Murray Dahm talks with opera star Daniel Sumegi

May 13, 2022 by Murray Dahm
Read on for article

Daniel Sumegi’s rich, mellifluous bass voice booms across even over a Zoom call. Daniel admitted that he is probably more of a bass-baritone these days although he “still has all the (bass) notes” and he is singing the bass role of Heinrich der Vogler (Henry the Fowler) in Opera Australia’s upcoming production of Wagner’s 1850 masterpiece ‘fantastical romance’ Lohengrin.

Daniel Sumegi as Heinrich der Vogler Photo: Jeff Busby

This will be a role-debut for Daniel although he began by telling me that he was in the extra chorus of the then Australian Opera production of the opera in 1986! And the wonderful Donald Shanks sang the role of Henry back then. Bringing up that early memory of a great singer of the past led to a discussion on the great singers Daniel has had the privilege to work with (of course he may himself be counted as exactly that by younger singers today whom he has worked with). When starting out at the San Francisco Opera in the 1990s he worked with operatic legends Hans Hotter, Regine Crespin, Licia Albanese, and Evelyn Lear. He even sang in the US farewell performances of Leone Rysanek in Tchaikovsky’s Pique Dame in 1993.

It was an insightful, wide-ranging, discussion and we talked about singing masterclasses. Daniel had special memories of classes with Regine Crespin who had “a knack of unlocking and solving problems immediately for people.” I brought up one of my own early experiences of doing masterclasses with Sir Donald McIntyre in the early 1990s and we shared stories and notes on masterclasses. I remembered Sir Donald advising that Wagner should be sung like it is Mozart and a phrase he used at the time to “take care of the little notes;” that in Wagner, especially, there are no unimportant notes. Daniel agreed and pointed out that singers whose first language is English in particular can pay less attention to the little words: of, a, the etc; whereas in other languages much more attention must be paid to those same words (omitting a rolled ‘r’ on ‘der’ for instance would be unthinkable).

Our discussion then moved on to some shared ground between us of Rockdale Opera (Australia’s longest established opera company, founded in 1948). Daniel is the Patron of Rockdale Opera and he ‘cut his teeth’ there in the 1980s (as have many greats of the Australian opera world). We traded stories of our time on the Rockdale Town Hall stage and, I don’t know why, but such stories tend to lean towards disasters or near-disasters. Daniel’s “doozy” involved a Lucia di Lammermoor in 1986 where some pillars (made of old carpet-roll cores painted to look like marble) began to tetter and then totter mid-performance.

Those operas at Rockdale were the beginning of what has already been a long and impressive career which shows no signs of slowing – long may it continue. He made his debut in 1988 and now has over 110 roles in his repertoire. Born in Sydney, the grandson of a Hungarian Auschwitz survivor who moved to Australia in 1952, Daniel was immensely successful in singing competitions in the 1980s and the 1990s which allowed him to travel to explore his options in the world of opera. He ended up in the Young Artist Program at the San Francisco Opera in 1991, and 1993-1994. In 1992 he was able to study for a full academic year at the Vienna Conservatorium thanks to the Robert Stoltz Award which he had also won. Thereafter he moved to New York where he has been based ever since.

Daniel has been singing regularly in Australia throughout that career – singing here once or twice a year almost every year in his thirty-year career. We talked briefly about the duetting bass roles in operas such as Don Carlos – Daniel sang the Grand Inquisitor to Ferrucio Furlanetto’s Philip in 2015, a wonderful altercation; he also sang Wurm to Raymond Aceto’s Walter in Verdi’s Luisa Miller in 2016 – their duet was one of the highlights of the night.

Daniel has been rehearsing Lohengrin since April 4 – and in our current climate that means daily Covid testing for all Opera Australia’s artists (he estimated that he would probably undergo 40 tests – number the same for every person involved in every thing they are doing – that is a lot of tests!). When not singing on the rehearsal floor, masks are required to be worn, and, as soon as an artist is finished singing the mask must be re-donned, such is the commitment of the health and safety of everyone involved. I said such procedures must be onerous but Daniel’s response was typically laid-back ‘Aussie’ (or perhaps typically laid-back bass-like?): “not really, you just have to remember.” At a production in Ireland last year, even the singing was rehearsed in masks.

Lohengrin might be one of the last new roles Daniel will tackle (“my brain is very full at this time of my life” he quipped (!)). He will return for Australian audiences in Carmen on Cockatoo Island and as Wotan for the Opera Australia Ring Cycle in Brisbane in December 2023. That will also be a “role-debut(ish)” – he understudied the role twelve years ago. Daniel is, however, ‘in-demand’ as a bass around the world – after this Lohengrin he understudies King Henry at the Met in New York, and performs in Das Rheingold at Atlanta Opera and in Samson et Dalilah at Seattle.

This production of Lohengrin is set in modern times (from the same Belgian creative team behind Halevy’s La Juive we saw earlier this year) and runs form May 14-24 at that State Theatre, Arts Centre Melbourne. Alongside Daniel, Jonas Kaufmann will sing the eponymous hero, Emily Magee will embody Elsa, with Elena Gabouri as Ortrud, and Simon Meadows as Telramund. I know some patrons from Sydney have already embarked on a road trip to see it and spend some time in Melbourne. Get along if you can – it will be a once-in-a-lifetime kind of show.

Lohengrin is on the following dates: 6pm on Sat 14 May, Tues 17 May and Tues 24 May and a 12.30pm matinee on Sat 21 May.  Melbourne Arts Centre.  For tickets:

Speak Your Mind

Comments received without a full name will not be considered
Email addresses are NEVER published! All comments are moderated. J-Wire will publish considered comments by people who provide a real name and email address. Comments that are abusive, rude, defamatory or which contain offensive language will not be published

Got something to say about this?

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.