Obituary: Warren Ellsworth

Elizabeth Forbes
Monday 15 March 1993 00:02 GMT
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Warren Ellsworth, singer, born Worcester Massachusetts 28 October 1950, married (two sons; and two stepdaughters), died Houston Texas 25 February 1993.

TALL AND THIN, the American tenor Warren Ellsworth burst on to the British operatic scene for the first time in 1981 as a callow and unpleasant Lieutenant Pinkerton, and then as a gangling hayseed of a Jenik in The Bartered Bride. Both performances were for Welsh National Opera, with whom he also sang his first two Wagnerian roles, Parsifal and Siegmund, coached by Reginald Goodall.

Parsifal, which was probably his finest interpretation, he repeated for English National Opera and also recorded with Goodall, although no recording could catch the elusive physical quality, the child-like innocence of his performance, especially on his first entrance; Siegmund he later sang at Covent Garden, as well as in many other opera houses in Europe and the US. His voice was large, and though it lacked the conventionally rich timbre of a Wagnerian tenor, it was used with great dramatic intelligence and skill.

Born in Worcester, Massachusetts, in 1950, Warren Ellsworth studied at the Juilliard School in New York and at first he sang as a lyric baritone. After re-studying as a tenor he made his debut at Houston, where in 1979 he sang Prince Paul in Offenbach's Grande Duchesse de Gerolstein. He also sang Cassio in Otello and Pinkerton at Houston; Melot in Tristan und Isolde at San Francisco; and Arturo in Lucia di Lammermoor at Washington. Following his British debut with WNO as Pinkerton, he returned in 1982 as Jenik. By then he was already at work on Parsifal and Siegmund, which followed respectively in 1983 and 1984. Unfortunately he was ill on the first night of ENO's Parsifal in 1986, but he took over at the third performance.

Meanwhile he had sung Matteo in Arabella at Santa Fe; the title role of Lohengrin at Strasbourg; and the Drum Major in Wozzeck for WNO. He sang Siegmund in WNO's production of The Ring at Covent Garden (1986) and also took the role in Geneva, Seattle, Vienna, Zurich, Paris and with the Royal Opera. At Los Angeles he sang Boris in Katya Kabanova and the Drum Major in 1988. The same year he joined the Deutsche Oper, Berlin, where his repertory included Don Jose, Max in Der Freischutz, Samson and Wagner's Parsifal, Siegmund, Lohengrin and Erik.

A congenial and dramatically credible role for Ellsworth, which he first sang at the 1990 Florence Maggio Musicale, was Jim Mahoney in Kurt Weill's Aufstieg und fall der Stadt Mahagonny. He was equally effective as Sergei in Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk with ENO in 1991, when the title-role was sung by Josephine Barstow. In May 1992 he sang Jim Mahoney again at Geneva; now 40, he still looked incredibly youthful on stage, and his portrait of the simple wood- cutter from Alaska, executed for not paying his bar bill, was energetic, good-natured and, in a similar way to his characterisation of Parsifal, innocent.

(Photograph omitted)

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