[Note: This interview was held in November of 1985, and originally published in The Opera Journal in June of 1993.
It has been slightly re-edited, and the photos and links have been added for this website presentation.]




Conversation  Piece :
 
Baritone  Peter  Glossop


By Bruce Duffie





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In July [of 1993], the noted English baritone, Peter Glossop, celebrates his 65th birthday.  [His obituary, published in The Telegraph in 2008, is reproduced at the bottom of this webpage.]  His career has spanned the stages in Britain, Europe and America, and his repertoire encompassed most of the major roles for a Verdi baritone.  One of the most interesting aspects of his journey has been the success he has had in both opera-in-translation and opera-in-the-original ‘camps’.  Very few performers have been spectacularly successful at both, and he has definite ideas about the subject.  He also speaks his mind about Benjamin Britten, and his own relationship with the world. 

Several years ago, it was my pleasure to catch up with Peter Glossop while he was in San Francisco performing in Billy Budd.  The title role had been his for some years, but this time he was playing Mr. Redburn with, I might add, apparent relish.  [Photo from that production is shown below.  The title role was played by Dale Duesing, and the conductor was Raymond Leppard.  Throughout this page, names which are links refer to my interviews elsewhere on my website.]


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On the day of our appointment, the time for our meeting was abruptly changed because he suddenly had the opportunity to play a round of golf!  I was glad to accommodate the shift, and that is where we began the conversation . . . . . .


Bruce Duffie:   How difficult is it for a singer, who is wandering all over the world, to get relaxation, and exercise, and just have fun with life?

Peter Glossop:   It’s practically impossible.  Golf does two things for me.  It gets me out into the open air so I can spend a lot of time breathing fresh air and moving about, beside the enjoyment of the actual game.  But when you’re away, it’s very difficult, and you have to rely entirely on the hospitality of friends, or people in the company and those connected with it to do these kinds of things.  So when an invitation comes along, I snap it up like a fish grabbing the line.

BD:   Do you enjoy the life of a wandering minstrel?

PG:   No, I don’t enjoy it.  It happens to be my profession.

BD:   Are you a slave to your voice?

PG:   Not only me, but my family, too.  Being an
international, I don’t stay with one company.  So, I’m always away from home.  That brings a hardship and irregularity to my family.  The man of the house is never there, so it puts an immense amount of responsibility on my wife and the kids.  I have two young children, and it’s a life of sacrifice to be away from home.

BD:   Would it be better for you to be based in London and singing at Covent Garden all the time?


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La Bohème at Covent Garden, the John Copley production (1974), with (l-r)
Peter Glossop (Marcello), Plácido Domingo (Rodolfo), Katia Ricciarelli (Mimì),
Thomas Allen (Schaunard), and Gwynne Howell (Colline) [Photo by Donald Southern]



PG:   That would reduce the problems with the family, but the artistic side of me would be frustrated.  When you move into the international circuit, you earn more money, which then reflects on your family, so it’s a tough decision to make.  I know some who have never gone
international, who, when getting to a ripe old age are convinced that they did the right thing, because they could provide for their family but didn’t deprive them of their presence.  It’s a ticklish subject.

BD:   Is it a little easier for a man rather than a woman singer?

PG:   All the women ‘internationals’ I know tote their husbands around.  There’s hardly a woman on the international circuit who doesn’t.  The man doesn’t have an independent career commensurate with that of his wife, and they know that the big bucks are with her career.  He’ll give up his career and travel with her, or do a job that is a part of her career.  When a man singer has children, they have to go to school, and the mother must remain with them.  So, the women can have it easier by just packing up the husband with the suitcase.

BD:   You enjoy singing, though?

PG:   I’ve been thirty-four years in this profession, and I’m one of those few people who enjoy being on stage singing a role as much now as I did when I started.

BD:   What is the secret of continuing the enjoyment?

PG:   It must come from an inner drive.  I wanted to do nothing else but this, and I had to fight long and hard before I got there.  I was first with the chorus, and then small parts at Sadler’s Wells [now the English National Opera].  It took me ten years to arrive on the international scene.  Some people have the drive to get to a certain point and are happy, but I still want to do what I wanted to do.

*     *     *     *     *

glossop BD:   I understand you started out as a clerk?

PG:   Yes, I was a bank clerk, but at that time I was also singing as an amateur in societies.  One did Grand Opera, the other did operetta and musicals.  So, I did both, but only for four years after I came out of the army.  [Note the recording of Merrie England shown below.]  By the age of twenty-four, I was in the chorus of Sadler’s Wells.

BD:   Is that the way to really great started
in the chorus of a major theater?

PG:   In my day it was, but I never went to music college.  These days, both in Britain and the United States, everyone gets a degree, so they come looking for roles as principal singers.  Within the college, they’ve been given wonderful training, and had experience with full productions.  But as a clerk in the North of England, the only way to break into the business was to go down to London and audition.  I sang two
one for Sadler’s Wells and one for Covent Gardenand they both offered me contracts for the chorus.  I chose Sadler’s Wells, the lesser of the two, because I thought I had a better chance of getting into principal roles, and it turned out that way.

BD:   But at Sadler’s Wells, everything was sung in English?

PG:   It’s part of the charter of the company for the people who couldn’t afford to go to the international seasons at Covent Garden.  Then, when I did get to Covent Garden myself, I had to put all those roles into the original language.  But I loved it, and there’s no singer in the world who prefers to sing in translation.  The music runs better, and it sounds better.  It’s better to sing in the original.


BD:   [Playing Devil
s Advocate]  Then why should anything be sung in translation?

PG:   Because the public must understand what we’re singing.  If you have the world’s greatest singers coming, they’re going to sing in the language of the opera because that is at opera’s highest level.  But if you’re singing to people who don’t understand a word because they’re not Italian, German, Russian, or whatever the opera is, the public doesn’t really know what it’s about.  This is a very big subject that I’ve been into many times, and I am sitting between two stools.  Having been at Sadler’s Wells, I know how to sing in English and have everybody understand what we’re saying.  But as an
international, I much prefer to sing in the original, which, as I said, is the finest way of putting it over.  But if you’re out of the language of the audience, they won’t fully appreciate the opera.  They might see sudden changes of emotion, but they won’t know why.  When I went to Italy and sang Italian opera, it was fabulous.  When I’m in England or America singing Britten, it is fabulous.  It’s naturally and correctly the language of the people.  But to sing Rigolettowhich is the role I’ve done most oftenin Vienna, or London, or New York, you’ve got to accept that the subtleties of the language which you are acting and reacting to are lost on the people who are listening, because they don’t understand the words.  There are big arguments on both side of the translation issue.

BD:   What do you expect of the audience?  How much preparation should they have before they come into the theater?

PG:   I know full well that the real opera buff will come in knowing what he’s going to see, and those who don’t have the time but do have the mental curiosity, will study the program.  But the majority will roll up at the time, park their cars, and if they manage to get to their seat five minutes before the curtain, it’s a miracle.  So, they don’t have a chance to prepare.  But those people are mostly happy not understanding the words, and just enjoy the sensual musical sounds and vocalizations of the star singers.  It is like an orchestral concert where there are no words.

BD:   Do you work harder at your diction when you know the audience will understand it?

PG:   If you have an artist who thinks very strongly about words, they will think the same in Italian, French, Russian, or any other language.  When I changed over to Italian, I quietly learned to enunciate clearly
so clearly, in fact, that I have people in Italy who have said I’m the only foreign singer who sings completely and utterly like an Italian.  Partly it’s because I have an ear for language, and don’t just learn by rote.  You need to have a feel for the idiom of the language.  I went to Italy to learn the language and how one speaks it.  One never stops learning it.  It’s a question of love of language and love of articulation, and I’ve been given bouquets in every place for that.  I know that there are some performers who just vocalize, and you can’t tell which language they’re supposed to be in.  It’s a question of priorities as an artist.  For me, opera is about words.  I’m telling a character my love, or hate, or asking a question.  That must be understood by the audience, otherwise they don’t understand the action.

BD:   One of the dictionaries calls you ‘an extrovert actor’.  Is this because of your love of diction?


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PG:   Not a love of diction, but a love of theater.  I, Peter Glossop, am a little bit shy, and I don’t do concerts or recitals well.  [See the program from one of his rare rectials near the bottom of this webpage.]  I’m a person for the theater, for the stage.  Once I put on my costume and make-up, I go boldly onto the stage, full-blooded one hundred per cent because it’s not Peter Glossop.  It’s Rigoletto, it’s Tonio, it’s Iago.  Many singers are wonderful vocalists, but have no talent for the stage.  With me, it’s possibly the other way round.  The stage is in my blood, and I’ve had to work very hard on the musical side to back that up.

BD:   Could have been a straight actor?

PG:   As I come to the end of my career, I’m putting feelers out to have a go into television and films as a character actor.  The fact that my career has gone well means my name is known in the business, and lots of TV and film is done in London.

BD:   So there you can solve the travel problems
have the international career on TV while staying at home in London!

PG:   Nothing could appeal to me more.

*     *     *     *     *

BD:   Let’s chat about some of your roles.  First, one you’re widely known for
Billy Budd.

PG:   The creator of the role in 1951 was an American, Theodor Uppman.  Then the work was revised and I came to it in a later revival.  I also did a television film, and that resulted in the recording.  I was the Billy Budd of that time.  Britten didn’t conduct the staged performances, nor the TV film [which was led by Sir Charles Mackerras, and is now available on DVD], but he was always there supervising, and he did conduct the recording.  It was after the film that he came up to me and said, “I’ve finally found my Billy Budd.  Will you please do the recording with me?”  It was an honor, of course.


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Billy Budd is remarkable in having been composed for male voices, yet not once is there any lack of colour or variety. Britten marvellously supports the tenor, baritone and bass voices with extraordinary flair in the use of brass and woodwind. This was the last operatic recording John Culshaw produced for Decca and he again showed himself unsurpassed at creating a theatrical atmosphere in the studio. It must also be said that both technically and interpretatively this Britten/Culshaw collaboration represents the touchstone for any that follows it, particularly in the matter of Britten’s conducting. Where Britten is superb is in the dramatic tautness with which he unfolds the score and his unobtrusive highlighting of such poignant detail as the use of the saxophone after the flogging. But most of all, he focuses with total clarity on the intimate human drama against the background of life aboard the ship.

And what a cast he had, headed by Peter Pears as Vere, conveying a natural authoritarianism which makes his unwilling but dutiful role as ‘the messenger of death’ more understandable, if no more agreeable. Peter Glossop’s Billy Budd is a virile performance, with nothing of the ‘goody-goody’ about him. Nor is there any particular homoeroticism about his relationship with Michael Langdon’s black-voiced Claggart: it’s a straight conflict between good and evil, and all the more horrifying for its stark simplicity. Add to these principals John Shirley-Quirk, Bryan Drake and David Kelly as the officers, Owen Brannigan as Dansker and Robert Tear and Benjamin Luxon in the small roles of the novice and his friend, and the adjective ‘classic’ can be applied to this recording with a clear conscience.

  --  From a review in Gramophone Magazine of the CD re-issue  


BD:   Was Britten the ideal interpreter of his music?

PG
:   This is a rather sticky question, but I will answer it.  Where the pure music was concerned, he was.  Where the casting of the characters is concerned, he most certainly wasn’t.  That’s the blunt answer to your question, and you can’t blame him.  He was surrounded by his Cambridge friends, and he had no way of knowing he was to become one of the world’s greatest opera composers.  He did his first little musical thing with friends, and when he moved into the ‘big time’, he used his same friends.  He wrote for those people.  Every tenor role he wrote was for Peter Pears, and every little comic kind of role
like Danskerwas written for Owen Brannigan.  They may not have been international artists, but it’s the way that Ben worked.  He worked within his own experience, so when the operas started to be big, the casting remained local.  It’s only now that other people are singing those roles and are broadening and making the public realize that Britten’s operas are masterpieces.

glossop BD:   Will this will carry his name even further?

PG:   Absolutely.  His prestige and reputation will grow with time.  I feel that Britten was the greatest British composer of the last three hundred years.

BD:   Getting back to the character of Billy Budd, did it transfer well from the story to the opera?

PG:   The whole point of the story by Melville is that it doesn’t say anything.  If you read that story, everything is left open
the real desires of Claggart, the ambiguity of the Captain, everything.  The only thing one knows for sure is that Billy Budd is the personification of goodness.  Everything else is not specified.  You can put ten interpretations on every character in that story.  That’s why this little novella is so important to creative artiststhey seize on things like that as subjects for their own genius.  Britten’s interpretation is his own.  He and Eric Crozier, the librettist, worked very closely.  There is the homosexual content between the Captain and Billynot Billy to the Captain, but the Captain to Billy.  I don’t believe there is any homosexual content in Claggart to Billy.  It is merely hate of somebody who is good.  The way it’s put together is Britten’s view of things.

BD:   Was it Britten’s view of homosexuality?

PG:   Oh, yes!  Britten was a homosexual, and there’s homosexuality in every piece he wrote.  To me, it’s a flaw because I’m not a homosexual, but who knows?  Maybe in fifty or a hundred years’ time they’ll say it was a cause of genius.

BD:   Sometimes, though, it’s more subtle, more in the background?

PG:   It’s never blatant.  It’s clear in Billy Budd, but it’s not blatant.  It’s not the physical kind, it’s the mental kind.  It’s intellectual.  Britten was a great intellectual, and it’s on his level.

BD:   That doesn’t stop you from performing it, then?

PG:   No, because I accept it on his level.  What’s wrong with man’s love for a man?  It’s in one’s own view whether it’s acceptable or not.

BD:   Did Britten understand how to write well for the voice?

PG:   Absolutely!   Everything is perfectly written for the voice, just as Verdi is.  The only parts in Britten’s opera that might be a strain to sing are the tenor roles, because they were written for the peculiar and personal voice of Peter Pears, so the only person who might have to worry about singing in these operas is the tenor who takes Pears’s place.

BD:   We’ll have to hope for someone who has a similar kind of voice to come along.

PG:   But that’s hasn’t happened.  In fact, the greatest Peter Grimes today is Jon Vickers, and Captain Vere has been done well by Richard Cassilly and James King.  None of these tenors has Peter Pears’s voice but they’ve imposed themselves on Britten’s music, and done it successfully.  This illustrates what we were speaking about earlier, and puts it in perspective.

BD:   It’s amazing that a work will be performed and get accepted, but still has some place to grow.

PG:   That is it!  If it’s written by a hack for his pal, nobody ever hears about it.  But, if it’s written by a genius, it doesn’t matter who he wrote it for.  Like when Verdi wrote for his girlfriend, Giuseppina Strepponi, it doesn’t matter because the greatness of the music transcends it.  The fact that Britten wrote roles for Peter Pears doesn’t matter.  His own genius expands, and means that for all time there is a wonderful role there for people greater than Peter Pears to expand.

*     *     *     *     *

glossop BD:   Let’s move to the other pillar of your career
Giuseppe Verdi.  You seem to have sung all the roles.  What is it about them that is special for a voice such as yours?

PG:   First, it’s all full-blooded, rich vocalization, so it’s no good coming with an intellectual voice.  It has to be completely Italian, rich sounding, no problem with high notes, and a big, rich middle.  That’s what the Verdi baritone is.  If you have that voice, every Verdi role is just there for you to make that great impression with.  I just happen to be fortunate enough to be born with that type of voice.  If you look at all the roles, the only change you’ll notice is that from the first half of his career to the second half, he puts down the extension of the higher range by half a tone.  Otherwise, no matter who he may have had in mind, he never altered the way he wrote.  I’m a Verdi fan.  I love his music.  I worship the man.  I love his life and the way that he lived.  I’ve read the books about him, and how he worked at his pieces.  I love the way that he was a stickler for discipline when he put his operas on, and screamed at people when they didn’t sing it the way he wanted.  There is nothing about that man that I don’t adore.  His music is the greatest that’s ever been written for me, and for my voice to sing.  Verdi took serious themes of grandeur and nobility, wrote from his own nobility, and the music goes from the Earth.  You stand on its grittiness, and soar into the infinity in its refinement and beauty.

BD:   Earlier we were talking about the importance of words.  Are the words important in Verdi?

PG:   Absolutely.  They’re important in every single opera, even if you get these old Classical things of three hundred years ago that repeat themselves.  They may just be musical where they’re doing the same phrase twenty times, but when they finally go into recitative, if you aren’t following them, then you lose the thread of why the whole thing was written.  Verdi had a series of librettists
not all geniuses like Boitobut some of the earlier people wrote really well for his operas.  Opera is music-drama.  It is music set to words.  Therefore, the words are the reason for the music, and, therefore, the reason for the whole being of the play.

BD:   Tell me about Iago.  Do you enjoy playing an evil character?

PG:   Iago is my favorite character to play and sing.  Any character that an artist wants to do must be one he can sing well, and make an impact with.  He wants to be effective and not play something that’s just black and white, but something more interesting.  Iago fills a real artist’s need in every way.  Ever since I first played it, Iago took over from Rigoletto as my favorite role.  I still think Rigoletto is one of the greatest roles, and if you play it as I do
and as no one else does, if I may say soit’s so big and so demanding on me as a person that it drains me to nothing.  Whereas I’m still alive at the end of doing Iago, so Iago is easier on my mind, and my heart, and my voice.  With Rigoletto, I sing myself into the ground with this desperate man who so struggles with life, and is cheated all the way.

BD:   Do you perhaps put too much of yourself into the characters?

PG:   I used to.  In the last ten years I’ve had to cut down from the stress of acting
the crouching, and running around, and physically displaying the passions as well as singing them.  I’ve had to cut down drastically on that because if I’m to use my physical and vocal strength, it has to be on the music side.  I portray the agony from inside of the man with his music, rather than dashing about the stage.

BD:   Are there any human characters you can use as a model for Iago?  Rigoletto seems to be so much more human.

PG:   That’s the whole point
it’s humanity we’re talking about.  One of the ways I do it, which is from the score, is to portray Rigoletto as a vicious swine in the first scene.  The more horrible you present yourself to the public, the more true you are to Rigoletto.  Then, through the workings of the story, if you can make them cry in the ‘Coritigiani scene’, or at the end, you have achieved purely what is written in the libretto and the music.  It’s human all the way, because to hate somebody and to be bitter is to be human.  If you’ve been treated badly, other people understand that, and that’s the keynote of the character.  You show the viciousness, and as the opera goes on, the public realizes why you are like that.  Now with Iago, it’s completely different.  Iago is almost the archetype evil man who doesn’t want to do anything else but evil.  It’s beautifully written by Verdi because of the deception that Iago practices all the time.  So, you have the kindness, the laughter, the insinuations all from ‘honest Iago’, but the audience must be given enough reason to believe from what they see that it’s false.  It’s an artist’s job to find the fine line between the two.  It’s a challenge, yet rewarding.

BD:   I’ve often wondered what Iago hoped to gain through his evil.

PG:   Purely and simply, Iago believes that there is no real good.  We have been taught to believe in good, but why shouldn’t we also believe in evil?  I also think that we get as much of a kick and reward in life out of evil as good.  To me, Peter Glossop, they’re equal.  I know many people who are the most vicious swines in the world who become millionaires and live to eighty-five years of age off the fat of the land, and I know many people who are wonderful and good who die young, or while trying to save some old lady crossing the street.  The older you get, the more you wonder about the way the world is made.  I am not religious.  I’m an atheist, so I say it’s just as reasonable to believe in evil as it is to believe in good.  There can be far greater rewards if you believe in evil, and that’s what Iago is.  He believes the greater rewards come from evil.  He says that he’s fought alongside the Moor so often, and been with him in so many battles, but then when it comes to time for promotion, Cassio is picked.  That resentment is a human emotion, a normal reason for wanting to hit back.  That is jealously, annoyance, and anger, which is all very human.  So we have a mixture of those human reactions, along with the declaration of the Credo, that he believes in evil purely for evil’s sake.  Iago is a pretty interesting character to play.

BD:   You’ve also played Rodrigo in Don Carlo, and that seems to be the exact opposite.  He seems to be all good.

PG:   He is all good.  When I think of all the roles I’ve played
and I include Billy BuddRodrigo is the greatest noble of all.  He understands good and evil, whereas Budd doesn’t understand evil.  If you have a choice between the two, you have to be greater for choosing.  Budd did not choose.  Verdi must have also thought Rodrigo was the noblest character because of how he wrote the music.


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BD:   Then, because of your personal beliefs, do you find Rodrigo more difficult to portray on the stage?

PG:   No!  Goodness, as a rule, is difficult to play because it’s negative.  Evil is positive.  It’s easy to play Iago, or Scarpia, or Claggart, but it’s not easy to play Billy Budd, because if you try to play good, you start to look like a bloody idiot
smiling and grinning like a half-wit all the time.  It’s a touchy business when acting goodness, but with Rodrigo, you don’t act goodness.  You act nobility, and by acting nobility it solves the problem.  You then have something to grip and make effective on the stage.  Remember, I’m not talking about life, but about portrayal on the stage.

BD:   [Gently protesting]  But when I’m in the theater, I hate to see someone getting completely maligned and tormented.

PG:   You’re identifying with the victim, and that’s the point of all operas and dramas.  You should do that because the villain gets his comeuppance, doesn’t he?  Plays and operas are written knowing what the basic person’s attitude is
which is yoursand if you didn’t get that satisfaction at the end of the piece, you wouldn’t want to go again, or see anything else of that writer.  So that is the norm, and we’re talking about the motivations of those who have to be there to give the play its plot.  Somebody has to be a bastard!


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See my interviews with John Tomlinson, Martina Arroyo, and Don Garrard.
[Notice that these recordings are both original versions, not the later revisions,
which are the standard ones used throughout the world these days.]


BD:   Would it be wrong to write an opera with evil triumphant?

PG:   I would love to see one just to see how people would react to it, and how I, myself, would react to it.  It’s an interesting concept, and I think it’s valid.  We live in a bit of a dream world, thinking good should always win out because it’s often trampled.

BD:   Then, is opera art, or is it entertainment?

PG:   It’s both.  Britten started as entertainment with his little pieces, but remains an art because of his genius.  But it is entertainment first and foremost.  The genius is what quality of entertainment we’re watching.



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glossop Peter Glossop

Operatic baritone who excelled in the great tragic roles of Verdi and entranced von Karajan in Pagliacci.

Peter Glossop, who died on September 7 aged 80, was the only Englishman to have sung Verdi's great tragic baritone roles at La Scala, Milan – an honour compared by Frank Johnson in The Daily Telegraph to having an Italian opening the batting for England at Headingley.

It was a highly apt comparison, for Glossop – a rumbustious Yorkshireman – had no artistic blood: he came from the redbrick streets of Sheffield, and rose to conquer the greatest opera houses of the world, as well as the bear-pits of Italy. He was once described as the most popular Briton in Italy after James Bond.

Glossop was blessed with a booming, powerful voice and an occasionally coarse temperament. Regardless of his rougher edges – and he was an uncompromisingly direct ladies' man who made the most of his international tours – he caught the ear of such conductors as Georg Solti and Herbert von Karajan, the latter being fascinated by the singer's "pale blue eyes, the gaze penetrating yet sad". Glossop in turn noted that Karajan was "a dictator, [but] not a bully in the way Solti was".

glossop He blazed a trail on the international stage – as did artists such as Geraint Evans, Gwyneth Jones, Margaret Price and David Ward – from which others have since greatly benefited. After success at Sadler's Wells Opera (now English National Opera) and the Royal Opera, Glossop was much in demand with the companies in Vienna, Milan, Paris, New York and Berlin. For 20 years he was a regular and popular artist at Covent Garden, and in the late 1960s von Karajan cast him in prestigious productions at Salzburg.

Glossop had a wide range of repertory. Although not, perhaps, the most subtle of actors, his committed vocal delivery more than compensated. He brought conviction to everything he sang, and his extrovert personality enhanced all his stage performances, even if the man himself suffered from occasional insecurities. As Frank Granville-Barker noted in Opera magazine in May 1969: "As he talks – and he talks readily, vehemently – humour keeps breaking in, the Bacchus face smiles more readily, and one gradually realises there is also a shy, vulnerable side to his nature."

Peter Glossop was born on July 6 1928 in the Wadsley suburb of Sheffield, an area best known at the time for its lunatic asylum. His father, Cyril, was a manager at a cutlery factory, but died of tuberculosis when Peter was five, forcing his mother, Violet, to train as a secretary. An elder brother, Harry, died of the same illness at the age of 16, and a sister, Doreen, later contracted it. Peter was educated at High Storrs Grammar School in the city. Fortunately Violet (who later committed suicide) found secretarial employment at the Lyceum Theatre, and by the age of 13 Peter was being smuggled in to see every visiting show. "I went to see Rigoletto and I was thrilled," he recalled. "I was completely taken over by opera."

After an enjoyable stint of National Service – with the Army in Dusseldorf immediately after the war – he joined the National Provincial Bank in Sheffield as a clerk. He also sang with the Sheffield Operatic Society, making his stage debut with them as Dr Coppelius (Tales of Hoffman) in 1949. He studied singing locally with Joseph Hislop and, after several auditions, joined the Sadler's Wells chorus in 1952.

In London he continued his studies with Leonard Mosley and Eva Rich, and within a year was taking small roles with the company. By 1955 he was a company principal. For five years he sang most of the leading Verdi baritone roles with the company, making his name particularly as Rigoletto and Di Luna (Il trovatore).

Throughout the 1950s Sadler's Wells Opera carefully nurtured many future international careers. Under conductors of the quality of Colin Davis and Alexander Gibson, singers learnt and then performed roles that were suitable to their particular voices. Glossop built up a repertoire that included Gerard (Andrea Chenier), Scarpia (Tosca) and Onegin (Eugene Onegin). But it was in Verdi that he rightly won critical acclaim.

In 1961 Glossop won the gold medal at the International Operatic Competition in Sofia, which started his international career. He was immediately engaged by the Royal Opera (thus causing some unworthy criticism in the press for disloyalty to Sadler's Wells) to sing Demetrius in Benjamin Britten's Midsummer Night's Dream both in London and at that year's Edinburgh Festival.

The era was rich with some exceptional baritones (Gobbi, Bacquier, Fischer-Dieskau, Evans), so it was a brave decision by Glossop to leave Sadler's Wells and commit himself to an international career. His courage was well rewarded. Glossop sang a wide variety of roles with the Royal Opera: Rodrigo (Don Carlos), Michele (Il tabarro), Tonio (Pagliacci, opposite Placido Domingo's Canio), Don Giovanni, Simon Boccanegra and Marcello (La bohème).

In 1964 Geraint Evans found the title role in Rigoletto uncomfortable, and after a few performances Glossop succeeded him. The new production was directed by Franco Zeffirelli and conducted by Georg Solti – it was Solti who asked Glossop to take over immediately. Without any rehearsal, Glossop arrived on stage to discover that the soprano had also been changed at the last minute. Undeterred, he sang magnificently, and Evans generously commented in his autobiography: "What a fine job Peter made of it."

The two baritones had a more agreeable experience when, in the same theatre, they were performing The Barber of Seville in 1966. Evans wanted a dog for some stage business, and Glossop arrived the next day with his much-loved fluffy white miniature poodle. During the performance Evans came through a door on to the stage and Glossop (off stage) whistled for his pet. As rehearsed, it bolted on cue to its master, bringing Evans in its wake.

But Glossop's most acclaimed interpretations at the Garden were two of the great Verdi roles: di Luna, and Iago in Otello. In November 1964 Carlo Maria Giulini conducted a new production of Il trovatore with two rising British operatic stars in central roles. The soprano Gwyneth Jones sang Leonora, and Glossop Count di Luna. The production (by Visconti) was acclaimed worldwide.  [Program from the revival the following year is shown below. The 1964 cast was much the same, but included Joseph Rouleau, Bruno Prevedi, and Giulietta Simionato, and has been issued on CD. In other performances in 1965, the cast included Ivo Vinco and Fiorenza Cossotto.]

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See my interview with Carlo Bergonzi


glossop Glossop made his debut at both La Scala (1965) and the Metropolitan New York (1968) in Rigoletto, having served his apprenticeship as a Verdian in the notoriously hostile atmosphere of Italian theatres such as Parma, Palermo and Naples. [Note: the details about his Met debut are not correct. The item later in this box sorts it out.] He gamely came to the assistance of La Scala in 1967, when Gian Giacomo Guelfi cancelled singing Tonio in Pagliacci. Glossop learnt the role in a day and a half and flew to Milan for the dress rehearsal. Von Karajan heard Glossop in Pagliacci. Fascinated by his intensity and powerful on-stage personality, the conductor immediately engaged Glossop in the role for the 1964 Salzburg Festival. The opera was filmed, and von Karajan – never a man to over-praise a singer – was enthusiastic about how Glossop sang the famous prologue, "powerfully, and straight at the camera".

Glossop returned to Salzburg in 1970 when von Karajan conducted him in one of the most testing of all baritone roles, Iago. The production was an early attempt by von Karajan to produce an opera on stage and then to record it for disc and film. Despite a remarkable cast (Jon Vickers as Otello, and Mirella Freni as Desdemona), the 1973 EMI film never really worked. Glossop's Iago, however, was highly praised, and he was often asked to sing it at Covent Garden – perhaps most memorably in 1977, under Zubin Mehta and opposite Vickers.

He continued to perform into the mid-1980s when, after his second divorce, he lost all faith in his own abilities. He retired to a village near Axminster, in Devon, to teach and lecture, but became extremely lonely, estranged from the international life he had once known. Throat cancer was diagnosed – a cruel illness for anyone, but especially for a singer. Eventually his first wife and her new partner moved to be near him.

In 2004 Glossop published an autobiography, The Story of a Yorkshire Baritone, a frank and poignant account of his journey from the industrial North to the grand opera stages of the world.

Peter Glossop married first, in 1955, the opera singer Joyce Blackham. The marriage was dissolved in 1977. That year he married, secondly, Michelle Amos, a ballet dancer 26 years his junior, from whom he was divorced in 1986. A daughter of his first marriage died a few hours after her birth, while another child was still-born. He is survived by two daughters of his second marriage.

  --  Obituary from The Telegraph, September 9, 2008  [Original text only - photos, notes, and links added]  


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According to his obituary in Opera News, Glossop made his first appearance with the Metropolitan Opera Company in 1967 as Rigoletto, while on tour in Newport, Rhode Island.  His official company debut (as shown in the program below) was as Scarpia in June of 1971, in the same performance as the debut of James Levine.  


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See my interviews with Grace Bumbry, and Paul Plishka






© 1985 Bruce Duffie

This conversation was recorded on the telephone on November 11, 1985.  It was transcribed and published in The Opera Journal in June, 1993.  Portions were broadcast on WNIB in 1998.  The transcription was slightly re-edited, and pictures and links were added 2018, and it was posted on this website at that time.  My thanks to British soprano Una Barry for her help in preparing this website presentation.

To see a full list (with links) of interviews which have been transcribed and posted on this website, click here.

Award - winning broadcaster Bruce Duffie was with WNIB, Classical 97 in Chicago from 1975 until its final moment as a classical station in February of 2001.  His interviews have also appeared in various magazines and journals since 1980, and he now continues his broadcast series on WNUR-FM.

You are invited to visit his website for more information about his work, including selected transcripts of other interviews, plus a full list of his guests.  He would also like to call your attention to the photos and information about his grandfather, who was a pioneer in the automotive field more than a century ago.  You may also send him E-Mail with comments, questions and suggestions.