OBITUARY : Bruce Boyce

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The Independent Online
The American baritone Bruce Boyce was best known as a concert singer, especially in the Bach Passions and in Delius's A Mass of Life, which he recorded under Sir Thomas Beecham, and as a recitalist, most particularly as a singer of Lieder. He also appeared in opera and will be remembered by many opera-loving Londoners of my generation as the first Don Giovanni they heard and saw on stage.

His fine and resonant voice, tall figure and air of authority made him a notable Giovanni: that was in 1948 at the Cambridge Theatre. A few years later he sang the Count in The Marriage of Figaro at Covent Carden, under the baton of Erich Kleiber, and that interpretation was also memorable.

Boyce (whose real name was John Bruce McLaren) was born of American parents in Canada, but moved when a child to Superior, Nebraska, where he was educated and where his vocal talents first became apparent. He studied at Cornell University, working in a garage to pay for his studies and taking a degree in French and Practical Singing. In 1932, while still a student, he took part in a concert arranged by Eleanor Roosevelt at the White House in Washington. In 1934 he studied Lieder with Reinhold von Warlich in Salzburg, then came to London and sang with the Oriana Madrigal Society and the Bach Cantata Club. He made his solo debut in 1936 at a concert in London, and the following year sang in the St Matthew Passion at Queen's Hall.

Returning to America, in 1938 Boyce gave a concert at Carnegie Hall, New York, and in 1940 was drafted into the United States Army, where he served with distinction during the Second World War, being twice decorated. On his discharge from the army he went back to London to study further with the Italian tenor Dino Borgioli.

Borgioli was at that time artistic director of the New London Opera Company, promoted by Jay Pomeroy, which performed popular operas for two years at the Cambridge Theatre; here Boyce made his operatic debut in 1947 as Monterone in Rigoletto. This was shortly followed by the title role of Don Giovanni and Marcello in La Boheme, both characters that suited him very well. Although a newcomer to opera, he had experience, both as a man and a musician, that gave him great authority on stage.

With the English Opera Group in 1951 Boyce sang Mr Gedge the Vicar in Albert Herring, and Aeneas in a new realisation by Benjamin Britten of Purcell's Dido and Aeneas, first given at the Lyric Theatre, Hammersmith, then toured to the Holland and Cheltenham Festivals, and to Liverpool. His portrayal of Mr Gedge, smooth and unctuous, was particularly successful. The following year he sang four performances of the Count in The Marriage of Figaro, conducted by Erich Kleiber, at Covent Garden. Boyce's Count, like his Don Giovanni, was notable for a commanding presence and for musicality with which the singer shaped Mozart's vocal lines.

Boyce continued to appear occasionally in opera, mainly in club or society performances: be sang Mr Somers In Joseph Horovitz's amusing Gentleman's Island (based on "Etiquette", one of W.S. Gilbert's Bab Ballads) for the London Opera Club in 1958, and Count de St Bris in the Revival Opera Company's courageous attempt at Les Huguenots at the Scala Theatre in 1959; I remember his Consecration of the Swords in Act 4 as truly terrifying.

However, his main activity until the end of his singing career was as a Lieder singer. His repertory was huge, covering the whole range of 19th- century German song from Loewe, Schubert and Schumann to Brahms, Wolf and Mahler. In the mid-Fifties and early Sixties, his pianist was often Gerald Moore. From 1962 until he retired from singing, he was accompanied by Geoffrey Pratley; in 1964 they gave a deeply moving last concert together, performing Schubert's Die Winterreise at the Wigmore Hall.

Boyce made many recordings, including Mendelssohn's Elijah under Josef Krips and the St Matthew Passion, in which he sang Christus, conducted by Piet van Egmont. He also recorded Lieder by Schubert, Brahms and Wolf.

He began to teach singing at the Academy of Music during the late 1950s, when one of his pupils was the tenor Philip Langridge. He then left the Academy for some years, returning there from 1977 to 1984, when the pianist for his lessons was invariably Michael Hall. In 1985 he finally retired, moving to Provence. His final years were spent at Bishop Auckland in County Durham.

Elizabeth Forbes

John Bruce McLaren (Bruce Boyce), singer: born London, Ontario 2 September 1910; died Bishop Auckland, Co Durham 11 May 1996.

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