Opera Scotland

Graham Clark Suggest updates

Born Littleborough, Lancashire, 10 November 1941.

Died Reading, 6 July 2023.

English tenor.

Graham Clark had a highly successful international career, particularly in character roles by Wagner, and giving over 250 performances in the Ring alone. However he was extremely versatile. He sang at the Bayreuth Festival for sixteen seasons (121 performances) and for fourteen seasons at the New York Met.

His early career included five years as a teacher of physical education and then, after a year at Loughborough University (1969-70) he worked as a sports administrator, while studying singing with the baritone Bruce Boyce. He came to public attention in a late-night charity concert at Drury Lane, joining Joan Sutherland, Richard Bonynge and other established stars, to raise funds after the devastation of the city of Darwin by Cyclone Tracy.

He joined Scottish Opera in 1975, remaining with the company until 1978, developing rapidly, so that he sang a wide range of lyric and character parts. When David Pountney's superbly detailed staging of Die Meistersinger opened in 1976 he was noticeable as the decrepit, palsy-ridden and lead-poisoned pewterer Zorn, and re-appeared on revival as a scene-stealing David (which would later be his debut role at Bayreuth, Munich, Vienna, Zurich and Amsterdam). Other early parts included Mozart (Pedrillo), Beethoven (Jaquino), Donizetti (Ernesto), Verdi (Malcolm, Roderigo), Puccini (Goro) and Strauss (Italian Tenor, Brighella). He returned to the company a couple of times for major roles by Janáček.  Concert solos included the Verdi Requiem with the SNO.

His first appearance at the Coliseum was in an ENO New Opera co-production, playing the title-role in the British premiere of Ginastera's Bomarzo (1976). Joining ENO from 1978, his first part was Rinuccio in Gianni Schicchi. His versatility can be seen from just some of the parts he took on, ranging from Rodolfo to Quint, including Rossini (Almaviva, Ramiro, Count Ory); Strauss (Italian Tenor, Matteo in Arabella) and Lehár (Camille). Czech repertoire included both Albert Gregor (serious) and Vašek (comic). His highly-strung and dramatic Russian parts included Grigory in Boris Godunov, Hermann in The Queen of Spades, Alexey in The Gambler and Don Juan in The Stone Guest (Dargomizhky). His portrayal of Mephistopheles in Busoni's Doktor Faust, with Thomas Allen in the title role, combined to win the production an Olivier Award in 1986.

He appeared at most of the major opera houses in western Europe and North America. His Bayreuth debut in 1981, as David, was followed by the Sailor in Dutchman and both Loge and Mime in the Ring (he usually only sang Mime in Siegfried). His Met debut in 1985 was as Števa, and later parts included Herod in Salome, the Captain in Wozzeck, Captain Vere (Billy Budd) and the role of Bégearss in Corigliano's The Ghosts of Versailles, which he created (1991).

An early appearance abroad was in Vancouver, as Camille with Joan Sutherland in the title role of The Merry Widow (1982). Other appearances include Toronto, Chicago, Paris (both Opéra and Châtelet) and La Scala. His debut with Welsh National was as Skuratov (1982), and it was as Loge in the WNO Ring that he first appeared at Covent Garden (1986).

He remained active on the world's opera stages even after he  stopped singing his principal roles - in the 2014/15 season his appearances included ENO (Nick in The Girl of the Golden West); Royal Opera (Shepherd in Tristan); Berlin Staatsoper (Captain Wozzeck, Prince/Manservant Lulu) as well as a return to WNO to create the Sergeant in the world premiere of In Parenthesis (Iain Bell).

Sources include New Grove Dictionary of Opera; N Adam: Who's Who in British Opera; various programmes.

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