PERTH baritone Sam Roberts-Smith’s first WA Opera production was in Richard Mills’s Batavia in 2004.
“I was in my second year of uni and the opportunity came up to audition for the chorus,” Roberts-Smith said.
“I just remember sitting in the rehearsal room here and listening to the principal singers and these were really quite well-known Australian opera stars – Michael Lewis, Barry Ryan and Emma Matthews.
“I find it has a nice symmetry to it that 12 years later I’m singing opposite Emma in The Pearl Fishers, in WA, in our home theatre.”
Roberts-Smith said he had always been a sporty child, along with his brother and Victoria Cross recipient Ben Roberts-Smith, but an accident at a water slide park when he was 13 years old injured his knee and turned his focus from rugby to singing.
“I couldn’t play contact sport anymore and all of a sudden I had this free time; I’d always wanted to have singing lessons and had the opportunity to do that,” he said.
“Once I started lessons, my teacher at the time suggested I should think about singing opera because I had that kind of voice.
“The knock-on effect was that I got into WAAPA and it’s become my career.”
Roberts-Smith said his family had been extremely supportive of his choice and his parents had divided their time between taking him to orchestra and choir and his brother to rugby and cadets.
“They were two opposite worlds and our parents supported us equally, which is so lucky,” he said.
After training as a baritone, Roberts-Smith joined Opera Australia where his athletic appearance (a rarity in tenors) prompted his artistic director to suggest he challenge himself by singing tenor instead, which Roberts-Smith did professionally for three years.
“I then made the decision that I didn’t want to ruin my voice,” he said.
“I wanted to sing what was right for me and not what was right for someone else.”
Despite being a baritone, Roberts-Smith joined The Ten Tenors last year and will fly to Brisbane after this WA Opera season to rehearse for the group’s next show.
His current role as pearl dealer Zurga in The Pearl Fishers sees him playing an angry European man who has fled his past and settled in a colonial Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) fishing village.
The cast includes John Longmuir and Wade Kernot, along with soprano Matthews.
“The story is about friendship and about passionate love,” Roberts-Smith said.
“There’s emotional love and deceit and I find it interesting because these characters are like real people; there’s no good guy, the lover or the villain, we all have something wrong with us.
“So you’re going to see these two friends fight over a girl, where they’ve made a decision to renounce this woman, but they both love her.”
What: The Pearl Fishers
Where: His Majesty’s Theatre
When: October 25 to November 5