Arley Reece

Powerful operatic tenor
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The Independent Online

The American tenor Arley Reece had a wide operatic repertory ranging from Verdi and Wagner to Berg and Janácek, but he will probably be best remembered for his participation in the trio of Monteverdi operas (Orfeo, Il coronazione di Poppea, and Il ritorno d'Ulisse in patria), directed by Jean-Pierre Ponnelle and conducted by Nikolaus Harnoncourt. Reece sang Iro in Il ritorno d'Ulisse, the third of the operas to be staged, in Zurich in 1977. The following year the operas were given at the Edinburgh Festival, the Berlin Festival, and at La Scala, Milan, after which they visited the Maggio musicale in Florence and the May festival in Wiesbaden. They were televised and recorded.

Reece was a tall man, of considerable girth, which made his performance of Iro, the timorous glutton, butt of Penelope's suitors, all the funnier. Born in Oakum, Texas, in 1943, he studied in Texas and in New York, making his début in 1970 as Assad in a concert performance of Goldmark's Die Königin von Saba given by the American Opera Society at Carnegie Hall, New York. He then joined the New York City Opera for a couple of seasons. In 1973 he made a notable appearance at the Wexford Festival as Alexey, the anti-hero of Prokofiev's Dostoevsky-based opera The Gambler. He returned to Wexford the following year as Jason in Mayr's Medea in Corinto.

After singing Macduff in Verdi's Macbeth in Amsterdam in 1976, Reece sang an excellent Hermann in Tchaikovsky's The Queen of Spades for Welsh National Opera. His commitment to Zurich Opera's Il ritorno d'Ulisse took up much time in the next two years, then in 1979 he sang the title role of Lohengrin in Kassel. Reece's voice was not huge, but strong and well projected, so that his Lohengrin (which I heard) was very successful. So was his next role, the Drum Major in Berg's Wozzeck, which he sang for Scottish Opera at the 1980 Edinburgh Festival and again in Madrid in 1987, an amiable gorilla who seduced Marie and kicked Wozzeck with equal pleasure.

Meanwhile, in 1986 in Vancouver, he had another success as Filka Morosov in Janácek's From the House of the Dead, another opera based on Dostoevsky. Filka, a convict going under the name of Luka Kizmir, tells his story during the first act and this was powerfully recounted by the tenor. In 1987 he sang Calaf in Puccini's Turandot in Warsaw, and Tannhäuser in Barcelona, neither of which was really a suitable role for his voice. However, he returned to Warsaw in 1988 and 1989 to take part in the first complete Ring cycle ever given there, singing Siegmund in Die Walküre and Siegfried in Götterdämmerung. The latter was a particularly good characterisation.

Reece took part in an unusual opera, Lortzing's Undine, in 1991, when his Hugo von Ringstetten was warmly received. He took on another Wagner role at Brisbane in 1995, when he sang Parsifal, whose vocal line appears to have suited him well.

After the tenor stopped singing he, together with his second wife Kate, a British dancer, opened the Reece Studio Theatre School in Dorsten, Germany, where they had lived since the mid-1980s. Arley taught singing and Kate was responsible for ballet and tap.

Elizabeth Forbes

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