Obituary: John Blatchley

John Blatchley, actor, stage director, producer: born Melbourne, Australia 2 January 1922; twice married (two sons, three daughters, and one adopted son); died London 1 July 1994.

JOHN BLATCHLEY was already 40, with a full and varied career as actor, director and teacher in the straight theatre behind him, when in 1962 he was appointed assistant to Glen Byam Shaw, the new director of productions at Sadler's Wells Opera, in London.

During the next two decades Blatchley, together with Byam Shaw and on his own account, directed more than 20 operas for the company, which later moved to the London Coliseum and became the English National Opera. These operas ranged from repertory works such as Fidelio, The Marriage of Figaro, La Boheme, Tosca and Cavalleria Rusticana and Pagliacci to (at that time) less well-known works by Janacek, Smetana and Weber. The climax to Blatchley's and Byam Shaw's joint work for Sadler's Wells/ENO was their lunar-landscape staging of Wagner's Ring, in Andrew Porter's superb English translation, conducted by Reginald Goodall, which came to fruition between January 1970 and February 1973.

John Blatchley was born in Melbourne in 1922. His parents were touring music-hall artists and theatre was in his blood. Winning a scholarship to RADA, he came to London and after completing his course acted in West End productions and at Stratford. He joined Glen Byam Shaw at the Old Vic School and then went to France, where he worked as both actor and director. Returning to London in 1960 he became assistant to George Devine at the Royal Court and two years later was summoned by Peter Hall to Stratford where he directed Measure for Measure.

He began his stint at Sadler's Wells in October 1962 by restaging Carmen. Then in December the same year he directed The Girl of the Golden West, a marvellous production of Puccini's gold-rush opera which those who saw and heard it will never forget. Another successful staging was the world premiere of Malcolm Williamson's adaptation of Graham Greene's novel Our Man in Havana, in July 1963. Even more greatly admired, the British premiere of Janacek's Makropolous Case took place in February 1964, conducted by Charles Mackerras and with Marie Collier quite magnificent as Emilia Marty.

Johann Strauss's Gypsy Baron, which followed in April was less successful, but in April 1965, The Marriage of Figaro, another production conducted by Mackerras, received many compliments: 'Rarely do conductor and producer combine to make an opera's words so intelligible' is one that Blatchley, a passionate advocate of opera in English, would have appreciated. His productions of Fidelio in September 1965 and, in particular, of La Boheme in March 1966, were good examples of the way Blatchley could dramatically illuminate more familiar operas, while his ability as an actor was demonstrated by a blessedly unexaggerated performance of Frosch the gaoler in Die Fledermaus and a compelling account of the Narrator in Stravinsky's Oedipus Rex.

The first of Blatchley's co-productions with Byam Shaw of Wagner opened in January 1968, when The Mastersingers was staged with overwhelming success, despite the cramped conditions at Sadler's Wells. Seven months later the company moved to the much larger Coliseum, opening with an unfortunate production of Don Giovanni which Blatchley later restaged. The Ring was inaugurated with The Valkyrie on 29 January 1970, and Twilight of the Gods followed exactly one year later. Blatchley's modern-dress staging of Cavalleria Rusticana and I Pagliacci in September 1971 was not at first popular, though it was acclaimed by some as before its time. There were no such reservations over The Rhinegold in March 1972 or Siegfried in February 1973, which completed The Ring. In December Blatchley added a wonderfully atmospheric staging of Katya Kabanova to his achievements.

By the time his next new productions, a very thoughtful Tosca and the first London stage performance of Smetana's Dalibor, were unveiled in 1976, the company had become the English National Opera. Weber's Euryanthe in 1977 and Verdi's The Two Foscari in 1978 were rather less well received. Tristan and Isolde, Blatchley's last coproduction with Byam Shaw in 1981, did not seem to have affected them in the same way as The Ring whose staging inspired not only the two directors, but also a whole generation of opera lovers.

(Photograph omitted)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
  • Get to the point
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 and Payroll Manager

£35000 - £38000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This dynamic outsourced contact...

Recruitment Genius: Production & Quality Control Assistant

£19000 - £21000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An excellent opportunity for a ...

Ashdown Group: Group HR Advisor - Kettering - £32,000

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Group HR Advisor with an established...

Guru Careers: HR Manager / HR Generalist

£40 - 50k (DOE) + Bonus: Guru Careers: We are seeking a HR Manager / HR Genera...

Day In a Page

The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

The saffron censorship that governs India

Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

How did fandom get so dark?

Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

Disney's mega money-making formula

'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

Lobster has gone mainstream

Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

14 best Easter decorations

Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

Paul Scholes column

Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

The future of GM

The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

Britain's mild winters could be numbered

Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

Cowslips vs honeysuckle

It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss