Young Artist Interview: Patrick Alexander Keefe
British-Irish baritone Patrick Alexander Keefe is joint winner of the Musicians’ Company John Christie Award 2022, Prudi Hoggarth Audience Prize 2023, and the recipient of many other prestigious awards. A graduate of the University of Oxford (Music), GSMD and RAO, Patrick is a 2022 Jerwood Young Artist, an Opera Prelude Young Artist and a Musicians’ Company Young Artist, our programme that supports early career musicians with a range of opportunities. Here he tells us about his work, his life and his plans for a busy 2023.
Hi, how are you? Where are you?
I’m good, thanks. I’m in London preparing for the next contract having had a fun couple of weeks covering for Sir Bryn Terfel as Gianni Schicchi with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra.
When did you first discover you could sing?
The first time I knew I could sing I was at primary school. I was always good at picking out the notes and replaying melodies on the piano. I didn’t think much of it until I auditioned for the school’s production of High School Musical. I wanted to be the ‘love interest’ but got cast as the dad. The Baritone curse begins in childhood!
Did you always want to be an opera singer?
Not at all. I continued singing at secondary school but it wasn’t until my voice broke that I rose up the choir ranks. I went to The London Oratory School, a state school, which gave me a cathedral choir education and exposed me to opportunities I wouldn’t have got anywhere else. I was at university when I decided I wanted to sing professionally. I sang in the choir at Merton College which has a fantastic organ that makes a shed load of noise. Three times a week I’d compete against this loud, humungous organ!
Where you surprised to win the John Christie Award?
It’s an incredible accolade when you consider the singers that have won before. There’s a board at Glyndebourne with all the names of the winners on it, including multiple singers I was lucky enough to meet and sing with in the 2022 season. To have your name (I share the award with mezzo soprano Amy Holyland) associated with such a powerful mover in the history of British opera is a fantastic privilege. However, for me, it’s more about wanting to pay back their investment in me as a Jerwood Young Artist. Glyndebourne trusted me with some amazing opportunities, including covering Malatesta and singing a small role in Don Pasquale, singing the Sergeant in La Boheme for a show, and jumping in as the Count in Le Nozze di Figaro. I hope I was able to repay that trust.
You’ve been described as a ‘natural actor’ – what helps you get into character?
Communicating through music is very different to saying words so I think you need to follow the emotions of the music first, and then move on to a rigorous understanding of the language and context. If you follow the emotional direction of the music and do your homework – you need really to understand your character – you’ll communicate the right emotion and stay true to the opera.
What role would you most like to play?
I have a bucket list of things I’d like to do. I’m really excited to be doing my first Don Giovanni – The Don’s a favourite character of mine – for the Cumbria Opera Group in the summer. Other Italian roles I’d love to do include Lord Enrico Ashton in Lucia di Lammermoor. He’s awesome. I’d also like to explore Verdi repertoire and play Figaro (The Barber of Seville) at some point. He’s such a fun character. Posa in Don Carlos and Renato in Un ballo in maschera are particular Verdi favourites of mine.
Which operatic role are you most proud of and why?
I think the character I’m most proud of performing is Gianni Schicchi. I’m about 30 years too young to sing the role but he’s such an interesting character, very funny, and a big vocal challenge. You really have to rise to it. Singing the part recently with the incredible conductor Domingo Hindoyan as part of the rehearsal process was a real highlight of my career so far, particularly given the legendary Sir Bryn Terfel was watching in the third row – my scariest moment!
If you could edit a past performance, which would it be?
It’d probably be jumping in for Conte on the Glyndebourne Tour. I was in such a mental blaze of trying to remember the words, the music and the acting (and ignore the fight-or-flight response!) that I didn’t have much headspace to think about my vocal technique. If I had the chance to do it again, I would make myself relax so my breath flowed a bit more freely.
How do you look after your voice?
Singers can get very protective about their voice but my number one thing is hydration. I try to drink at least three or four litres of water a day. I also stay in shape when I can. I do a lot of cycling and, where possible, cycle to gigs to get my blood pumping and my respiratory system going. I also work out at the gym, allegedly.
What’s on your schedule for 2023?
Next month I’ll be doing some oratorio work for my old school, The London Oratory. It’s wonderful to be going back to the school that founded my interest in singing. I’m then covering in Puccini’s Gianni Schicchi again. It’s a bit like a game of bingo, I’m slowly ticking off all the male roles in that opera! This time I’ll be singing the role of Betto di Signa for Nevill Holt Opera in Leicestershire. After that I’m back at the Glyndebourne Festival where I’ll perform Demetrius (cover) in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, before heading up north to play Don Giovanni for the Cumbria Opera Group. It’s a busy year.
You can find out more about Patrick at https://www.patrick-keefe.com/
Interview by Suzy Willmott
Suzy is freelance copywriter who works with the Musicians’ Company