New Zealand-born opera singer Jud Arthur seems to possess natural talent for all he puts his hand to. He has worked as a farrier and a professional rugby player, and is now turning his talents to being a high priest in Opera Australia’s production of The Pearlfishers and Banquo in their production of Verdi’s Macbeth. Broadsheet catches up with the multi-talented singer to find out how it all works.
To the average person, you couldn’t get two activities further apart than rugby and opera. But for Jud Arthur, working as a professional in each field has been a “natural evolution” as he humbly expresses it. He is currently performing in two Opera Australia productions.
In The Pearlfishers, by French composer Georges Bizet (best known for his opera Carmen), Jud plays the high priest Nourabad, who orders the beautiful priestess Leila to pray for the pearl fishers and later wreaks havoc when she disobeys him to be with her lover Nadir. In Macbeth, by Italian composer Verdi and based on the Shakespearean work of the same name, he plays Banquo, one of the men who uncovers the fortune-telling witches who seal the fate of Macbeth. “It’s a couple of good arias and some great singing,” he summarises.
Growing up in New Zealand, Jud had more than a fair share of school spirit, competing in numerous sports and also participating in school musicals and the like. “I always had a natural voice,” he says. “I was made to sing whenever there were singing elements in the school curriculum and I would always stick out, so I’d get offered solo bits in class songs and competitions, or I’d get a role in the musical – and I always enjoyed it.”
Despite this, sport was his main focus. After finishing school, he worked as a professional show jumper, supporting himself by taking a job as a farrier. He went on to play professional rugby in Italy for several years before injury brought him back to his native New Zealand and singing began to take over. It “was something that grew” when he came back, he says.
“I had a knee injury and I had a few singing lessons when I was recovering from my operation, following on from the stuff I did at school. I ended up in the chorus of the local opera company for a couple of shows and then they offered me a principal role. It all went from there!”
Although changing careers was not without its challenges, Jud stresses the two professions are not as far apart as you might think. The change of mindset from sport to music “hasn’t been hard,” he asserts. “The skills you learn as a professional sportsman – about teamwork and that sort of stuff – you can relate into a singing career as it’s the same mental approach. Although obviously different tools are required, [and] it would have helped me a lot to have studied music and just to be able to accompany myself,” he quips.
Playing rugby can be an emotional experience of blood, sweat and tears on par with any great opera, Jud explains. “When I was playing football in Italy, [during] the first game I played in one of their big props scored a try and as I was running back to the halfway I heard sobs. I turned around and this guy was crying! I couldn’t believe it.”
He asked one of his other teammates what was wrong with the prop, and he in turn called out in Italian “Bobby, what’s the problem?” It turns out that he’d never scored a try before. “So playing rugby in Italy can be pretty emotional, let me tell you,” says Jud.
The Pearlfishers is on at the Arts Centre May 9, 12, 14 and 16 at 7.30pm.
Macbeth is on at the Arts Centre May 10 at 7.30pm.