Great Yarmouth, England
"The first time I ever saw Seattle, I was on a round-the-world trip. We sailed from Liverpool, Cardiff, London, Gibraltar, Beirut, Alexandria, Jedda, Saudi Arabia, then down across the Indian Ocean to Sydney, up the coast, Brisbane, and then to Vancouver with short stops in Honolulu, Victoria, Port Alberni, Port Angeles, Seattle, Tacoma, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and then back to London."
Archie Drake, on his first career as a seaman in the British merchant fleet.
Since his debut with Seattle Opera in 1968 as Rocco in Beethoven's Fidelio, this English-born descendent of the seafaring Drake family has made more than 2,000 appearances in more than one hundred roles with the company. Drake celebrated his thirty-fifth year with Seattle Opera in February 2003.
Born in 1925, Drake left his home in Yarmouth at the age of 16 to follow the family tradition of seafaring. A deckhand in the merchant navy, he served in World War II in the Mediterranean, North Atlantic, and North Sea. In December 1946, Drake attended the nautical academy in Newcastle and then joined a major shipping line.
"I've sung in Bluefields, Virginia, and Bluefields, Nicaragua."
Archie Drake, on his time with the Roger Wagner Chorale
In the 1950s, while working on shore as an Assistant Cargo, Drake joined a choir in Vancouver, Canada, and was encouraged to take voice lessons. Friends recommended him to Lotte Lehmann at the Music Academy of the West. Encouraged by Lehmann, Drake began to audition and eventually joined the Roger Wagner Chorale, once again traveling around the world, this time on cultural exchange programs for the U.S. State Department, and singing in more than 500 performances. Drake also was a featured soloist on "Charles Ives: Music For Chorus," conducted by Gregg Smith. The album won the 1966 GRAMMY for choral music, but is now out of print (Columbia MS 6921).
In 1968, Drake made his San Francisco Opera debut as Rambaldo in La rondine. In the same year, he received a call from Glynn Ross at Seattle Opera to appear in Fidelio. The following year, Ross offered Drake a contract as a member of the permanent company.
"Glynn said, 'I can pay you so much, I know it ain't a lot, but it's year round and I can give you health coverage.' So I thought about it, and I thought 'this sounds like it might turn into something.' I was intrigued by the whole idea."
Archie Drake, 2001 interview with Jonathan Dean
In the early days, the company members usually had 10 days to rehearse their roles. Drake performed in both the original language and English language versions of the operas. Sometimes, Drake sang different roles on different nights depending on the language. He created Candy for the world premiere of Floyd's Of Mice and Men, a role that he repeated at Houston and Reno, as well as roles in three other world premieres.
By 1983, Drake had passed the 1,000 performances mark with Seattle. He also sang regularly at other companies, including San Francisco Opera, Houston Grand Opera, Portland Opera, and Arizona Opera. Now in his late seventies, Drake continues to perform with Seattle Opera. Following is a list of his Seattle Opera mainstage roles. He has also appeared in numerous touring productions for Seattle Opera and, more recently, in two of the Young Artist Program's operas as a guest artist.
"For me, opera is basically an exploration of the human spirit, and it can take you further into emotions and feelings and concepts and understandings and divining than any other way. I talk to children about this, in schools. They'd say, 'why sing?' and I'd say, 'Did you ever get so mad at somebody that you couldn't even talk?' and they all said, 'Yeah, I did.' I said, 'All right, next time, sing to 'em!' Because you can get more expression into singing than all the talking in the world."
Archie Drake quotes drawn from the 2001 interview conducted by Jonathan Dean. Parts of this interview originally appeared in the Seattle Opera Magazine, 2001/02 Fall Issue