'The music just took over' - Seattle Opera's Archie Drake

Profile subject: Archie Drake

Current profession: opera singer, bass-baritone

Former profession: seaman

Career statistics: more than 140 roles in 85-plus productions

Birthplace: Great Yarmouth, England

Home: Queen Anne

Age: 80

How did your profession shift from seaman to singing?

After I'd been at sea a number of years, the big British company I worked for decided I needed time ashore in Vancouver getting ships ready to go back out to sea. I began to go to concerts, joined the Vancouver International Club and began singing, even took some lessons. After a while I thought, "If you don't want to spend the rest of your life at sea, why don't you give this a try." So I wrote to Lotte Lehmann, one of the greatest opera singers and teachers, and she said, "Come see me." I would have studied with her forever, but she said no. One of the first engagements I got was with the Roger Wagner Chorale, which was being used by the State Department in cultural exchange programs, and I was sent to 19 countries.

When did opera become the focus of your singing career?

By a fluke, the San Francisco Opera could not put a finger on a bass-baritone for a particular role in "La Rondine" in 1968, and I auditioned and got it. [Also in 1968, Drake made his Seattle Opera debut as Rocco in "Fidelio."] Glynn Ross [Seattle Opera's first general director] was building the company and had this idea of every production being done in the original language with a parallel performance in English. He wanted a group who would stay here and work in this fashion. [Shortly after "Fidelio"] he called and asked if I'd like to come, and I said it sounded like a good idea.

What did your family think of your switch to opera?

Not much. I come from a seafaring family on both sides, father and mother. [Drake is descended from a brother of Sir Francis Drake, the navigator.] When I told the family what I was going to do, they were not at all impressed. They were good people but not musical.

Greatest operatic accomplishment:

Wotan [in "Die Walk├╝re"] is probably my finest role, in 1973 with Seattle Opera. That was the best review I've ever had. The music just took over. It's where I got the closest in voice and interpretation to what I thought the role should be. When you get a performance going and it sort of takes off by itself, you know something is at work besides you and the orchestra. It's transcendent. You may get close to these moments, but it's pretty rare. You treasure them for the rest of your life.

On Peter Kazaras, director of the upcoming Young Artists production:

Peter Kazaras and I have worked together for many years. He's extremely intelligent, artistic, articulate. Peter has time to go into great detail with the young singers about the concept of what the work is. It's fascinating to see the characters emerge while not letting the youngsters fall back into any standard interpretation - Peter wants the individual touch.

The value of the Young Artists Program:

I could see as we rehearsed day by day this development, this understanding growing in them. They are the ones who will carry opera into the future. I have really high hopes for these youngsters. The Young Artists Program has already sent at least three of them, I believe, to the Met.

Your greatest challenge in the upcoming production:

Sometimes it's a little tiring being around all those young people. And this is the first time I've had to dance the fandango.

Thoughts on retirement:

Unfortunately, some singers have to retire because their voice wears out. Retirement spells bored. As long as I am able and they want me to, I will keep performing.[[In-content Ad]]