Jacques Imbrailo in The Rape of Lucretia

Jacques Imbrailo, a baritone from South Africa, never intended to be an opera singer. But while working on an undergrad degree in law there, he discovered that he really didn't enjoy it and decided to switch to singing, which had just been a hobby. He went on to do his postgrad work at the Royal College of Music in London.

"I don't come from a musical family at all, " he told Art Attack. "I sang in a boys choir school when I was a little kid, which planted the original seeds."

Starting tonight, Imbrailo will make his Houston debut in the Houston Grand Opera's production of The Rape of Lucretia, playing the part of Tarquinius, who seduces Lucretia, a married woman who had not previously broken her marriage vows. American Michelle DeYoung plays Lucretia.

"He's a very evil character who's obsessed by beauty and chastity," Imbrailo said. "He comes from a very bloodthirsty family, but he's obsessed by beauty and chastity as well. He both is obsessed with her chastity but he also wants to destroy it. He's a contradiction."

He doesn't mind playing the villain, he said. "I like playing any character who's interesting and not just one-dimensional. Usually that comes easier with bad guys." His favorite previous operas include title roles in Billy Budd (his breakout role) and The Barber of Seville.

In fact, it was at a performance of Billy Budd that HGO's former CEO/general director Anthony Freud spotted Imbrailo and talked to him about performing in Houston.

Imbrailo, who now lives in London with his English wife, said he's learning how to pace himself for a long career. "Trying to sing within yourself; I think as a young singer you're always inclined to give more than what's needed. The challenge is to set back just 5 percent." As a young baritone, he said he tries to make sure he is singing the right repertoire and to have the patience to say no sometimes.

His first language was Afrikaans; he also speaks English and a little German. Everything he sings is translated ahead of time so he can correctly interpret the part, he said.

While his favorite opera composer is Verdi, Imbrailo said he thinks Benjamin Britten's The Rape of Lucretia "is a great piece. I think in some ways it's underrated. Britten does better than just about anybody with atmospheric music."

The Houston Grand Opera's production of The Rape of Lucretia runs February 3-11 at the Wortham Theater Center, Texas Avenue at Smith Street. Call 713-228-6737 for tickets or go to houstongrandopera.org.

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