Terence Sharpe

WNO baritone who excelled at Verdi
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The Independent Online

Terence Sharpe, opera singer: born Sheffield 30 August 1933; married (two sons); died Penarth, Vale of Glamorgan 26 June 2004.

Terence Sharpe had a fine, flexible baritone voice which the music of Giuseppe Verdi fitted like the proverbial glove.

During the 16 years (1968 to 1984) that he was a regular member of Welsh National Opera, he sang 20 roles - and 11 of them were by Verdi. Cardiff, WNO's home base, was a magnet for Verdi lovers in those years, and the company also visited London, so I heard Sharpe in nearly all his Verdi roles. Macbeth and Count di Luna in Il trovatore were memorable; Nabucco and Don Carlo in Ernani were very impressive; but my favourite was the Marquis of Posa in Don Carlos. He first sang that in 1973, the year he also sang the title role of Britten's Billy Budd, another superb characterisation.

Terence Sharpe was born in Sheffield in 1933. He worked for some years as an architect, then began to study singing, first with Stanley Jepson in Sheffield, then with the baritone Otakar Kraus in London, and finally with Luigi Ricci in Rome. He made his stage début in 1967 as Sherasmin in Weber's Oberon with Cambridge University Operatic Society. The following year he won a singing competition at Liège in Belgium, and then joined Welsh National Opera.

During his first season he sang Rigoletto, and Escamillo in Carmen, followed in 1969 by Macbeth, and Germont in La traviata. Among these roles, Macbeth was of particular interest for his interpretation of the character as a man who knows he is sliding to disaster, but cannot stop himself.

In 1970 Sharpe took on four roles: as Figaro in Rossini's Barber of Seville he proved that he was as good in comedy as in tragedy; as Amonasro in a new production of Aida directed by Michael Geliot he acquired new-found skills as an actor; as Marcello in Puccini's La bohème his high spirits in the first two acts were in complete contrast to his depression in the last two; best of all, though, was another Verdi title role, Nabucco, in which contrast was again of special importance, between the autocratic Babylonian king of the first half and the crazed captive of the second. Sharpe sang yet another Verdi role that year, Francesco in I due Foscari in a BBC studio production for Radio 3.

During the next two seasons, Sharpe gave two more fine performances of Verdi operas. In the title role of Simon Boccanegra he was finest in the great scene in the Council Chamber, while as Ford in Falstaff he once again displayed his impeccable comic timing. The Marquis of Posa in Don Carlos is not a villain, as are so many baritone roles, including many of Verdi's. On the contrary, he is a man who lays down his life for his friend, and his death scene is one of the most moving in all opera.

It was the perfect role for Terence Sharpe at that stage in his career and, in Geliot's fine production, he made the very best of it. He was also excellent as Billy Budd. At 40, the baritone could still suggest the innocence as well of the goodness of the flawed protagonist of Britten's opera.

Over the next two years Sharpe sang Lescaut in Puccini's Manon Lescaut; Guglielmo in Così fan tutte, his first Mozart role, and Sergeant Belcore in Donizetti's L'elisir d'amore. He had a more substantial Donizetti role as Severus in a concert performance of Les Martyres given by Pro Opera at Imperial College.

His next (and very congenial) Verdi role was the Count di Luna in Il trovatore, which he first sang in 1976. I went to a performance at the King's Theatre, Southsea, in February 1977 during which there was a bomb scare just before the end of Act III. The audience duly trooped out into the street, but not before Kenneth Collins, the tenor singing Manrico, had finished the second verse of "Di quella pira" with a splendiferous top C. When we got back into the theatre for the final act everyone, singers, players and audience, was in tremendous form.

I masnadieri (The Bandits), Verdi's only opera written for London and a comparative rarity, was produced by WNO in 1977; Sharpe sang Francesco, an out-and-out villain. The following year he sang Captain Balstrode in Peter Grimes, repeating the role in Buenos Aires in 1979 with a mainly British cast. That year he also appeared at the Wexford Festival as Cinna in La Vestale by Spontini. He returned to Wexford the following year for Frank in Puccini's Edgar.

His final new Verdi role for WNO was Don Carlo (Charles V of Spain) in Ernani (1980), an equivocal character, but one with much fine music. In 1982 he sang Gérard in Giordano's Andrea Chénier. After a revival of Peter Grimes in 1983, the following spring WNO took the production to Wiesbaden, where Sharpe's Balstrode was greatly admired.

Sharpe continued to sing for nearly another decade. For Dorset Opera he sang Posa (1984) and Macbeth (1989); he sang Donizetti's Don Pasquale for Opera Northern Ireland in Belfast (1985); for English National Opera he took on the title role of Rigoletto in Jonathan Miller's New York Mafia production (1985); he was "snatched from a golf course in Wales" and rushed to Glyndebourne in an emergency to sing the title role of Simon Boccanegra (1986) from the side of the stage; for Scottish Opera he sang Dr Bartolo in The Barber of Seville (1987) and Don Alfonso in Così fan tutte (1990); for the new D'Oyly Carte company he sang Shadbolr the Gaoler (1988) and Sergeant Meryll (1992), both in The Yeomen of the Guard.

In 1991 Sharpe made a very belated début at Covent Garden as Sid the card-sharper in Puccini's La fanciulla del West. He was engaged by WNO in 1993 to sing Macbeth in the tour of smaller Welsh theatres, but had to withdraw for reasons of ill-health. Shortly afterwards he was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.

Elizabeth Forbes