William McAlpine

Tenor who never lost his lyrical quality
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The Independent Online

William McAlpine, tenor singer and teacher: born Stenhousemuir, Stirlingshire 3 December 1922; died London 2 February 2004.

The Scottish tenor William McAlpine sang for many of the British opera companies - Covent Garden, Sadler's Wells (later English National Opera), Glyndebourne and Scottish Opera - during his 24-year career. He started out as a lyric tenor with a beautiful, smooth-toned voice, at his best in roles such as Don Ottavio in Don Giovanni, Rinuccio in Gianni Schicchi and Fenton in Falstaff.

As his voice grew larger and darker in colour, he took on heavier roles such as Bacchus in Ariadne auf Naxos, Hermann in The Queen of Spades and Hoffmann in Les Contes d'Hoffman, but never lost the lyrical quality of his singing.

Born in Stenhousemuir in central Scotland in 1922, McAlpine began his working life as a bricklayer, before deciding to become a singer. In 1951 he was engaged at Covent Garden, making his début as the First Jew in Salome. During his first season he sang 77 performances and during the second season 80. Many of these were tiny roles, but he appeared in two Britten premieres, as the Novice in Billy Budd in 1951 and as the Spirit of the Masque in Gloriana in 1953. He also sang Jacquino in Fidelio, Don Basilio in The Marriage of Figaro, Andres in the British stage premiere of Berg's Wozzeck, Mistrust and Lechery in Vaughan Williams's The Pilgrim's Progress and Borsa in Rigoletto.

In 1956 McAlpine moved to Sadler's Wells, and immediately began to sing leading roles. During the next five years he sang Mozart's Don Ottavio, Tamino in The Magic Flute and Belmonte in The Seraglio with great elegance; a romantic Lensky in Eugene Onegin, an equally impassioned Alfredo in La Traviata and Boris in Katya Kabanova. Although by now in his late thirties, he had no difficulty in portraying Rinuccio and Fenton, two very young men in the throes of first love. In 1956 he also made his Glyndebourne début as Idamante in Mozart's Idomeneo, returning in 1959 for the Singer in Der Rosenkavalier and in 1962 for Bacchus in Ariadne auf Naxos.

By then McAlpine was taking on heavier roles. In 1961 he sang Don José in Carmen at the Paris Opéra, and over the next decade his repertory at Sadler's Wells included Puccini's Cavaradossi, Rodolfo and Pinkerton, as well as Hoffmann, Hermann in The Queen of Spades and Erik in The Flying Dutchman. Of these, Rodolfo and Hoffmann were the most persuasive performances. Meanwhile, between 1965 and 1968, McAlpine sang four very successful roles for Scottish Opera, Grigory/Dimitry, the false pretender in Boris Godunov, the title role of Gounod's Faust, a particularly fine performance, Cassio in Otello and Bob Boles in Peter Grimes, a character sketch of surprising strength and nastiness.

During the 1960s McAlpine appeared in Hamburg and Berlin, where he sang Bacchus, Cavaradossi, Pinkerton and Arrigo in I vespri Siciliani at the Deutsche Oper; in Florence, Aix-en-Provence and Vancouver. His later roles at Covent Garden included Alfredo, Hoffmann, Gregory/Dimitry and Walter von der Vogelweide in Tannhäuser. He also had a successful career as a concert singer, in the Verdi Requiem, Beethoven's Missa Solemnis, Britten's War Requiem and Spring Symphony. He recorded an obscure Donizetti opera, Emilia di Liverpool, with Joan Sutherland in the title role.

After he had stopped singing, McAlpine taught for many years at the Guildhall School of Music. He was still teaching there this month, when he died in the train on the way home from London to Claygate in Surrey.

Elizabeth Forbes