Opera Scotland

John Shirley-Quirk Suggest updates

John Stanton Shirley-Quirk, CBE.

Born Liverpool, 28 August 1931.

Died Dorset, 7 April 2014.

English bass-baritone.

John Shirley-Quirk studied singing privately with Roy Henderson. His early musical studies were as a violinist, and his first career was as a lecturer in physics and physical chemistry. He studied music privately before switching direction permanently. Shirley-Quirk had a versatile and wide-ranging concert and recital career travelling to Germany, Italy, Spain, Belgium, Switzerland and Israel. He toured frequently in the USA.

Performances of opera
John Shirley-Quirk made his operatic début at Glyndebourne in 1961 as the doctor in Pelléas et Mélisande, and sang with Scottish Opera for the first time in its opening season the following year as Arkel in the same work. As a regular member of the English Opera Group he created a number of roles in Britten works, including the Ferryman (Curlew River 1964), Shadrach (The Burning Fiery Furnace 1966), Father (The Prodigal Son 1968), Coyle (Owen Wingrave 1971) and the Traveller and six other roles (Death in Venice 1973). This last production also toured to Venice and the 1973 Edinburgh Festival before taking him to his débuts at Covent Garden and, the following year, the New York Met. At Covent Garden, he created Lev in The Ice Break (Tippett 1977). He appeared at La Scala in Boris Godunov (1980).

With Scottish Opera, there was a gap following that first performance as Arkel, until he came back for Don Alfonso (Cosi fan tutte 1969 and 1972). He then returned regularly as Mittenhofer (Elegy for Young Lovers 1970), Golaud (Pelléas et Mélisande 1972), Count Almaviva (Marriage of Figaro 1972), Don Giovanni (1975), Don Pizarro (Fidelio 1977) and Collatinus (Rape of Lucretia 1977). In 1978 he appeared with Janet Baker and Charles Mackerras in two parts of a triple bill as Death (Savitri) and Aeneas (Dido and Aeneas). He created the role of Gil-Martin in Wilson’s Confessions of a Justified Sinner (1976), His final new role with the company was as Eugene Onegin (1979). Shirley-Quirk also made a cameo appearance at the closing concert of the 2006 Edinburgh Festival as one of the Mastersingers.

John Shirley-Quirk made something like eighty commercial recordings, ranging from Schubert to Mahler and Tippett. Among them, he preserved all his Britten creations. Shirley-Quirk also appeared in TV transmissions as Redburn in Billy Budd (later recorded), and Owen Wingrave, as well as featuring in A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Gloriana. His recordings of Elgar oratorio include The Light of Life, The Dream of Gerontius and The Kingdom.

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