Opera Scotland

Harold Blackburn Suggest updates

Born Hamilton, 1925.

Died London, 27 November 1981.

Scottish bass.

Harold Blackburn studied singing privately in Glasgow. In 1947 he joined the chorus at Carl Rosa, making his début as Ferrando in Il Trovatore. The following year he joined Sadler’s Wells, initially in the chorus, but being promoted to principal from 1952. He maintained a base with the Sadler’s Wells and English National Opera companies throughout his career. His easily produced, powerful and black-toned bass voice gave him great versatility, and he was noted for wonderfully clear diction both in comic and serious roles.

He toured to Scotland almost annually with Sadler’s Wells. In the late 1950s these roles included the Sacristan (Tosca), Colline (La Bohème), Antonio and Bartolo (Marriage of Figaro), Dr Grenvil (La Traviata) and Sparafucile (Rigoletto). He made guest appearances with Welsh National Opera and the English Opera Group.

Blackburn was a regular colleague of Alexander Gibson in his Sadler’s Wells years in the 1950s and along with David Ward and William McAlpine gave support to the formation of Scottish Opera by returning to sing with the company in its early years. He appeared in 1964 as Leporello and Lodovico, and in 1968 as Swallow in the Edinburgh Festival Peter Grimes. He also appeared at the 1965 Festival, singing Budd in the English Opera Group’s production of Albert Herring.

He was noted for his performances of Rossini, and his roles at Sadler’s Wells and the Coliseum included Don Basilio (Barber of Seville), Tutor (Count Ory), Mayor (Thieving Magpie) and Mustafà (Italian Girl in Algiers). He sang some Wagner, including Daland, Fasolt and Hunding. Other parts were Tiresias in Oedipus Rex, Sarastro, Kutuzov in War and Peace, the Grand Inquisitor in Don Carlos, Simone (Gianni Schicchi), Beneš (Dalibor), Crespel (Tales of Hoffmann) and Baron Ochs. With SWO/ENO he created the roles of Sherrin in The Mines of Sulphur (Bennett 1965), Humpage in A Penny for a Song (Bennett 1968), and Steffan in Lucky Peter’s Journey (Williamson 1969) and sang Father Barré in the British premiere of The Devils of Loudun (Penderecki).

With the English Opera Group he toured to Canada, Japan and Australia, and in Johannesburg he appeared as Colline, Don Pasquale and Leporello.

He did not make many commercial recordings, but can be heard in typical form as the Abbot in Britten’s own 1965 recording of Curlew River. He also sings Tiresias on the Sadler’s Wells recording of Oedipus Rex and the small role of Old Adam in Sir Malcolm Sargent’s 1963 recording of Ruddigore.

Roles in Scotland

Ambrogio Bartolo's servant
Barbiere di Siviglia 1948
Doctor Grenvil
Traviata 1948
Traviata 1958
Ferrando captain of Di Luna's guard
Trovatore 1948
Trovatore 1957
Prince Gremin a retired general
Eugene Onegin 1957
Betto di Signa a cousin, age unknown
Gianni Schicchi 1957
Colline a philosopher
Bohème 1957
Bohème 1960
Sacristan
Tosca 1957
Tosca 1961
Antonio a gardener, Susanna's uncle
Nozze di Figaro 1957
Nozze di Figaro 1958
Bartolo a doctor, the Countess's former guardian
Nozze di Figaro 1958
Nozze di Figaro 1959
Nozze di Figaro 1961
Sparafucile a professional assassin
Rigoletto 1959
Kecal a marriage broker
Bartered Bride 1962
Osmin the Pasha's overseer
Entführung aus dem Serail 1964
Lodovico envoy of the Venetian republic
Otello 1964
Leporello Giovanni's servant
Don Giovanni 1964
Sherrin an actor (the Count in the play)
Mines of Sulphur 1965
Superintendent Budd police officer
Albert Herring 1965
Gottardo the Mayor
Gazza Ladra 1966
Don Pasquale a wealthy, elderly bachelor
Don Pasquale 1967
Swallow lawyer, Mayor of The Borough
Peter Grimes 1968
Mustafà Bey of Algiers
Italiana in Algeri 1968
Hunding husband of Sieglinde
Valkyrie 1976

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