If there is one thing that running The O Word has brought to my attention, it is the talents of our performers in Western Australia. We are very lucky in Perth that we are nurtured through all stages of our careers and guided through our profession safely. Many of us are led overseas and some do not come back. However, the Perth music scene continues to grow and with it, small organisations lure back our local talent to this wonderful home town. We are very lucky today to have spoken to Robert Hofmann, one of our many homegrown talents, and talked about his experience in the world of theatre and his upcoming performance with Art Song Perth.
Where did your love of music and theatre come from?
RH: My love of music was sparked when I was very young after hearing music played on records at home. When I was about seven years old, I loved listening to ABBA. Then suddenly ABBA became uncool and it wasn’t until the movie Muriel’s Wedding (1994) that we got over that and could unashamedly appreciate how wonderful some of these songs were.
I learnt piano throughout my school years, but my love of classical music began in year eight with a “Music Appreciation Class”. I also grew a love of theatre. This came from watching pantomimes put on by Channel 7 at the pre-renovated His Majesty’s Theatre in Perth (including shows such as “Fat Cat in Double Trouble”! I just loved everything about the shows. My family took me to G&S and Opera from about 12 years of age but it was not until I was about 16 when I saw Carmen, Die Fledermaus and Cosi Fan Tutte at West Australian Opera (The latter two starring a very young and brilliant Elisa Wilson as Adele and Despina respectively) that I was totally hooked.
If you could see any TV Show, Movie, Book or Life Event turned into an opera; What would it be?
Seinfield – the super hit American TV Comedy of the 1990s. The low-stake comedy situations are often treated in a neurotically high stakes way which I think could transfer really well to the operatic stage.
When did you decide to pursue Classical Voice and what did you gain from studying at various institutions?
I decided to pursue classical voice when I was 23. I was enrolled in a Bachelor of Arts with Music Major at the University of Western Australia (My second degree… I had already completed a Bachelor of Commerce which I hated!) and one of the lecturers suggested that I audition on voice and change over to the Bachelor of Music program. So I did that and was accepted.
In WA at the UWA School of Music, I gained a good grounding in musicianship training and music history with some helpful language and singing workshops. I then went to Sydney and completed a Diploma of Opera at Sydney Conservatorium where I gained lots of performance experience, both in concerts and staged opera productions and also received great singing and language coaching. After formally studying and performing tenor repertoire for three years, it was then that I went back to singing baritone repertoire.
I then went to Munich and London, where I did not study at institutions but received private lessons with singing teachers; which was helpful but did not give me the important networks and connections that studying at an institution did.
Since returning from Sydney in 2004, It has been possible to have a part-time career in Opera in Perth. I have played many roles with WA Opera including Koko in The Mikado and Dr Falke in Die Fledermaus. If not offered roles, chorus is a great way to keep your performance skills up and is an excellent casual job.
As well as being involved in WA Opera productions, Robert Hofmann is involved in the school to school programs at WA Opera. He is also a brilliant singing teacher, nurturing young talent.
Performing in school programs is a fantastic way to hone your craft as a performer. Children are very direct, honest and super responsive as an audience. I recommend it to all opera singers, young and older!
There are now more students studying singing in Perth than when I was a student. I think this is because many high schools have much stronger music programs now producing more keen younger singers. The more I teach and sing, the more I learn about singing and performing. Teaching alongside performing is very beneficial. I have had my fair share of disastrous singing experiences which with hindsight I see I could have easily avoided. This means I can help my students avoid the same mistakes and in doing so show them how to practice skills to optimize their singing performance.
*The caveat here is that I can find teaching quite vocally taxing. I don’t schedule too much teaching near performances.
On top of being a brilliant opera singer and teacher, Robert Hofmann has seen critical acclaim through his Cabaret shows.
Opera training has provided me with a lot of material for lampooning. I have always loved singing, costumes, theatre and making people laugh so cabaret was the perfect thing for me. I talked about doing my own cabaret show for about 10 years. In 2011, I became involved with Divalicious then finally decided to bite the bullet in 2014 and put on my own show: Desperately Young at Heart. It sold out out and to my pleasant surprise, won Best Cabaret (WA) at Perth Fringe World.
In my cabaret performances I morph on stage into a cast of characters whose common bond is their love of singing, sexual frustration, and desperation. My incarnations include a repressed Irish nun, a Christian Liturgical singer, a statuesque singing teacher in four-inch heels and a leather-loving German psychologist/vocal coach.
What can we expect from your upcoming concert Lieder, L’Orient and Laughter with Art Song Perth on the 8th October?
I will be singing the exquisite 12 songs of Schumann’s song cycle Liederkreis, as myself with Marilyn Phillips playing piano. There will also be some beautiful French songs and songs about Venice from soprano Lucy Mervik and mezzo soprano Caitlin Cassidy respectively.
Then for the final part of the concert I will don my Lederhosen (Or Liederhosen… An in-joke as Lieder is the German word for ‘songs’) and fluorescent yellow wig to become Helmut Wunderlicher, who will present a brief workshop called “Follow ze Lieder”. German singer Helmut Wunderlicher became a relationship counsellor as he enjoyed giving advice to his fellow singers who seemed to have a plethora of personal problems. In his workshop “Follow ze Lieder”, Wunderlicher enthusiastically applies his skills by singing beautiful German Lieder in English, often in translations that have nothing to do with the original German to “Lied” the audience to contemplate issues in their love lives and inner most thoughts. To quote Herr Wunderlicher: “Audiences alvays leave my vorkshops feeling zemselves in a new vay.”
Watch Herr Helmut Wunderlicher’s interview with The West Arts and Culture
Why is Art Song important?
Art Song for singers is great as you can hone your technical skills on exquisite songs designed to be sung in a fairly intimate acoustic where you don’t have to compete with an orchestra. Singing it keeps the voice healthy and is a great exercise for your performer’s imagination, communication and story telling skills.
As an audience, it’s the opportunity to hear great songs which in a way were originally the cabaret of the 19th century. It’s a great chance to hear really great and experienced singers “Up close and personal”, like we heard recently with Dame Felicity Lott and Graham Johnson OBE.
Advice for Young Artists:
The best exercise for singing is singing. Sing from the top to the bottom of your range every day and remember: Singing is not a sport (It’s much more enjoyable!) but it shares the intesity of preparation involved.
Come to the recital and listen to the last song I sang as Helmut Wunderlicher at Art Song Perth…
Lieder, L’Orient and Laughter will begin 7:30pm on Saturday 8th October at the Church of the Resurrection Swanbourne. Tickets are available online here and will be on sale at the door on the night. Don’t miss this chance to see your local talent in action.
Thank you to Robert Hofmann for his interview and time.