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March 30, 2011

Robert Tear, eloquent Welsh tenor, dies at 72

On Tuesday, quite by chance, I was looking for something to put on the CD player while hanging around the house (I'll be spending a lot of time at home until the first week of May -- no, I haven't been disciplined by the Sun; a company policy requires that I take a whole mess of unused vacation time now).

I spied the delectable recording of Victorian songs and ballads featuring tenor Robert Tear and baritone Benjamin Luxon, with Andre Previn at the piano. I found the CD re-release last year (my 1970s LP version was pretty much shot), but, for reasons unknown, I had never actually gotten around to slipping it into the machine for a spin.

So there I was Tuesday, getting into a Victorian mood and enjoying all over again those fine artists performing those great old tunes. I remember I stopped what I was doing to listen intently to Robert Tear singing ...

"Tom Bowling," the Charles Didbin ballad about "the darling of our crew" who died while at sea and whose "soul has gone aloft." The tenor's eloquent, warm-toned performance moved me all over again.

On Wednesday, I learned that Mr. Tear had died in a London hospice on Tuesday at the age of 72. The cause was cancer.

The much-recorded Mr. Tear was one of the first classically trained vocal artists I found myself drawn to back in the days when I was still quite wary of operatic singing. I think the first thing of his I discovered was a recording of Tchaikovsky songs that revealed how ardent and communicative he could be. I recall fondly, too, his recording of Mahler's "Songs of a Wayfarer," a work not ordinarily undertaken by tenors.

I am so glad that I got to see Mr. Tear on the stage performing one of his most admired roles -- Aschenbach in Britten's "Death in Venice" at Glyndebourne. What a riveting, deeply affecting portrayal.

I'll always have a particular fondness for the wonderful charm and sincerity that Mr. Tear (and Mr. Luxon) brought to those Victorian pieces. Such vocal artistry makes these songs seem somehow far from dated.

Here's an audio clip of Mr. Tear singing "Tom Bowling," a performance that strikes me as perfect in every way:

Posted by Tim Smith at 10:55 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Clef Notes


I was an American college student in a semester-abroad program in London in 1982 when I first heard Mr. Tear sing. Sadly, in was in a BBC broadcast rather than in person - tickets for the Covent Garden Semele, in which he sang Jupiter, cost as much as my entire weekly budget! But listen I did. And I remember vividly the familiar "Where e'er you walk" aria, which I had and have never heard sung so well - including the da capo repeat in which the customary embellishments were that rare combination of virtuousic and tasteful. And as this was a live broadcast, I also remember the ovation: a full 3 minutes or more, if memory serves. May he rest in peace.

Thanks so much for sharing that memory. TIM

Robert Tear and hornist Alan Civil also made one of the great recordings of the Britten Serenade for Tenor, Horn and strings. His voice was wonderfully expressive.

I love that Britten recording, too. Thanks for reminding me of it. TIM

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About Tim Smith
Born and raised in Washington, D.C., I couldn't help but develop a keen interest in politics, but music, theater and visual art also proved great attractions. Music became my main focus after high school. I thought about being a cocktail pianist, but I hated taking requests, so I studied music history instead, earning a B.A. in that field from Eisenhower College (Seneca Falls, N.Y.) and an M.A. from Occidental College (Los Angeles). I then landed in journalism. After freelancing for the Washington Post and others, I was classical music critic for the Sun-Sentinel in South Florida, where I also contributed to NPR. I've written for the New York Times, BBC Music Magazine and other publications, and I'm a longtime contributor to Opera News. My book, The NPR Curious Listener's Guide to Classical Music (Perigee, 2002), can be found on the most discerning remainder racks.

I joined the Baltimore Sun as classical music critic in 2000 and, in 2009, also became theater critic, giving me the opportunity to annoy a whole new audience. In 2010, my original Clef Notes blog expanded to encompass a theatrical component -- how could I resist calling it Drama Queens? I hope you'll find both sides of this blog coin worth exploring and reacting to; your own comments are always welcome and valued (well, most of them, at least).

Think of this as your open-all-hours, cyber green room, where there's always a performer or performance to discuss, some news to digest, or maybe just a little good gossip to share.
Note: Tim Smith now writes about the fine arts at This blog will be kept in place as an archive for an indefinite period. Please visit the new location to get the latest Mid-Atlantic arts coverage.
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