Obituaries: Murray Dickie

Elizabeth Forbes
Wednesday 28 June 1995 23:02

Murray Dickie, the Scottish tenor, was for 25 years a member of the Vienna State Opera, but at the beginning of his career, in the immediate post-war years, he frequently sang at Covent Garden and Glyndebourne. He also appeared at La Scala, the Paris Opera, the Edinburgh, Holland, Salzburg and Bregenz Festivals, the Metropolitan Opera and many other theatres.

A light tenor, with a gift for comedy, he specialised in roles such as Pedrillo in Die Entfuhrung aus dem Serail, Jacquino in Fidelio, the Dancing Master and Brighella in Ariadne auf Naxos; he also sang heavier roles, like Tamino in Der Zauberflote; but his finest role of all was David in Die Meistersinger, a part he sang in London, Vienna, Milan and New York, and one in which he was utterly convincing.

Dickie was born in Renfrewshire, in 1924. As a young man he had a variety of jobs, including sound effects boy at the BBC in Glasgow. He studied singing with Stefan Pollmann and then joined the New London Opera Company, presented at the Cambridge Theatre by Jay Pomeroy. Murray made his debut in 1947 as Almaviva in Il barbiere di Siviglia; his elder brother William sang Figaro, while a fellow Scot, Ian Wallace, was Dr Bartolo. According to Wallace, Murray Dickie, though completely inexperienced, exuded "self- confidence that never becomes offensive, because it is leavened by an equally strong sense of the ridiculous".

After further study with Dino Borgioli, then artistic adviser to NLOC, and with Guido Farinelli in Milan, Murray Dickie joined the newly formed opera company at Covent Garden.

He made his debut there in 1949 as Don Basilio in Le nozze di Figaro, another favourite role that he continued to sing throughout his career. Later that year he created the Cure in The Olympians by Arthur Bliss. In 1950 he appeared at Glyndebourne for the first time, singing Pedrillo, then accompanied the company to Edinburgh, singing Basilio, and also Brighella in the original version of Ariadne auf Naxos, conducted by Sir Thomas Beecham. Maureen Springer, the soprano who became his second wife, sang Naiad. He worked with Beecham again in 1951, when Beecham conducted Die Meistersinger at Covent Garden; Dickie sang David, in no respect overawed by the other singers, who included Peter Anders, Elisabeth Grummer and, in the last of four performances, Hans Hotter. Beecham later dismissed this production as inferior, but the audience, myself included, thought it was wonderful.

Dickie made his debut at La Scala, Milan in 1952 as David, in a performance of Meistersinger conducted by Wilhelm Furtwangler. In 1953 he sang the First King in Die Liebe der Danae at the Paris Opera, and returned to Glyndebourne to sing the Dancing Master and Brighella in the second version of Ariadne, while in Edinburgh he sang Sellem the Auctioneer in the British stage premiere of The Rake's Progress. The following year he sang in another first British stage performance, as Leandro in Busoni's Arlecchino, which was paired with Ariadne. Meanwhile, in 1952 he had joined the Vienna State Opera, where he remained for the rest of his singing career.

Dickie's repertory in Vienna was very wide; it included Beppe in Pagliacci, Pong in Turandot, Bardolph in Falstaff and other Italian buffo parts; an amusing Vasek in The Bartered Bride, he also sang Jacquino, the Steersman in Der fliegende Hollander, the Shepherd in Tristan und Isolde and Andres in Wozzeck. His Richard Strauss roles included the First Jew in Salome, Barak's hunchback brother in Die Frau ohne Schatten and Valzacchi, the Italian intriguer, in Der Rosenkavalier, another very successful comic characterisation, where his exuberant good humour was irresistible. At the Volksoper he sang in many operettas, for example as Caramello in Eine Nacht in Venedig. In 1956 he created Trinculo in Frank Martin's Der Sturm, based on The Tempest.

Dickie also continued to sing David, which was his debut role at the Metropolitan in 1962. I remember a performance in Vienna in 1969, when the tenor, already 45, retained not only his boyish appearance but his youthful enthusiasm as well. His voice, though light, was strongly projected and his diction superb. In 1975 he began to direct, notably Die Entfuhrung at the Landestheater, Salzburg, and the following year translated and directed A Night in Venice for English National Opera at the London Coliseum. For the Vienna Chamber Opera in 1978 he staged The Turn of the Screw, Paisiello's Il barbiere di Siviglia (his son John, also a tenor, sang Almaviva) and Offenbach's Les deux aveugles.

The final years of Murray Dickie's career were spent in South Africa, as artistic director of the Cape Performing Arts Board. Among his best productions for CAPAB were Otello with Jon Vickers in 1984 and, appropriately, Meistersinger in 1987. Though he recorded a large number of his finest roles, including Pedrillo, Don Basilio, Jacquino and Valzacchi, he did not, unfortunately, record David.

Elizabeth Forbes

Murray Dickie, opera singer: born Bishoptown, Renfrewshire 3 April 1924; OBE 1976; married three times (four sons); died Cape Town 19 June 1995.

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