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Posted on Tuesday, August 17, 2010 - 8:06 am:   

Bryan Drake
Wednesday, 2 January 2002

Bryan Ernest Drake, operatic and concert singer: born Dunedin, New Zealand 7 October 1925; married (two sons, one daughter); died Aldeburgh, Suffolk 25 December 2001.
Bryan Ernest Drake, operatic and concert singer: born Dunedin, New Zealand 7 October 1925; married (two sons, one daughter); died Aldeburgh, Suffolk 25 December 2001.

During a 30-year career in Britain, the New Zealand-born baritone Bryan Drake was best known as an outstanding interpreter of Benjamin Britten's three Church Parables, in each of which he created a role. He also sang in the premieres of operas by Ralph Vaughan Williams, John Gardner, Thea Musgrave, Stephen Oliver and Hans Werner Henze. Otherwise his repertory extended from Handel to Janácek.

Born in Dunedin, Bryan Drake first studied singing with his father Ernest, and made his début in New Zealand as Escamillo in Carmen. Moving to London, he studied further with Dawson Freer, and joined the fledgling Covent Garden Opera Company in 1950. During three seasons he sang many small roles in La traviata, Rigoletto, The Mastersingers, Turandot, La Bohème, Tosca and Tristan und Isolde. In April 1951 Drake created Watchful in Vaughan Williams's The Pilgrim's Progress, later singing both John Bunyan and the Pilgrim. In December the same year he sang Donald in Billy Budd, his first Britten premiere.

For several years from 1956 Drake appeared with Welsh National Opera. After three Puccini roles ˆ Schaunard in La Bohème, Sharpless in Madama Butterfly and Angelotti in Tosca ˆ he embarked on a course of Verdi. While in Wales, Drake also appeared as Gessler in William Tell, the Pharaoh in Moses and, in 1972, Mr Flint in Billy Budd.

Meanwhile, in 1964 Drake created the Traveller in Curlew River, the first of Britten's Church Parables presented by the English Opera Group at Orford Church in Suffolk. Here he found the perfect expression for his talents both as singer and actor. Adapted from a Noh play that the composer had seen in Japan several years earlier, Curlew River became a great success. After the performances at Orford in conjunction with the Aldeburgh Festival, the production toured to the Holland, City of London and King's Lynn Festivals.

The following year Drake sang Craxton in a revival of Richard Rodney Bennett's opera The Mines of Sulphur at Sadler's Wells, and in 1966 took part in the belated British premiere of Verdi's Il corsaro at St Pancras Town Hall (as it then was). But realising that he was not by nature a Verdi baritone, Drake returned to Orford later that summer for Britten's second Church Parable, The Burning Fiery Furnace, in which he sang the Abbot and the Astrologer. This too toured to several festivals, including the Flanders Festival at Louvain. Both Parables were taken to Expo 67 in Montreal.

The Prodigal Son, third of the Church Parables and inspired by Rembrandt's painting The Return of the Prodigal in the Hermitage Museum in Leningrad, followed in 1968, with Drake singing the Elder Son, a rather ungrateful role that he nevertheless made interesting and individual. Other Britten roles that Drake sang with the EOG included Junius in The Rape of Lucretia and Lockit in The Beggar's Opera. At Aldeburgh he also created Joe Buston in the premiere of John Gardner's The Visitors in 1972 and Mr Lamb in Thea Musgrave's The Voice of Ariadne in 1974.

That same year Drake took the part of Franklin in the British premiere of Alexander Goehr's Arden Must Die given by the New Opera Company at Sadler's Wells. In 1976 he created Jove/Squire Allworthy in Stephen Oliver's Tom Jones for English Music Theatre at Brighton and took part in the world premiere at Covent Garden of Henze's We Come to the River. In 1978 he sang Valverde in Iain Hamilton's The Royal Hunt of the Sun and the triple role of Sacristan/Lunobor/Domsik in Janácek's The Adventures of Mr Broucek for English National Opera at the London Coliseum.

After retiring from the stage, Bryan Drake became Director of Opera at the Royal College of Music (1981-85) and then Voice Consultant at the Britten-Pears School in Aldeburgh.

Elizabeth Forbes

"And which of you by being anxious can add a single cubit to his life's span? Matthew 6:27

The Independent - London

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