Born London, 21 November 1934.
Died London, 8 August 2009.
National School of Opera, and privately with Otakar Kraus.
Performances of opera
David Hillman spent several years working as a quantity surveyor before studying as a singer. His solo debut in 1962 was as Arvino in Verdi’s I Lombardi with Welsh National Opera, and he soon joined the company at Sadler’s Wells. In Britain his career was divided largely between that company and Scottish Opera. He showed a remarkable degree of versatility. His voice was a lyric tenor, but even after it grew to allow him to sing heavier roles such as Hermann or Bacchus, he was still able to negotiate the coloratura requirements of Rossini’s Count Almaviva. He was an excellent actor, equally good in serious and comic parts, with a handsome appearance, and an ideal sense of timing for comic dialogue in operetta roles.
In the 1960s he toured to Scotland regularly with Sadler’s Wells. His roles with that company included Mozart (Ferrando, Tamino, Belmonte), Verdi (Alfredo), Puccini (Rodolfo) and Johann Strauss (Eisenstein). He also sang in revivals of The Makropulos Case (Janek), Gloriana (Essex), and The Queen of Spades (Hermann). His last role at the Coliseum was in 1987 (the title-role of The Tales of Hoffmann). At Sadler’s Wells he created the roles of Fenney in The Mines of Sulphur (Richard Rodney Bennett 1965) and Sosthène in The Violins of Saint-Jacques (Malcolm Williamson 1966). Both these operas were brought to Scotland on tour. He also sang Essex when the Sadler's Wells company visited Vienna.
He worked with Scottish Opera for the first time in 1970, singing Tamino in a production of The Magic Flute mounted for the Commonwealth Games in Edinburgh. His next role, a few weeks later, was Toni Reischmann in Henze’s own production of Elegy for Young Lovers at the 1970 Edinburgh Festival. Thereafter he was a frequent guest as Almaviva, Nero (The Coronation of Poppea), Camille (The Merry Widow), Edgardo (Lucia di Lammermoor), Eisenstein (Die Fledermaus), Macduff (Macbeth), Cassio (Otello), and Lysander (A Midsummer Night’s Dream), He doubled as the Brazilian millionaire and Frick the cobbler in La vie Parisienne, before tripling as Governor, Captain & Gambler in Candide. His last role with the company was Daniel Buchanan in Weill’s Street Scene in 1989. He created two roles with Scottish Opera – Quintus in The Catiline Conspiracy (Iain Hamilton 1974) and Darnley in Mary, Queen of Scots (Thea Musgrave 1977 Edinburgh Festival).
He appeared only rarely at Covent Garden – Malcolm in Verdi’s Macbeth in 1976, and Joe, one of the miners, in a revival of La fanciulla del West conducted by John Mauceri (1985). At the Camden Festival he sang Leicester in the British premiere of Donizetti’s Maria Stuarda (1966). He appeared as Dauntless in New Sadler’s Wells Opera’s first modern revival of the original version of Ruddigore, and with Kent Opera he sang Duke of Mantua in Jonathan Miller’s first production of Rigoletto, given a Dickensian setting. He was the Shepherd in Szymanowski’s King Roger for the New Opera Company at Sadler’s Wells (British Premiere 1975), and also sang Hoffmann with Opera North. At Glyndebourne he sang Elemer in John Cox’s 1985 production of Arabella. He worked abroad frequently, performing in the USA and South Africa as well as Belgium, the Netherlands, France and Germany. Towards the end of his career he continued to sing from time to time as a guest artist with smaller companies if one of his favourite roles was available. In this way he returned to Scotland to sing with Tayside Opera in Dundee as Hermann in The Queen of Spades (1990) and Gustavus in A Masked Ball (1991).
Sadly, there does not seem to be any record of Hillman in any of his serious roles or creations, however the lighter side of his art is well documented. He appears on the 1976 EMI Classics for Pleasure recording of Scottish Opera’s production of The Merry Widow. There are three recordings of him in leading Gilbert and Sullivan parts. He sings Dick Dauntless in the 1987 recording of Ruddigore, and also appears in two of the video series made in 1982 – Tolloller in Iolanthe (directed by David Pountney) and Colonel Fairfax in The Yeomen of the Guard. These have been available on DVD.
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