that way, you’ve gotta really live it and it’s a technique which is all about muscle memory. So to sing classically, I’ve worked hard on training my voice for it.

It’s like the difference between a sprinter and a long distance runner or a soccer player and an AFL player, so you think could I make the switch? Israel Folau made a few code switches, from league to AFL to union, but he’d be a pretty rare example. The difference between hard rock and opera would be like going from AFL to…

Curling…

Yeah, curling, I mean you could do it but it’d be hard. So at a pinch I can do pop stuff. Mid to late 2008 I did a few pop albums, so that was almost a nod to the roots. I do do things like “Iris” by the Goo Goo Dolls or maybe a U2 song in a different kind of style every now and then.

One final question then… If they were making a movie about you, who would play you and what would it be called?

Wow. Well I think the best actor in the world is, well actually there’s no best. Subjectively my favourite actor is a guy called Mark Rylance who I saw play Hamlet back in the late 80s. So I’d be happy for him to play me because he’s such a great actor. He’s got a new film out now called Bridge of Spies. A new Spielberg movie. And what would it be called? Hobbo.

Ok, we’ll make sure we put two ‘b’s’ in though because otherwise…

Because that would be Hobo! Exactly!

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