Richard Van Allan: Distinguished operatic bass and later Director of the National Opera Studio

Click to follow
The Independent Online

For more than 30 years the English bass Richard Van Allan sang at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, English National Opera, the British regional companies and at various opera houses in Europe and North America. He had a wide repertory encompassing Mozart, Rossini, Verdi, Strauss and Britten, and took part in several premieres of new operas.

His voice was full-toned and sharply focused without being particularly large, while his diction was excellent. He was a very fine actor and often played speaking parts, including the Majordomo in Ariadne auf Naxos or the Pasha Selim in Die Enführung aus dem Serail with distinction. Towards the end of his singing career he became a popular and successful Director of the National Opera Studio.

Richard Van Allan was born in Clipstone, Nottinghamshire in 1935. He served as a police officer before studying with David Franklyn at the Birmingham School of Music. He joined the Glyndebourne chorus in 1964 and two years later sang the Second Priest and the Second Man in Armour in Die Zauberflöte. In 1967 he sang Osmano in Cavalli's L'Ormindo and won the first John Christie Award.

During the next five years his roles included Zaretzky in Eugene Onegin, the Doctor in Pelléas et Mélisande, Lord Francis Jowler in the first performance of Maw's The Rising of the Moon (1970), Leporello in Don Giovanni, Selim in Rossini's Il Turco in Italia and Osmin as well as the Pasha in Die Entführung. He returned to Glyndebourne in 1977 for Trulove in Stravinsky's The Rake's Progress.

Meanwhile, for Welsh National Opera, Van Allan sang Don Basilio in The Barber of Seville in 1968 and several Verdi roles: Banquo in Macbeth and Zaccaria in Nabucco in 1969, Ramfis in Aida in 1970, the Grand Inquisitor in Don Carlos in 1974, Massimiliano in I masnadieri, for which he received an ovation, in 1977, Silva in Ernani, another great success, which was performed in London at the Dominion Theatre in 1979 and also given in East Berlin at the Komische Oper in 1980. Van Allan returned to WNO in 1981 for Grigoris in the first British stage performance of Martinu's The Greek Passion and Don Pizarro in Fidelio.

He first sang for ENO (still under the name of Sadler's Wells Opera) at the Coliseum in 1969 as Don Giovanni, followed in 1970 by Don Alfonso in Così fan tutte, one of his finest roles, and as King Henry in Lohengrin in 1971.

That was the year of his Covent Garden début as the Mandarin in Turandot. His other roles at Covent Garden in the 1970s included Mozart's Figaro, Don Alfonso and Leporello, the King in Aida, the Doctor in Berg's Wozzeck, Mr Flint in Britten's Billy Budd, the Grand Inquisitor in Don Carlos, Colline in La Bohème, Ferrando in Il trovatore, Quince in Britten's A Midsummer Night's Dream and Calkas in Walton's Troilus and Cressida. Van Allan also sang Masetto, his third role in Don Giovanni, at the Paris Opéra in 1975, Don Pizarro at Boston and his first Baron Ochs in Der Rosenkavalier at San Diego in 1976.

He repeated Baron Ochs at Buenos Aires and at ENO in 1978. It soon became one of his best roles, in which the dramatic was of equal importance to the vocal side of the performance. The same year, he sang the Father Superior in Verdi's The Force of Destiny at ENO; Wurm in a new production of Verdi's Luisa Miller with Luciano Pavarotti, and Don Pedro in Meyerbeer's L'Africaine, also a new production, with Placido Domingo, both at Covent Garden.

In 1979 his new roles included the Comte des Grieux in Massenet's Manon, Mustapha in Rossini's Italian Girl in Algiers and Don Magnifico in Rossini's La Cenerentola; and in 1980 Mephistopheles in Berlioz' Damnation of Faust and the title role in Musorgsky's Boris Godunov, all at ENO. At Covent Garden in 1981, he sang the Theatre Director and the Banker in the first London showing of the three-act version of Berg's Lulu.

Van Allan was as busy as ever during the first half of the 1980s; at ENO he sang Friar Laurance in Gounod's Romeo and Juliet, the Father in Charpentier's Louse, the Water Sprite in Rusalka, Collatinus in Britten's Rape of Lucretia, Sir Walter Raleigh in Britten's Gloriana, Procida in Verdi's Sicilian Vespers, Kochubei in Tchaikovsky's Mazeppa, the Count in The Marriage of Figaro (for the first time), Philip II in Don Carlos and Pooh-Bah in Jonathan Miller's 1920s production of The Mikado. In their different ways, the last two characters were both immensely successful. At Covent Garden he sang Capulet in Bellini's I Capuletti e I Montecchi for Welsh National, Kecal in Smetana's Bartered Bride, and at Glyndebourne, Superintendent Budd in Britten's Albert Herring.

In September 1986 Van Allan was appointed Director of the National Opera Studio, set up by the Arts Council in 1978 to provide intensive training for young opera singers. He remained there for 15 years. His own appearances were of necessity rather fewer, but for a decade he continued to sing, in London and abroad. He sang Mephistopheles in Gounod's Faust at Seattle (1987); he made a magnificently evil Claggart in Billy Budd (1988) and sang Frank Maurrant in Weill's Street Scene (1989) at ENO. He also gave his much-admired performance of Don Alfonso at the Metropolitan, New York. He sang Comte de Saint-Bris in Meyerbeer's Les Huguenots (1991) at Covent Garden and Don Jerome in Gerhard's The Duenna (1992) at Barcelona.

In 1994 he scored two great personal triumphs at ENO, as Prince Gremin in Eugene Onegin and in the title role of Massenet's Don Quixote. His Quixote was particularly moving. Van Allan was appointed CBE in 2002 for services to music.

Elizabeth Forbes

Richard Van Allan, opera singer and administrator: born Clipstone, Nottinghamshire 28 May 1935; Director, National Opera Studio 1986-2001; CBE 2002; married 1963 Elizabeth Peabody (one son; marriage dissolved 1974), 1976 Rosemary Pickering (one daughter, and one son deceased; marriage dissolved 1986); died London 4 December 2008.