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
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".
He blazed a trail on the international stage – as did artists
such as Geraint Evans, Gwyneth Jones,
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
See my interview with Carlo Bergonzi
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]
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.
© 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, as well as on Contemporary Classical Internet Radio.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.