Obituary: Kenneth Neate

Fifty years ago, on 14 January 1947, the fledgling Covent Garden Opera Company (later to become the Royal Opera), gave its first performance. The opera was Carmen and Don Jose was sung by the Australian tenor Kenneth Neate.

During the first season, which lasted about six months, Neate sang Don Jose 21 times; he also sang 17 performances of Tamino in The Magic Flute - everything in those days was sung in English - and 12 of the Italian Singer in Der Rosenkavalier. Neate had a strong, lyric tenor voice and, for the four seasons he sang with the company, he remained with the repertory.

He returned to Covent Garden on a famous occasion in 1959 when he took over at short notice from an ailing tenor as Edgardo in Lucia di Lammermoor, with Joan Sutherland as Lucia. By then Neate was already singing much heavier roles, such as Florestan in Fidelio, Lohengrin and, the part that became his cheval de bataille, Tannhauser. During the next dozen years, he clocked up more than 150 performances, mainly in Germany and Austria, but also in Australia. Later he sang Tristan a number of times.

Kenneth Neate was born in Cessnock, New South Wales, in 1914. He studied singing at the University of Melbourne and toured with an amateur company in Madama Butterfly and Carmen. On the advice of John Brownlee, the famous Australian baritone, he went to New York to study with Emilio de Gogorza and Elisabeth Schumann. His voice came to the notice of the conductor Bruno Walter, and he was engaged to understudy Chester Kallman, who was singing Tamino at the Metropolitan in 1941. Neate then joined the Royal Canadian Air Force and, after he was invalided out, sang for the troops.

At the end of the Second World War, he came to London, where David Webster and Karl Rankl were auditioning singers for the Covent Garden Opera Company, and was immediately engaged. After Don Jose, Tamino and the Italian Singer during the first season, he sang the Duke in Rigoletto, Alfredo in La Traviata, Rodolfo in La Boheme and Pinkerton in Madama Butterfly. He rapidly gained stage experience, and by the time he left the company had become an excellent actor as well as a fine singer. He toured Australia with the J.C. Williamson Company, he sang in Italy and Paris, and, in May 1956 at Bordeaux, sang the title-role in the first performance of Henri Tomasi's Sampiero Corso, which was repeated at the Holland Festival in June the same year.

Neate began his attack on the heavier German repertory with Florestan in Fidelio at Karlsruhe in 1958. After his much- acclaimed return to Covent Garden in 1959 for Lucia di Lammermoor, in which he was a splendid partner for Joan Sutherland - his height was particularly appreciated by the prima donna - he sang Gounod's Faust for the Dublin Grand Opera, and returned to Karlsruhe for Tannhauser and Lohengrin. In 1960 he toured Australia with the Elizabethan Theatre Trust, and the following year was engaged at the New York City Opera, where he sang Radames in Aida, Don Jose, Stravinsky's Oedipus Rex, and created Judge Danforth in Robert Ward's The Crucible, an opera based on Arthur Miller's play.

Neate made an excellent Loge in Das Rheingold at Bayreuth in 1963, and continued to sing Tannhauser, in Hagen, Mulhouse, Bucharest, Adelaide, Sydney and Innsbruck, where he achieved his 150th performance during the 1969/70 season. Meanwhile he had taken up another Wagner role - Tristan. After singing Tristan at Coblenz in October 1966, at the end of December he sang the role in Stockholm, with Birgit Nilsson at Isolde and Kerstin Meyer as Brangaene. The opera, with the same cast, was taken by the Royal Swedish Opera to Montreal for Expo 67, and the tenor later sang Tristan in Mannheim and Budapest.

After a final tour of Australia in 1970, when he appeared as Florestan, Neate returned to Innsbruck, where he sang Aegisthus in Elektra in 1974, and the title-role of Verdi's Otello in 1975. He was then 61 years of age, but his interpretation of Otello was highly praised, both vocally and dramatically. After his retirement he taught singing in Munich.

Kenneth Neate, tenor: born Cessnock, New South Wales 28 July 1914 ; married Gertrude Vollath; died Munich 26 June 1997.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
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: Office Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: Have you been doing a brilliant job in an admi...

Surrey County Council: Senior Project Officer (Fixed Term to Feb 2019)

£26,498 - £31,556: Surrey County Council: We are looking for an outgoing, conf...

Recruitment Genius: Interim Head of HR

£50000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you an innovative, senior H...

Recruitment Genius: Human Resources and Payroll Administrator

£20000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Our client, a very well respect...

Day In a Page

Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

Poldark star Heida Reed

'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn