BFC is honoured to welcome Sir John Tomlinson as one of its Patrons.
Sir John Tomlinson is an operatic bass of international repute. He was born in Oswaldtwistle, Lancashire and intended to become a civil engineer, studying at Manchester University. However at the age of 21 he decided that engineering was not for him and chose a career in opera. He studied at the Royal Northern College of Music singing in the Scottish Opera Chorus, and in 1972 he joined Glyndebourne Touring Opera. He was principal bass at English National Opera from 1975 to 1981.
In 1988 he was invited to Bayreuth and thereafter appeared for 18 consecutive seasons in the Wagnerian roles of Wotan and Hagen in The Ring, King Mark in Tristan und Isolde, Titurel and Gurnemanz in Parsifal and the title-role in Der Fliegende Holländer. He has become one of the world’s greatest exponents of Wagnerian roles. His career has taken him to all the great opera houses of the world as Wotan/Wanderer, Hans Sachs in Die Meistersinger, Ochs in Der Rosenkavalier, Boris Godunov, King Philip in Don Carlo, Claggart in Billy Budd, and Bluebeard in Bartók’s Bluebeard’s Castle. He was appointed CBE in 1997 and knighted in 2005.
In 2014 Sir John was awarded the Royal Philharmonic Society Music Award. John Gilhooly said of him, “There are no pretensions about John Tom. For him celebrity status is irrelevant – the crucial thing is singing; and it is the desire to sing and communicate, and the obsession to get it right every time, that drive him”.
Asked in an interview by Bruce Duffie whether singing was fun, Sir John responded, “Acting is fun. Singing is a serious business. I suppose it’s serious, but I don’t know if it’s too serious. One thing is that’s what we’re up there to do, and we’ve got to be very good at it or else we shouldn’t be up there. So there’s a continual tremendous responsibility to sing well. You work perpetually to give good vocal performances, so that I do regard that as almost a responsibility …”
Whilst work in the major opera houses around the world has come to a halt due to the pandemic, Sir John was busy towards the end of 2020 working on a new opera by John Casken, The Shackled King, that the composer had written with Sir John in mind. Sir John told BFC, “It’s a brand new piece, semi-staged and from memory, and a long and complex role. It eventually went tremendously well, but was certainly challenging … a two-hander for King Lear and Cordelia. An excellent piece”.
The Chorus has worked with Sir John on several occasions in the past, notably a performance of Beethoven’s 9th Symphony at the 1991 Proms which was recently selected for rebroadcast by the BBC during the Proms 2020 season when highlights from through the years were shown.
Sir John lives in Lewes, East Sussex, with his wife Moya. The lockdowns of the past year have given him more time on his allotment, “having lovely walks in the countryside”, and pursuing his talent for basket weaving. In a recent interview he revealed that “they’[d] been making more [baskets] than they need for themselves and have been giving them away”, so maybe there’s a second career in the offing if things in the operatic world don’t improve soon.
The Chorus is proud to have Sir John Tomlinson as a Patron.
Sir John Tomlinson appears as King Lear as part of the Grange Festival in Hampshire from 14-17 July 2021 and as Tiresias in Enescu’s Oedipe at Opera National de Paris in the autumn.