Opera Scotland

Thomas Hemsley Suggest updates

Thomas Jeffrey Hemsley, CBE.

Born Coalville, Leicestershire, 12 April 1927.

Died London, 11 April 2013.

English baritone.

Thomas Hemsley spent many years working on the continent, developing a distinguished career in opera and recital.

On leaving his local grammar school at Ashby de la Zouch, he studied physics at Brasenose College, Oxford, while studying singing privately with Lucie Manen, and then spent some time in the choir at St Paul's Cathedral. His debut in 1951 was in London during the Festival of Britain, when he sang Aeneas in Dido and Aeneas at the new Mermaid Theatre in St John's Wood, with Kirsten Flagstad as Dido and Maggie Teyte as Belinda. H

Hemsley appeared at Glyndebourne in 1953, as Hercule in Alceste, returning from time to time in roles such as the Music Master in Ariadne auf Naxos and Aeneas.

From 1953 to 1968 he was based on the continent, as a permanent member of the companies at Aachen (1953-56), then Düsseldorf (1956-1963), followed by Zurich (1963-67). During this period he sang over 100 roles in wide areas of the repertoire, and as a guest at several other continental houses, including the Deutsche Oper, Berlin, and the Bayreuth Festival, where he worked three years running on Die Meistersinger (1968-70).He appeared in Munich and Bayreuth as Beckmesser, which is one of the roles he sang most frequently when he began to appear more often in Britain. Hemsley was heard in this role with Scottish Opera, ENO, WNO, Glyndebourne and Kent Opera.

Hemsley returned to Britain several times during this period, and sang Dr Reischmann in the British premiere of Elegy for Young Lovers (Glyndebourne 1961). The previous summer he had created the role of Demetrius in A Midsummer Night's Dream (Aldeburgh 1960). He also created Magnus in The Knot Garden (Covent Garden 1970), in his debut at that house. His roles with Kent Opera included Germont (1979), which came to Edinburgh, and Falstaff (1980).


He first worked with Scottish Opera as Faninal in 1971, returning for every revival of Anthony Besch's memorable staging. He also sang works by Mozart, Donizetti, Strauss, Janáček and Sullivan, as well as Beckmesser in Die Meistersinger. He sang this initially in German, but for the final revival performed in English, having learned the translation for appearances with ENO in 1976. There were also appearances with Scottish Opera in two premières, creating the roles of Caesar in The Catiline Conspiracy (Hamilton 1974) and Rev Wringhim in The Confessions of a Justified Sinner (Wilson 1976).

His other Scottish appearances were largely with the SNO and Alexander Gibson, beginning with Britten's War Requiem in 1966. He returned for Schubert's Alfonso und Estrella at the 1968 Festival, Carmina Burana in 1977 and L'Enfance du Christ in 1982, as well as in several Mahler programmes. Through the sixties he gave several lieder recitals with Paul Hamburger at Ledlanet, culminating in a memorable Winterreise (1969).


His teaching work included several series of masterclasses at the Conservatoire in Copenhagen.


Hemsley's recordings include A Midsummer Night's Dream conducted by Britten, the original cast recording of The Knot Garden, conducted by Colin Davis, and Die Meistersinger conducted by Kubelik. He can be seen in the Warner video of Iolanthe (1982), in which he sings Mountararat, and he appeared (as Smirnov) in a 1970  TV recording of The Bear (Walton), conducted by the composer with Regina Resnik as Popova and Derek Hammond Stroud as Luka. Sadly, this has never had any form of commercial release.

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