Graham Clark in Tristan und Isolde, The Royal Opera © ROH:Clive Barda, 2014
Graham Clark in Tristan und Isolde, The Royal Opera © ROH:Clive Barda, 2014

Remembering Graham Clark (1941–2023)

The English tenor was a perennially popular figure on the operatic stage, performing frequently at the Royal Opera House across 23 years.

ByChloe Westwood (Head of Opera Press)
Friday 7 July 2023, 3.15pm

Graham Clark was a versatile tenor, especially acclaimed for his performances in ‘character’ roles such as Mime and Loge in Wagner’s Ring cycle and The Captain in Berg’s Wozzeck. He sang regularly at the Wagner Festival in Bayreuth for 11 years and won an Olivier Award in 1986 for his portrayal of Mephistopheles in Busoni’s Doktor Faust with English National Opera. 

Clark was born in Littleborough, Lancashire, on 10 November 1941 and started to sing as a treble in the local church choir. He studied at Loughborough University, then worked as a PE teacher and as a senior regional officer of the Sports Council before training as a singer with Bruce Boyce.   

In 1975, he auditioned for a charity gala at the Royal Opera House, designed to raise funds for Darwin, Australia, which had been devastated by a cyclone. The concert was issued as an LP by Decca, leading to the offer of a contract with Scottish Opera, where he made his debut that same year. 

Clark was a principal at ENO from 1978 to 1985. He worked often with Opera North and Welsh National Opera, and sang annually at Bayreuth from 1981 to 1992. His US debut took place in 1985 at the Metropolitan Opera, New York, where he sang the role of Steva in Jenůfa, and his many engagements later on in life included a role in Birtwistle’s Punch and Judy with ENO at the Young Vic (2008). 

At the Royal Opera House, he made his operatic debut as Mime in Siegfried in 1995. He went on to sing the roles of Captain Vere in Billy Budd (1995), the Bishop of Budoja in Palestrina (2001), the Captain in Wozzeck (2002), Cochenille and the other villains’ servants in Les Contes d’Hoffmann (2008), Valzacchi in Der Rosenkavalier (2009), Sellem in The Rake’s Progress (2010), Monsieur Taupe in Capriccio (2013, concert performances), the Shepherd in Tristan und Isolde (2014) and Antonič in From the House of the Dead (2018). 

Clark was nominated three times for Outstanding Individual Achievement in Opera, and for an Emmy for his role in the world premiere of John Corigliano's The Ghosts of Versailles at the Met (1991-1992). He was awarded an honorary doctorate by Loughborough University and won both the Wagner Society’s Sir Reginald Goodall Memorial Award (2001), and the Sherwin Award (2009). 

Antonio Pappano, Music Director of The Royal Opera commented: 'Graham Clark was a friend and certainly one of my favourite collaborators; a mesmerising stage presence and gifted with a natural exuberance that kept everyone around him positive and always laughing. A star in every way.' 

Oliver Mears, Director of The Royal Opera said: 'Graham Clark was the most outstanding of stage artists and the most generous, warm-hearted of colleagues. As brilliant at pinging through a vast orchestra with his extraordinary voice as he was at spell-binding an audience with his dramatic charisma, Graham was also a storyteller extraordinaire who genuinely cared about the art form and his colleagues. I loved working with him and we will all miss him hugely.'

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