Opera Scotland

Ian Wallace Suggest updates

Born London, 10 July 1919.
Died London, 12 October 2009.

English-born Scottish bass and actor.

Charterhouse and Cambridge (law degree interrupted by outbreak of war)
Wallace had no formal training as a singer or actor.

Performances of opera
At the end of the war, much of which he had spent in hospital, suffering from tuberculosis, Wallace joined the Glasgow Citizens’ Theatre as an actor. Alastair Sim then cast him in a musical adaptation of The Forrigan Reel (James Bridie). When that was enjoying a London run at Sadler’s Wells, Wallace auditioned for Jay Pomeroy’s company, the New London Opera at the Cambridge Theatre. The artistic director was the retired tenor Dino Borgioli and the musical director Alberto Erede. Operas performed included Don Pasquale, Don Giovanni, Rigoletto, Falstaff, Il barbiere di Siviglia, La bohème and Tosca. Some notable star singers worked with it, including Margherita Grandi, Alda Noni, Ljuba Welitsch, Marko Rothmüller, Mariano Stabile and Martin Lawrence. This organisation, precariously financed and always in danger of bankruptcy, gave him regular employment for three years to 1949 and it taught him all the vocal technique he required as well as fluent Italian. With that company, Wallace sang a number of principal roles including Schaunard and Bartolo.

Wallace then sang the small role of Ceprano in Rigoletto at Covent Garden. It was directed by Carl Ebert, who took him to Glyndebourne, where Wallace worked regularly until 1961. That company was the mainstay of the early years of the Edinburgh Festival. At the King’s Theatre with the Glyndebourne company he performed Masetto (Don Giovanni 1948), Sam (Un ballo in maschera 1949), Bartolo (Le nozze di Figaro 1950), Don Magnifico (La cenerentola 1953), The Tutor (Le comte Ory 1954), Bartolo (Il barbiere di Siviglia 1955), Melitone (La forza del destino 1955) and Ser Matteo (Arlecchino 1961).

He was invited to sing Rossini roles in Italy in the 1950s, visiting Parma, Venice and Rome with great success. He sang Don Magnifico with Sadler’s Wells Opera in 1960, and appeared with several smaller companies. His last operatic appearance, in 1977, was as Polyphemus in Acis and Galatea for the Handel Opera Society at Sadler’s Wells Theatre, back where his singing career had begun.


Wallace worked with Scottish Opera as Leporello (Don Giovanni 1965), Pistol (Falstaff 1966), Duke of Plaza-Toro (The Gondoliers 1968/9), Don Magnifico (1969/70) and finally Bartolo (The Barber of Seville 1974/75).

He also appeared many times at Ledlanet, contributing to Ledlanet Nights, as Colas in Mozart’s early singspiel Bastien and Bastienne as well as in Gentleman’s Island by Joseph Horovitz and The Jolly Beggars by Cedric Thorpe Davie.

Wallace, though English-born and London-based, had family links to Dunfermline. In addition to his operatic contribution to Ledlanet, he also performed in a couple of evenings of Scots and other more popular songs, which he described as 'a night off from culture' for the members. In October 1968 one was issued as an LP by Scottish Records, the only known official recording from Ledlanet Nights. The attached photograph, though of poor quality by modern standards, reflects well the intimacy of the performing area.

Also at Ledlanet Nights, Wallace was the compere for some fundraising balls.

Other Activities

Wallace enjoyed a long career as a popular entertainer, especially singing the comic songs of Flanders and Swann.

In 1956 Wallace had a long run at Drury Lane starring with Robert Morley in the musical Fanny.

For 27 years from 1967 Wallace was a panellist on BBC Radio 4’s long-running entertainment My Music. From 1967-70 he linked his broadcasting work to opera by presenting all editions of a programme made by Scottish Television called Singing for your Supper. In this he introduced opera to new audiences in Scotland, singing many extracts with his old Glyndebourne colleague, the Scottish tenor Murray Dickie, by then long resident in Vienna.

Wallace wrote two entertaining volumes of autobiography, Promise Me You’ll Sing Mud (1975) and Nothing Quite Like It (1982) with one of reminiscence Reflections on Scotland (1988).

The Glyndebourne recordings of Mozart and Rossini conducted by Vittorio Gui have deservedly acquired classic status. Wallace appears in La cenerentola, Le comte Ory, Le nozze di Figaro and Il barbiere di Siviglia. He also recorded Busoni's Arlecchino. He appears on two of the Sir Malcolm Sargent Glyndebourne recordings of Gilbert and Sullivan – Mountararat in Iolanthe and Pooh-Bah in The Mikado.

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