David Rose Interview – Note Perfect
David Rose, Spencer West Partner specialising in Family and Property Litigation, talks about his love for opera singing.
How did your musical career start?
I’ve been singing since I was very young. My late mother, who was a milliner, had lots of old-fashioned hats displayed on hat stands. I’m told that when I was a boy, I used to pretend the hat stands were microphones!
I got into it more seriously round about the time I qualified as a solicitor. My plan was that as soon as I got studying out of the way, I would find a singing teacher. I stuck to this plan, and then a friend, also a lawyer, rang me up and told me about Hampstead Garden Opera.
I told him I’d never sung opera before, and that it wasn’t really my scene – lots of people up on a stage singing in foreign languages and so on – but he said come along, and so I did.
The first opera they were to perform was Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro, and when they suggested I audition for the part of the Count, I said, fine, because I hadn’t a clue who the Count was!
When I discovered it was one of the biggest roles in opera, I thought he’d lost his mind! But I got the part, and I was so enthralled that I went on to do many more leading roles. I joined Opera for All, Harrow Opera, and then Brent Opera.
Has it just been classical opera, or have you branched out since then?
Three or four years ago, a friend of mine, a soprano, asked if I’d ever wanted to do musical theatre. They wanted a villain for Sister Act (Baritones like me are usually cast as villains or fathers, that’s why vocally we tend to outlive Tenors!). I was worried because I can’t dance, but of course villains don’t tend to do much dancing! The company was called Mill Hill Musical Theatre Company. I fell in love with them as a group, and so I played that part.
The next show they were planning was Fiddler on the Roof. I’ve always been devoted to Tevye, the hero, because my own father came from Poland, and that Jewish /Polish heritage and story is part of who I am. I’ve always wanted to play the part, and believe it or not, I got this, my dream role! That was the opportunity of my life, and I did it for five performances. I’ll never forget it.
How does singing compare with being a lawyer?
Performing in an opera is a very different feeling. It releases a lot more adrenalin than performing in a legal case. It’s cathartic. It’s multi-dimensional. You have to learn the music, you have to learn the words, and you have to learn the moves. It’s all-encompassing. It’s an artistic challenge as opposed to an academic challenge.
I can’t tell you how wonderful it is to let off steam after a hard day’s legal work. To be able to close the files and head off to the rehearsal venue, is to enter an entirely different world for three hours. I just cannot describe the pleasure it gives me.
Thank God I and my family kept our health, but it was traumatic. We did Zoom plays, but you can’t sing as well on Zoom, and so we couldn’t do that. It was horrible to be out of it for so long, but now I’m so glad that things are starting to come back.
Do you find going through those challenges as a singing community is good for developing teamworking skills?
Absolutely. The groups I sing with include so many different races, religions, and cultures; but we are all one team together, with one reason to do what we do. Everyone belongs, and we love doing it together. It’s a wonderful world to be in.
Are there other ways in which singing has been good for you, both as a lawyer and as a person?
It’s been great in terms of relationships, and that includes business relationships too. I’ve often brought clients to my shows, and this has sometimes allowed me to bring a charitable element into what I do. A close colleague and his family were affected by Motor Neurone Disease, and so raising money to help the Motor Neurone Disease Association became a major focus for me. We did a number of fundraisers for the charity over the years.
Do you get emotional when you perform in these pieces?
The highlight was Fiddler – there was a scene when Tevye is saying goodbye to one of his daughters and she sings a song, and the guy who was playing her husband was in tears in the wings – I knew he was moved. A friend of mine was told by Peter O’Toole that the amateurs are just professionals who aren’t paid. You have to ride over it, and it seeps into the character rather than you personally. It’s a mysterious thing. La Boheme is also difficult emotionally when Mimi is dying at the end. You really must get to grips with yourself! You are presenting human emotions, and expressing them, while divorcing yourself from them at the same time.
Can the law also be an emotional job?
Family law especially, can involve lots of raw emotion; but just as you do on the stage, you control it. Speaking as a solicitor advocate, I can tell you that most litigation lawyers are frustrated thespians! You are, in a sense, performing the part of the client. You use many of the same skills.
There’s a successful show in the West End called “The Play That Goes Wrong”. Have you had any close calls on stage?
I always like to have the script sitting on a table behind the scenes, just in case. I’m slightly superstitious about my script being moved around. I know the lines, but if someone moves it even three inches it really annoys me.
Fortunately, I’ve always managed to remember my lines!
But other things can go wrong. I was once doing Don Giovanni, where they use a dry ice machine to create effects like smoke and mist. On this occasion, we were playing a scene in what was meant to be a misty graveyard, but someone turned the machine up too high, or forgot to turn it off, and the mist just built up and up until we all completely disappeared.
In Marriage of Figaro Act III, the Count has a long recitation about the things he thinks are going to happen next in the drama. When he finishes, the Countess is meant to come on, but she was stuck in her dressing room and hadn’t been called. I got to the end of the recit, and there was no one there. I sat for what felt like hours, but finally they got her up on stage. That was a bit terrifying.
Oh, and the mice running about in St Andrew’s Church on Finchley Road, where Brent Opera perform, can be quite off-putting!
David, thank you so much for telling us about this creative, transformative, and charitable passion.