Opera Scotland

Joseph Hislop Suggest updates

Born Edinburgh, 5 April 1884.

Died Lundin Links, 3 May 1977.

Scottish tenor

Joseph Hislop held a uniquely prominent position among Scottish tenors in the early decades of the twentieth century, singing parts that embraced much of the standard lyric tenor repertoire.

However, as with other professional musicians at that time, limited opportunities in Scotland meant that he found his career abroad. Hislop's early development took place in Sweden, where he had started a business career. He made his debut in Stockholm as Faust in 1914, after periods studying in Stockholm and Milan. Through the twenties he worked regularly at Covent Garden (debut 1920) and in the USA.  A brief diversion in his career saw him take the title role in a successful film, The Loves of Robert Burns, in 1930. He also played Sir Walter Raleigh in a rare revival of Merrie England in 1935. After his final performances in Stockholm in 1937, Hislop taught there, his students including Birgit Nilsson. After moving to Britain he advised Covent Garden and Sadler's Wells about young singers before retiring to Fife, where his final student was Donald Maxwell (who sang at Hislop's funeral).

Joseph Hislop sang at least once in main stage performances in Scotland.  According to the Musical Times (1 July 1929) "The gala week of opera given by the Edinburgh Opera Company at the Empire Theatre presented some novel features. Two performances of Puccini's La Bohème and one of Leoncavallo's I Pagliacci were given, with Mr Joseph Hislop, who is a native of Ednburgh, as principal tenor and Mr John Barbirolli as conductor......In the Italian operas, Mr Hislop was of course on great form, but despite Covent Garden tradition it seemed a mistake to have him sing in Italian while the others sang in English, and more than a mistake to have him sing 'Vesti la giubba' in Italian and proceed to repeat it as an encore in English."

Sources: various, including the fine biography Turnbull, Michael T R B (1992) Joseph Hislop: Gran Tenore, Scolar Press.

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