When did you start singing?
Singing began for me in junior school, church choir and continued through grammar school; first as treble until I was 12 when my voice broke to what it is today.
Why did you start singing?
Why? Because it was always there, at home and at school. I always liked to sing.
Which singer inspired you most when you were young?
I grew up hearing about singers like Isobel Baillie, Robert Easton and of course Kathleen Ferrier. Ferrier I’ve grown to love and admire enormously in more recent years.
Which singer do you most admire?
Realising I was to study singing I was enormously influenced by Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau.
What’s your favourite role?
I’ve had favourite roles that have come and gone with each decade. Initially Billy Budd was everything I could have wished for. Then came Don Giovanni and he remains a giant figure in my life. Along came the perfect creation of Gianni Schicchi… a work of genius. But the satisfaction of performing Sixtus Beckmesser would be very hard to match.
What role have you never played but would have liked to?
There were many invitations to play Falstaff and I always turned it down. I wish I hadn’t done so now.
What’s your favourite opera to watch?
I love Janáček and when Vixen is good all is well. Britten has been an important figure in my life, and I love Albert Herring… perfect small opera.
Who is your favourite composer?
Beethoven is a giant above most others as far as I’m concerned… but the little young man Mozart is always there to remind you of eternal genius.
Who is your favourite writer?
My bookshelves are full of Graham Greene and HG Wells… legacies of avid school reading. But I love also Hardy and I had a passion as a schoolboy for Knut Hamsun that became slightly tarnished when I learned a little more about the man.
Who is your favourite theatre or film director?
Who is your favourite actor?
Who is your favourite dancer?
Fred Astaire / Cyd Charisse.
What is your favourite book?
Too many to mention… The Good Companions occupies my time at the moment.
What is your favourite film?
Which is your favourite city?
What do you like most about yourself?
I’m curious about a lot of things
What do you dislike about yourself?
I don’t always complete projects
What was your proudest moment?
Becoming Chancellor of Durham University
When and where were you happiest?
On Safari with my wife in Africa
If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
Change my late middle age spread.
What do you consider your greatest achievement?
Surviving this many years in music.
What is your most treasured possession?
What is your greatest extravagance?
Dark chocolate digestive biscuits.
What do you consider the most overrated virtue?
Academic argument over the God given gift.
On what occasion do you lie?
About a child’s cooking.
If you hadn’t been a singer what would you have liked to be?
My original schooling was geared towards being a doctor. Now, I’d just love to be a craftsman with wood.
What is your most marked characteristic?
Abiding athletic legs.
What quality do you most value in a friend?
What quality do you most value in a colleague?
Preparedness and imagination.
Which historical figure do you most admire?
Admiral Lord Nelson.
Which living person do you most admire?
David Hockney …amongst others… can’t handle “most” in this context.
What do you most dislike?
What talent would you most like to have?
I’d like to create beautiful things in wood.
What’s your idea of perfect happiness?
By the sea, with my wife , binoculars, drawing book and paints… I have that.
How would you like to die?
I’m not intending to die.
What is your motto?
Always be interested.
Sir Thomas Allen – a biography
Sir Thomas Allen is an established star of the great opera houses of the world. At the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, where this year he celebrated the 40th anniversary of his debut with the company, he has sung over fifty roles. In 2011, he also celebrated the thirtieth anniversary of his debut at the Metropolitan Opera, New York.
He has been particularly acclaimed for his Billy Budd, Pelléas, Eugene Onegin, Ulisse and Beckmesser, as well as the great Mozart roles of Count Almaviva, Don Alfonso, Papageno, Guglielmo and, of course, Don Giovanni. His recent engagements have included the title role in ‘Gianni Schicchi’ for Los Angeles Opera and at the Spoleto Festival; the title role in ‘Sweeney Todd’, Beckmesser (Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg), Faninal (Der Rosenkavalier), Prosdocimo (Il turco in Italia), Music Master (Ariadne auf Naxos), Peter (Hänsel und Gretel) and Don Alfonso at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden; Eisenstein (Die Fledermaus), Don Alfonso, Ulisse and Don Giovanni at the Bayerische Staatsoper; Faninal at the Bolshoi Theatre of Russia; Eisenstein at the Glyndebourne Festival; Don Alfonso at the Dallas Opera, the Lyric Opera of Chicago and at the Salzburg Easter and Summer Festivals; Forester (The Cunning Little Vixen) at the San Francisco Opera and Beckmesser, Don Alfonso and Music Master at the Metropolitan Opera, New York.
His engagements this season and beyond include Don Alfonso for the Canadian Opera Company, Musiklehrer at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, and returns to the Metropolitan Opera and the Glyndebourne Festival. He will direct a new ‘Don Giovanni’ at Scottish Opera.
Equally renowned on the concert platform, he appears in recital in the United Kingdom, throughout Europe, in Australia and America, and has appeared with the world’s great orchestras and conductors. The greatest part of his repertoire has been extensively recorded with such distinguished names as Solti, Levine, Marriner, Haitink, Rattle, Sawallisch and Muti.
He made a triumphant directing debut in 2003 with ‘Albert Herring’ at the Royal College of Music and he has recently directed tremendously successful productions of ‘Don Giovanni’ and ‘Così fan tutte’ for Samling Opera at The Sage, Gateshead. He made an equally acclaimed U.S. directing debut with ‘Le nozze di Figaro’ for Arizona Opera in 2006 and has since returned to direct ‘Cosi’ at the Boston Lyric Opera and ‘Don Pasquale’ at the Chicago Lyric Opera. He is a regular guest at Scottish Opera where his productions include ‘The Barber of Seville, ‘The Marriage of Figaro’ and, most recently, ‘The Magic Flute’.
He is Chancellor of Durham University. His many honours include the title of Bayerischer Kammersänger awarded by the Bayerische Staatsoper, Honorary Membership of the Royal Academy of Music, Prince Consort Professor of the Royal College of Music, the Hambro Visiting Professorship of Opera Studies at Oxford University, Fellowship of the Royal College of Music, Fellowship of the University of Sunderland, M.A. from Newcastle University and a Doctorate of Music from Durham University and the University of Birmingham. In the New Year’s Honours of 1989 he was created a Commander of the British Empire and in the 1999 Queen’s Birthday Honours he was made a Knight Bachelor. Among his proudest achievements is having a Channel Tunnel locomotive named after him.
Thomas Allen’s first book, ‘Foreign Parts – A Singer’s Journal’ was published in 1993. His film credits include ‘Mrs Henderson Presents’ and ‘The Real Don Giovanni’.
Graham Spicer is a writer, director and photographer in Milan, blogging (under the name ‘Gramilano’) about dance, opera, music and photography for people “who are a bit like me and like some of the things I like”. He was a regular columnist for Opera Now magazine and wrote for the BBC until transferring to Italy.
His scribblings have appeared in various publications from Woman’s Weekly to Gay Times, and he wrote the ‘Danza in Italia’ column for Dancing Times magazine.