'It's a privilege, isn't it? There is an exhaustive list of top, top baritones who've sung this role, since its premiere in 1896. I'm keen not to copy, or be daunted, but be inspired by this.’
Ross Ramgobin’s first role at Opera Holland Park was Kuligin in the 2017 production of Kát’a Kabanová, and he returns in 2023 for his fourth season, this time as Marcello in La bohème. We speak about returning to OHP, taking on a role in an iconic work and unfortunate tales of flat-sharing.
Can you tell us about your role at OHP this season?
Hello! I’m delighted that I’ll be performing the role of Marcello in La bohème. He is a painter in a tempestuous relationship with Musetta, a singer. He lives with his three other mates in a tiny garret in Paris. It’s Christmas Eve, and the lads want to party!
What are you looking forward to about this role, and what are some challenges you think you might face?
I’m grateful to James and the OHP team for the chance to ‘graduate’ following my performance as Schaunard at the ROH last year. Marcello is a beautifully written role, incredibly satisfying to sing and presents a deeper storytelling challenge. There’s little exposition around his relationship with Musetta, so I look forward to exploring the emotional rollercoaster of having an ‘on-off’ girlfriend, with the team.
What do you do to prepare for a new role before the rehearsal process begins?
This will be my fourth production of La bohème, so although I’m very familiar with the piece, I’m going back to basics, studying rhythms carefully, word-for-word translation, using a full score to understand the textures in the orchestra, and practising singing at different tempi, managing the breath, so I’m ready for anything dear George [Jackson, conductor] throws at me! It’s a big stage, and bohèmes are always energetic, so I’d also like to be ‘match fit’.
What is it like taking on a role in such a well known work?
Well, it’s a privilege, isn’t it? There is an exhaustive list of top, top baritones who’ve sung this role, since its premiere in 1896. I’m keen not to copy, or be daunted, but be inspired by this. It’s also refreshing to know OHP celebrates diversity in its casting; still – unfortunately – companies can’t see past all-white casts and the same pool of singers year on year. Opera Holland Park is always on the lookout for new talent, from any background, and we should all be proud of that.
Looking in the other direction, do you have a favourite OHP memory?
My favourite moment was in a Figaro show in Act 4, during Susanna’s aria and I’m silently sobbing in the corner, thinking she’s been unfaithful. There was an enormous power – a tension between the music, the action on stage and the intrigue, along with dusk falling. The perfect atmosphere for that scene.
La bohème centres on a group of artistic friends; philosopher, a writer, a musician and an artist. Do you have any secret or hidden artistic talents beyond music?
I like to compose – I enjoy incorporating elements of house, soul, drum and base within a classical framework. Equally I love the idea of writing my own libretto, like Michael Tippett did, to highlight contemporary issues. Opera needs new stories, but I just need the confidence to finish one of my projects!
I’m actually pretty interested in philosophy and ethics, I’d get on well with Colline! And I love painting, when I have the time. There are a few dotted around at home of which I’m quite proud.
This group shares a very cold flat and a beastly landlord. Do you have any stories of flat-sharing in precarious places?
I worked in digital recruitment back in 2008, to save up for music college, and I lived in a tiny studio flat in Hammersmith. Grotty shared toilet, shower and kitchen, mice scratching in the walls, and James the crazy amateur double bassist who roared with fury at anyone who made any noise after 8pm.
What’s one piece of advice you’ve been given as an artist that has stayed with you?
Valerie Solti used to say to me that Georg’s mantra was “never give up”. It sounds simple on the face of it, but there can be some dark moments in a singer’s career. I use that as motivation. Never give up and we go again.
As a big football fan, I was taken by Arsène Wenger’s comments about confidence: “it goes up by the stairs, and down in the lift”. I think that’s absolutely true, certainly for me. That made me realise I should protect my confidence and release unhelpful imposter syndrome, which we all suffer in moments through life.