Obituary: David Kelly

The Scottish bass David Kelly was a member of the Covent Garden Opera Company (now the Royal Opera) for 15 years, from 1955 to 1969, during which period he gave well over 700 performances of some 50 roles. He was the kind of ultra-reliable singer, able to turn his hand to anything, that every company needs, but does not always appreciate.

That Covent Garden did appreciate Kelly is demonstrated by the large number of performances he was asked to sing - 82 in his second season alone. He also appeared at Glyndebourne, with the English Opera Group, Welsh National and Scottish Operas, and was a popular concert singer.

Kelly was born in Kilmarnock and studied at the Glasgow Academy of Music. He spent a short time touring with the Carl Rosa Company, then in the summers of 1954 and 1955 sang the Keeper of the Madhouse in Stravinsky's The Rake's Progress at Glyndebourne. Later he was to sing Trulove in the same opera for Scottish Opera.

He made his Covent Garden debut on 26 October 1955, as Timur in Turandot. The following year he returned to Glyndebourne as a Priest and a Man in Armour in Die Zauberflote, having already sung Sarastro at Covent Garden. Other roles in 18th-century works included Harafa in Handel's Samson, as well as Antonio, the gardener, and Dr Bartolo in The Marriage of Figaro.

His introduction to 19th-century German opera was as Reinmar von Zweter, one of the Knights in Tannhauser. His usual role in The Mastersingers was Hermann Ortel, Soap- boiler, but he also sang at least one performance of Veit Pogner, Goldsmith, a much more interesting character. His other German roles at Covent Garden included Donner in Das Rheingold, Cuno in Der Freischutz, Vanuzzi in Richard Strauss's Die schweigsame Frau and a Man in the British premiere of Schoenberg's Moses und Aron (1965). At Glyndebourne in 1959 he sang Don Fernando in Fidelio.

Kelly was particularly at home in the French and Russian repertories: he made an excellent Zuniga in Carmen, sang both Narbal and King Priam in Les Troyens, and Crespel in Les Contes d'Hoffmann. In Boris Godunov he offered an amusing Vaarlam and a fine Pimen. He took part in the British premiere of Shostakovich's Katerina Ismailova (1963). He was perhaps less suited to Italian opera, but his Verdi roles included Dr Grenvil in La Traviata, a particularly sympathetic portrayal, the King and Ramfis in Aida, Monterone in Rigoletto, the Monk (who may or may not be the Emperor Charles V) in Don Carlos and Pistol in Falstaff, while Angelotti in Tosca and Betto di Signa in Gianni Schicchi were two of his Puccini character parts.

However, it was to British 20th-century opera that Kelly made his greatest contribution. Having created the role of Snug the Joiner in Britten's A Midsummer Night's Dream with the English Opera Group at Aldeburgh in June 1960, he sang Snug in the subsequent Covent Garden production later the same year. In 1962 he sang the Old Man in the premiere of Tippett's King Priam at the Coventry Theatre, and later at Covent Garden. In the revised two-act version of Britten's Billy Budd (1964) he sang Lt Ratcliffe, while his usual role in Peter Grimes was Hobson the carrier. He took the part of the He-Ancient in a revival of A Midsummer Marriage. All these characterisations were noteworthy for the confident style in which he tackled them, at a time when Britten and Tippett were considered "modern" composers.

Kelly also gave one and a half performances of Polonius at the British premiere of Humphrey Searle's Hamlet (1969). The second performance was stopped halfway through, and all others cancelled because of the illness of the baritone singing the title role.

In 1966 Kelly recorded the part of Lockwood in Bernard Herrmann's Wuthering Heights, a virtual creation as the opera was not staged until 1982, seven years after the composer's death. Herrmann, who wrote many film scores, including those for Citizen Kane and Jane Eyre (with Orson Welles as Rochester) conducted the recording himself. Kelly also recorded his usual roles of Lt Ratcliffe in Billy Budd and Snug in A Midsummer Night's Dream.

After his retirement from the opera house, David Kelly became a teacher at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama, and for over 20 years served as the head of vocal studies and opera at that establishment, passing on his own great professionalism and sense of style to a new generation of singers.

David G. Kelly, opera singer: born Kilmarnock, Ayrshire 24 December 1923; twice married (one daughter); died Troon, Ayrshire 24 October 1996.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Recruitment Genius: HR Manager

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are in need of a HR Manage...

h2 Recruit Ltd: Business Development Manager - HR Consultancy - £65,000 OTE

£35000 - £40000 per annum + £65,000 OTE: h2 Recruit Ltd: London, Birmingham, M...

Day In a Page

A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

Who remembers that this week we enter the 150th anniversary year of the end of the American Civil War, asks Robert Fisk
Homeless Veterans appeal: Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served

Homeless Veterans appeal

Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served
Downfall of Dustin 'Screech' Diamond, the 'Saved By The Bell' star charged with bar stabbing

Scarred by the bell

The downfall of the TV star charged with bar stabbing
Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

Security breaches and overhyped start-ups dominated a year in which very little changed (save the size of your phone)
Cuba's golf revolution: But will the revolutionary nation take 'bourgeois' game to its heart?

Will revolutionary Cuba take 'bourgeois' golf to its heart?

Fidel Castro ridiculed the game – but now investment in leisure resort projects is welcome
The Locked Room Mysteries: As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor Otto Penzler explains the rules of engagement

The Locked Room Mysteries

As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor explains the rules of engagement
Amy Adams on playing painter Margaret Keane in Tim Burton's Big Eyes

How I made myself Keane

Amy Adams hadn’t wanted to take the role of artist Margaret Keane, because she’d had enough of playing victims. But then she had a daughter, and saw the painter in a new light
Ed Richards: Parting view of Ofcom chief. . . we hate jokes on the disabled

Parting view of Ofcom chief... we hate jokes on the disabled

Bad language once got TV viewers irate, inciting calls to broadcasting switchboards. But now there is a worse offender, says retiring head of the media watchdog, Ed Richards
A look back at fashion in 2014: Wear in review

Wear in review

A look back at fashion in 2014
Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015. Might just one of them happen?

Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015

Might just one of them happen?
War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

The West needs more than a White Knight

Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

The stories that defined 2014

From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?