The great British (Cornish) baritone Alan Opie has decided to retire at the age of 76. His last engagement was as Le Bailli in ‘Werther’ at the Metropolitan Opera in March last year. The production reached the day just before the Dress Rehearsal only to be cancelled due to the pandemic.
Alan’s debut took place in 1969 while still a student at the London Opera Centre with Sadlers Wells Opera on tour in Liverpool as Papageno. The performance was conducted by Sir Charles Mackerras. In over 50 years he sang at all the best addresses including La Scala, Bayreuth Festival, Vienna, Berlin (Staatsoper and Deutsche Oper), Bayerische Staatsoper, Munich, Opera National de Paris, Metropolitan New York as already mentioned, Los Angeles, Chicago, Royal Opera, Covent Garden, Glyndebourne Festival and many, many others.
Surprisingly this big international career began in earnest only in 1996 when he came off contract at the English National Opera, appearing there only as a guest in future seasons. The fact that for 27 years Alan had had a home company was obviously an important element in his amazing vocal longevity. Other important factors have undoubtedly been his marriage to Kath, a former soloist herself who continued her career as a member of the Covent Garden chorus. Knowing the ‘business’ she has been an invaluable advisor and support to Alan. In an era when so many singers seem to come and go in the space of a few seasons, his vocal longevity has been remarkable. His inherent sense of what he could and could not do and his refusal to agree to harmful schedules with back-to-back performances and so forth have served him well.
In the concert hall, Alan’s career was no less impressive singing with the Chicago Symphony, Israel Philharmonic, Accademia di Santa Cecilia, RAI Turin, Sydney Symphony, Gothenburg Symphony, Bergen Philharmonic and all the British orchestras. In the concert hall he sang in works including Britten’s ‘War Requiem,’ Tippett’s ‘The vision of St. Augustine,’ Delius’s ‘A Mass of Life,’ Mendelssohn’s ‘Elijah,’ Walton’s ‘Belshazzar’s Feast,’ Elgar’s ‘The Apostles.’ ‘The Kingdom’ and ‘The Dream of Gerontius’ and Vaughan Williams’s ‘A Sea Symphony’ among many other works.
Alan’s repertoire was diverse to say the least. Beckmesser was the role he sang at Bayreuth, Munich, Vienna, Amsterdam, Turin and Berlin and recorded with Sir Georg Solti. Rossini’s Figaro had been his calling-card earlier in his career and Giorgio Germont became a signature role later on. Falstaff was very much a role made for him and gave his great acting and exceptional comic timing free range. His Rigoletto in the Jonathan Miller production was another big success. The Forester in Janacek’s ‘Cunning little Vixen’ took him to many important venues including La Scala and the New York Philharmonic. A role he especially identified with was the sympathetic old Sea Dog, Captain Balstrode in ‘Peter Grimes’ which he sang all over the world and recorded both for CD and video. The same can be said of the seven baritone roles in ‘Death in Venice’ which he sang in every performance in the UK between 1989 and 2002 approximately.
These were only part of the story. Alan sang or created roles in contemporary operas such as Berio’s ‘Outis,’ Klinghoffer in ;The Death of Klinghoffer.’ Chairman Mao in Bright Sheng’s ‘Madame Mao,’ The Pathologist in Iain Bell’s Jack the Ripper: The Women of Whitechapel. Charles Frieth in Michael Berkeley’s ‘For You’ and more. He must be one of a very tiny handful of British artists to sing an Italian role in Italy with success (Sharpless in Cagliari) and be complimented on his Viennese Dialekt when singing Faninal at the Wiener Staatsoper.
These performances attracted many awards and nominations and in 2014, he received a well-deserved OBE. That honour was exceptional in that it had been prompted by the representations of a fellow baritone. That speaks volumes for the high regard in which Alan has always been held everywhere by colleagues and managements alike.
Adding a personal note, it has always been a pleasure to work with Alan. In so many ways he is the perfect artist. Apparently our collaboration has taken place over 40 years according to him. It has always been such a delight that we could hardly believe it. We send Alan all our best wishes for his retirement. He was last seen practising Mozart Piano Sonatas. A new career? Whatever comes next, we wish him all possible pleasure and enjoyment.