Caro Meets Musicals & Opera Interview

Dan D’Souza: Liminal

By | Published on Friday 1 October 2021

I was really intrigued when I heard about ‘Liminal’, an operatic show at King’s Head Theatre, developed and directed by a long term TW favourite, Le Gateau Chocolat.

Each night features a specially curated song cycle, and there’s a rotating cast of performers that includes Robert Barbaro and Honey Rouhani, Grace Nyandoro, CN Lester, and Dan D’Souza.

I really wanted to understand about the form of the show, and what audiences can expect to experience, so I spoke to Dan D’Souza to find out more.

CM: ‘Liminal’ sounds like a really interesting show – can you explain the format and what happens in it?
DD’S: OK, so the premise of the show is that you see us opera singers after the curtain has come down. The idea is that audiences see singers in a Verdi show at the Royal Opera House and think that we only exist inside this rarefied high art environment, whereas the truth is as soon as we come offstage we’re thinking about that cool first pint, the delays on the Central Line that mean we won’t be home til after midnight, the man who was rude to us on the bus at lunchtime, our landlord raising the rent etc etc.

CM: The cast members rotate – are they performing different shows or different versions of the same show?
DD’S: The shows are the same but different. While the framework for the show is identical, our song choices and behaviours are varied, in order to reflect the fact that we’re all different people. The run is set up so that if someone were to come to all the shows, although there are consistent themes running through them all, they are totally unique experiences.

CM: What themes are explored through the performances? What stories are told?
DD’S: As the show has been devised by us, the themes are all relevant to our lives right now. The pandemic isn’t directly referenced but looms large given what a cataclysmic impact it had on our industry and our lives. The other things we’re all thinking about are race relations, LGBTQIA+, grief, and then the story told is simply us communicating our thoughts, feelings and emotions on these topics.

CM: What attracted you to this role? How different is it to the work you normally do?
DD’S: One of the most fun moments in rehearsals was when each of us singers realised we’d have to play ourselves in the show and our faces just dropped.

This seems easy to Le Gateau Chocolat who brings himself and his own identity to all of his performances, but we’re so entrenched in the idea that we play characters onstage and tell other people’s stories. Having to perform onstage as Dan D’Souza is exposing and counter-intuitively totally unnatural!

I got involved in this show after Gateau put out a request on Twitter for more brown opera singers. The company for this show is incredible. We are first and second generation immigrants, we run the spectrum of LGBTQIA+, but first and foremost everyone is so talented. Gateau put it best himself – diversity isn’t the policy, but our reality.

CM: A lot of people are scared off by opera, I think. Do you think this production has the capacity to draw in those who might normally find it intimidating?
DD’S: We’re all struggling to define this as an opera to be perfectly honest. It certainly doesn’t have any of the usual trappings of ‘opera’ – grand stages, frilly costumes, complicated and antiquated plots, an audience of intimidating cognoscenti. Instead, we boil opera down to its core: storytelling through great music. It’s also a nice opportunity to hear these voices which are usually kept at arm’s length or heard on Spotify in a super intimate space.

CM: Can we talk about you, now? Did you always plan to be a singer? How did your career begin?
DD’S: I went to a state school in South-West London called Tiffin Boys, which just happened to have one of the best music departments in the country. Within a year of arriving I was in the children’s chorus at the Royal Opera House sharing the stage with the singers I now, as an adult, idolise.

As amazing an experience as that was, my main takeaway was that I got to meet girls, and off the back of that I decided to stick with singing for a while. Like a lot of people I watched ‘Carols From King’s’ every Christmas on the telly and decided I wanted to do that, so that was the next step.

There I met teachers and mentors who have since been able to show me where I should train, how to practice, and for whom to audition.

CM: What has been the highlight of your career thus far?
DD’S: I’ve been fortunate enough to travel the world in my career so far, and it’s always a huge joy and privilege to perform on the biggest stages in New York, Paris, Berlin etc.

However, my favourite experience was performing at the Royal Opera House in Mumbai. I was out there for six weeks, working with local musicians and performing to audiences who hadn’t heard Western classical opera before or had the opportunity to hear and work with musicians from Europe.

It’s one of the only times so far in my career I felt like I was making a difference.

CM: What hopes and ambitions do you have for the future?
DD’S: I’d love to keep performing. To support myself and my family through music making. I want to break down the barriers surrounding opera as something reserved for stuffy, rich, white people.

CM: The pandemic had a negative impact on everyone working in the arts. How did you get through it?
DD’S: The pandemic sucked. I had eight full time contracts cancelled, and we’re all still experiencing the knock-on effects in the industry. I was lucky enough to have friends and family around for mutual moral support. I made a lot of music on Zoom – which definitely sucks – and adopted a beautiful American bulldog called Cally. I’d love to say I learnt a new language, ran a marathon, or wrote a novel, but I think – like most people – I had quite a few cans of beer in the garden, helped out at the local food bank, and concentrated on surviving.

CM: What’s coming up next for you after this?
DD’S: ‘Bits and bobs’ is the standard response. I’m really excited about doing a run of ‘La Bohème’ for Mid Wales Opera, which is touring across the country. Wales has such a rich history with singing and opera and I’m looking forward to experiencing that first hand.

‘Liminal’ is on at King’s Head Theatre until 23 Oct. For more information and to book tickets, see the venue website here.

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Photo: Nick Rutter