British bass John Tomlinson made his Royal Opera debut in 1977 as Fifth Jew (Salome). He has returned regularly to sing with The Royal Opera, his many roles including Wotan, Hunding and Hagen (Der Ring des Nibelungen), Veit Pogner and Hans Sachs (Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg), King Marke (Tristan und Isolde) and Gurnemanz (Parsifal), the role creations Green Knight (Gawain) and the title role of The Minotaur, both for Harrison Birtwistle, Boris Ismailov (Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk), General (The Gambler), Ivan Iakovlevitch/Newspaper Clerk/Doctor (The Nose) and Doctor Carlos Conde (The Exterminating Angel). He returns in the 2018/19 Season to sing Varlaam (Boris Godunov).
Tomlinson was born in Accrington, read civil engineering at Manchester University and studied singing at the Royal Northern College of Music. He made his Bayreuth Festival debut in 1988 as Wotan (Der Ring des Nibelungen) under Daniel Barenboim and went on to sing at Bayreuth every summer from 1989 to 2006. He has sung for the world’s leading opera houses, including the Metropolitan Opera, New York, La Scala, Milan, Deutsche Oper Berlin and Berlin State Opera, the opera companies of Pairs, Munich, Dresden and Geneva, all the major British companies and at the Glyndebourne, Aix-en-Provence, Salzburg and Munich festivals. Along with leading Wagner roles for bass and bass-baritone, his repertory has included Boris Godunov, Bluebeard, Baron Ochs (Der Rosenkavalier), Golaud (Pelléas et Mélisande), Claggart (Billy Budd), Philip II and the Grand Inquisitor (Don Carlo), Méphistophélès (Faust), the four villains (Les Contes d’Hoffmann), the title role of Ivan Susanin, Jacopo Fiesco (Simon Boccanegra), Tommaso Becket (Assassinio nella cattedrale), Boris Ismailov and Moses (Moses und Aron).
Tomlinson’s wide discography includes CDs of works by Handel, Mozart, Wagner and Stravinsky and DVDs of The Minotaur, Parsifal and Der Ring des Nibelungen. He was knighted in 2005.
News and features
From dastardly demons to boozy brothel owners – we give the low-down on opera’s best bass roles.
The stars of The Royal Opera's new production discuss the monstrous myth and what makes the music so special for singers.
Over 41 years, all the greats – including Plácido Domingo, Kiri Te Kanawa and Luciano Pavarotti – have performed in John Copley’s classic production.
John Tomlinson and Anne Sofie Von Otter in The Exterminating Angel (C) ROH 2017. Photograph by Clive Barda
John Tomlinson as Newspaper Office Clerk, Martin Winkler as Kovalov and members of the ensemble in The Nose, The Royal Opera
John Tomlinson as Colline, Thomas Allen as Marcello, William Workman as Schaunard and José Carreras as Rodolfo in La bohème, The Royal Opera, 1984
Harry Nicoll as Missail and John Tomlinson as Varlaam in rehearsal for Boris Godunov, The Royal Opera
Rebecca de Pont Davies as Hostess of the Inn and John Tomlinson as Varlaam in rehearsal for Boris Godunov, The Royal Opera
Rainer Trost as Aron and John Tomlinson as Moses in Moses und Aron
John Tomlinson in The Minotaur, The Royal Opera
John Tomlinson with Antonio Pappano, celebrating 35 years performing with The Royal Opera
John Tomlinson with Kasper Holten, celebrating 35 years performing with The Royal Opera
Simon Keenlyside as Wozzeck and John Tomlinson as the Doctor in Wozzeck
John Tomlinson as Hagen in Götterdämmerung
John Tomlinson performing at the Verdi vs Wagner debate as part of Stephen Fry's Deloitte Ignite
Sir John Tomlinson in rehearsal with the Meistersinger cast
Alan Ewing as Frontier Guard and John Tomlinson as Varlaam in Boris Godunov, The Royal Opera
Wolfgang Ablinger-Sperrhacke as Ivan (Kovalov’s Servant), John Tomlinson as Doctor, Martin Winkler as Kovalov in The Nose, The Royal Opera
Harry Nicoll and John Tomlinson in Boris Godunov
John Tomlinson as Tirésias in Oedipe, The Royal Opera
Sir Thomas Allen with Sir John Tomlinson in Die Meistersinger (2000)
Peter Coleman-Wright as Beckmesser and Sir John Tomlinson as Pogner in Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg
Gerhard Siegel as the Captain and Simon Keenlyside as Wozzeck in Wozzeck
John Tomlinson as The Minotaur in The Minotaur
John Tomlinson as Varlaam in Boris Godunov, The Royal Opera
John Tomlinson in The Exterminating Angel (C) ROH 2017. Photograph by Clive Barda
John Tomlinson and Harry Nicoll in Boris Godunov
John Tomlinson as King Marke in Tristan und Isolde
John Tomlinson as Gurnemanz, Petra Lang as Kundry and Christopher Ventris as Parsifal in Parsifal
John Tomlinson as Hagen and Wolfgang Koch as Alberich in Götterdämmerung
John Tomlinson as Hunding in Die Walküre
John Tomlinson as Hagen in Götterdämmerung
Sir John Tomlinson as The Grand Inquisitor in Don Carlo
John Tomlinson with composer Harrison Birtwistle after The Minotaur, celebrating 35 years performing with The Royal Opera
John Tomlinson celebrating 35 years of singing with The Royal Opera after a performance of The Minotaur
Emma Bell as Eva and Sir John Tomlinson as Pogner with chorus in Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg
Sir John Tomlinson as Pogner in Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg
Sir John Tomlinson as King Marke in Tristan and Isolde