Opera Scotland

John Brecknock Suggest updates

John Leighton Brecknock.

Born Long Eaton, Derbyshire, 29 November 1937.

Died 30 May 2017.

English tenor.

John Brecknock was a leading lyric tenor with English National Opera, who also performed at several major international houses - the New York Met and the Paris Opéra, as well as Covent Garden. He was particularly noted for wonderfully clear diction combined with beautifully sweet tone and effortless high notes. He was particularly effective in the bel canto and French romantic styles.

He worked initially in the local ironworks, serving an apprenticeship. In his mid-twenties he received a scholarship to train at the Birmingham School of Music under Frederick Sharp. He joined the chorus at Sadler's Wells Opera in 1966 and started to sing brief solo roles the following year, while continuing to study with Denis Dowling. Appearances with Sadler's Wells/ENO included parts by Monteverdi (Page Coronation of Poppea); Mozart (Belmonte, Don Ottavio, Tamino); Strauss (Alfred Die Fledermaus); Offenbach (Pluto Orpheus in the Underworld, Paris La belle Hélène, Bluebeard) and Prokofiev (Anatol War and Peace). He enjoyed particular success in Rossini (Lindoro The Italian Girl, Almaviva, Gennaro The Thieving Magpie, Count Ory); Verdi (Alfredo); Gounod (Roméo) and Massenet (Des Grieux, Werther). In 1974 he created the title role in The Story of Vasco (Gordon Crosse).

His debut at the Royal Opera in 1974 was as Fenton in a memorable revival of the Zeffirelli Falstaff productioin that had Tito Gobbi in the lead and Norman Bailey as Ford. He returned later as Iopas in a revival of The Trojans (with Josephine Veasey and Richard Cassilly). Appearances abroad included the Paris Opéra (Don Ramiro La cenerentola with Teresa Berganza 1977); New York Met (Don Ottavio with Joan Sutherland as Anna 1978); Toronto (Alfredo) and Houston (Gennaro Lucrezia Borgia).

There are only a few recordings. The Sadler's Wells/ENO productions of Werther and Coronation of Poppea have appeared on CD in live recordings, with Dame Janet Baker as Charlotte and Poppea, respectively. These are sung in English, as is a studio recording conducted by Sir Charles Mackerras of the ENO La traviata. The Violetta is Valerie Masterson, who partnered him in a large number of his performances of the French repertoire. Brecknock also sang Alfredo in a BBC TV production of La traviata, very stagey in design (peculiar wigs), but musically fine. Sung in English, the cast includes Elizabeth Harwood and Norman Bailey, conducted by Sir Alexander Gibson. It was made available on VHS, but has never been released on DVD. He also appeared in a BBC TV studio production of The Gondoliers, singing Marco Palmieri. This has never had a commercial release either.

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