Friday, December 16, 2011


To Parson's Green, SW6, to talk to my favourite baritone, not only mine but everybody's who has had the luck to hear him. His is not the Hans Sachs variety of deeper baritone but the higher one, the type that sings Figaro (Rossini and Mozart), Beckmesser, Eugène Onegin, Pelléas, Papageno, Billy Budd and other roles. The wonderful thing about Sir Thomas Allen is that he made all these roles his own, for his forte is to probe deeply into the characters of these roles, he utterly convinces you that he IS Don Giovanni or whoever he has sung during his long career. His voice is still in good nick but at sixty-seven he has moved on to slightly less taxing roles, moreover he now produces as well as sings character parts (Don Pasquale soon in Chicago). He has the stagecraft and personality so that he can stand still, make no gestures and yet you cannot take your eyes off him. This was a gift he employed in that crucial but difficult role of Don Giovanni, who must be so charismatic that he has seduced hundreds of girls yet he is a murderer and a rogue. He played the role first at Glyndebourne and I was amazed to find that at later productions he did not add to his gestures and stage business but pared them down, subtracting, not adding. He is that sort of artist. He observes people wherever he goes in different countries.

Recently he played in Donizetti's Turco in Italia a character that seemed more Eyetye than any Italian you'd ever seen, follow by playing in the same composer's La Fille du régiment a Frenchman more Frog than any Gaul ever encountered. Mind you, no jambon, no prosciutto.

His voice can be noble, honeyed and everything in between, his musicianship impeccable. Tom is quite tall, imposing with the big features necessary to an actor or singer, both of which he so notably is. He did a stint in the chorus at Glyndebourne and made his debut with Welsh National as Rossini's Figaro. Soon he graduated to the Royal Opera House; at Covent Garden he has sung fifty roles in thirty-five years. He is at home there but he has made lengthy associations elsewhere, twenty-five years at the Met and likewise with Munich Opera where he was recently singing what he reckoned must be close to his 300th Don Alfonso in Cosi fan tutte.

Stagework is only the three-quarters of it; he sings concerts with orchestras and is a consummate recitalist, singing in French (a connoisseurs delight), German, Italian, Czech and Russian. He also sings ballads and the like; his CD he calls Songs my Father Taught me, with titles like Until and BecauseAuch kleine dinge! Soon he will be off to Moscow to sing Oktavian's father, Faninal, in Strauss' Der Rosenkavalier, a fussy little nouveau riche.

Thomas Allen was born in NE England and he has said: "the very fact that I came from Durham, the coal dust or something, is very much ingrained in me. I don't think I'll ever shake it off, nor do I want to. Its part and parcel of the way I can make my work valid." So he was vastly chuffed to be asked to be Chancellor of Durham University, an appointment he takes up (took up?) in January 2012. He is good company, friendly, no side, funny, voluble, loves boats, machinery, biographies and gardening. He has children, is happily married to beautiful South African Jeanie and they travel together most of the year to wherever Tom is singing, producing or, now, Chancelloring.

He graduated from master-classes to producing. He likes working with young people, passing on wisdom from his long experience. He doesn't like the tendency of present day producers for updates and 'concepts' where what librettists and composers have laid down is ignored.

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