Obituary: Randolph Symonette

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The Independent Online
RANDOLPH Symonette, the Bahamian-born bass-baritone, was in his middle thirties before he turned to singing as a profession, but for over 20 years he pursued a successful career, mainly in Europe but also in the United States. Progressing from Broadway to the Metropolitan Opera House, he acquired a reputation as a strong singer and a powerful actor.

His repertory also progressed from Kurt Weill and Menotti to Verdi, Puccini, Richard Strauss and Wagner, culminating in the roles of Wotan, the Wanderer and Gunther in Der Ring des Nibelungen.

Symonette was born at Mathews Town in the Bahamas. His first choice of career was at sea, and he rose to command his own ship. In the mid-Forties he studied singing in New York with Paul Althouse, a former tenor who became one of America's finest singing teachers. In March 1945 Symonette appeared on Broadway at the Alvin Theatre, singing a small part in Kurt Weill's The Firebrand of Florence. Although The Firebrand (Benvenuto Cellini) only ran for 43 performances, it had momentous consequences for the singer; during the rehearsal period he met his future wife, Lys, who was the rehearsal pianist for that show, and for several other Weill productions.

In order to raise money for Street Scene, in 1946 Weill, Lys and Randolph Symonette sang excerpts from the score, taking the tenor, soprano and bass roles respectively, to rich prospective backers. Randolph Symonette also appeared in Menotti's hugely successful opera The Consul, which opened at the Ethel Barrymore Theater in 1950. In 1952 he sang at the New York City Center (later NY City Opera) in Mozart's Don Giovanni. Then, like many other aspiring opera singers at that time, he sailed for Europe.

Symonette was first engaged at Mainz, then in 1954 he became a member of the Dusseldorf Opera. Ironically, one of his earliest roles there was Frank Maurrant, in the German premiere of Weill's Street Scene in 1955. A year later he sang Golaud in Pelleas et Melisande, by all accounts a perfect role for him at that stage in his career. In April 1956 the new Dusseldorf Opera House was opened with Fidelio, in which Symonette sang Don Pizzaro, his heaviest role to date. In September 1956 the Deutsche Oper am Rhein, which included both the Dusseldorf and Duisberg houses, was inaugurated with Richard Strauss's Elektra: Orestes furnished the bass-baritone with another new role.

During the next few years he added the Grand Inquisitor in Verdi's Don Carlos, Jochanaan in Salome, the title role of Der fliegende Hollander and St Just in Einem's Dantons Tod to his repertory. Meanwhile, as an "Italian" interlude for the Netherlands Opera in Amsterdam he sang Scarpia in Tosca, Michele in Il tabarro and Amonasro in Aida (1958/59). Back in Dusseldorf, where the company was building up a Ring cycle (not in correct order), he sang Gunther in Gotterdammerung and then Wotan in Das Rheingold (1960). The latter performance elicited a review that praised "his powerful stage presence [which] is matched by a powerful, completely even-scaled voice of great warmth."

From then onward, Symonette's appearances were mostly in Wagner. In 1961 he returned to the United States to sing Wotan (Das Rheingold) and the Inquisitor in the Cincinnati Summer Season at the Zoo. On 17 November that year he made his Metropolitan Opera debut as Telramund in Lohengrin: at the Met he also sang Wotan in Die Walkure at very short notice when a colleague became ill, and early in 1962, the Wanderer in Siegfried. Among other Ring appearances were the Walkure Wotan in Avignon; both Wotans at the Theatre de la Monnaie, Brussels; the Walkure Wotan in Bordeaux and the Wanderer in Siegfried at the Teatro de la Fenice, Venice.

During his years in Europe, Symonette sang at many of the West German theatres, including Hamburg, Munich, Stuttgart and Frankfurt. He made guest appearances in Vienna, Zurich, Barcelona, Naples, Rome and at the Paris Opera. His last new roles in Dusseldorf were the Water Sprite in Dvork's Rusalka (1964) and Alfio in Cavalleria rusticana (1966). His wide repertory also included Hans Sachs, Klingsor (Parsifal) and the four Villains in Les Contes d'Hoffman, of which he recorded lengthy excerpts. In 1969 he sang Ramfis in Aida at Tallahassee, Florida, where he was Professor of Voice at Florida State University until 1982.

Randolph Symonette, singer: born Mathews Town, Bahamas 23 November 1910; married (one son); died New York 1 January 1998.