However, the catalogue of romantic and heroic leads upon which his career is built has not always come without obstacle. And it started early. ‘It’s no secret that I’m not the tallest person in the world,’ he says, laughing. At London’s National Opera Studio, there were those who tried to push him towards character work early on. ‘But those who knew about singing said, “You don’t have a character tenor’s voice,” and I chose to believe them.’ In those incipient stages of his career, he made a risky but calculated decision. ‘I’d managed to squirrel away enough money to live very frugally for about a year. And I decided to turn down every character role that was offered to me … apart from relenting for Pedrillo once. And it worked. Eventually people stopped asking and I got enough other stuff to be able to live.
‘My height has still been the big bugbear of my career. Whether or not companies around the world want to say otherwise, they have had a prejudice against me because of my size. Or they have not cast me in the roles that I can do because of my size. On the whole, people don’t mention it specifically, but say that I am “difficult to cast”. What else am I to think? Most don’t have the guts to come out and just say it, but one actually has. And my manager just knows not to bother with that company.’ But Banks doesn’t play the victim too easily. In the same breath in which he asserts, ‘For every role I got because I can sing it, I’ve lost ten because of my size,’ he claims, ‘I have a fine career. Many people would give their eye teeth to have my career. Since that year I stashed away money, I’m very proud to say that in 25—or 26—years, I’ve never been out of work, save two three-month periods.’ And some of those companies that expressed early hesitance did come around as well, initially casting him in Don Pasquale, The Golden Cockerel and Capriccio.
He has just finished his first performances of Idreno in Semiramide at the Teatro San Carlo in Naples. While he might not turn them down, he is not actively seeking many other new Rossini roles. ‘The pieces [of his] that are magnificent, I’ve done. Though I am doing my first Guillaume Tell in 2014. There’s a lot of Donizetti and Bellini that I’d really like to
■ Three tenors at the Met: Barry Banks (centre, as Carlo), Kobie van Rensburg (Ubaldo), and Lawrence Brownlee (Rinaldo) in Rossini’s ‘Armida’ last year
Opera, February 2012