Doctor of Music
Tuesday 28 January 2014 at 2.30 pm - Orator: Professor Katharine Ellis
In 1974 a Bristol Theology student, based in what he calls the ‘servants’ quarters’ of Royal Fort House, broke through the connecting door to the posh part of the building—the Music Department—to complete his Theology degree with a song recital. Professors Raymond Warren (upstairs) and Kenneth Grayston (downstairs) knew they had something rather special in Andrew Shore. He has since become one of Britain’s foremost operatic baritones, equally renowned for his acting as for his singing. Devotion to English National Opera since his début in 1987 runs parallel with appearances at major opera houses worldwide. From 2006 he spent five years as the evil dwarf Alberich in Richard Wagner’s Ring cycle at Bayreuth. Fast-forward to 2010 and we find him at the Lyric Theater in Chicago, bringing the house down as Pooh-Bah, sidekick to the Lord High Executioner of Titipu, in The Mikado. He has been Birtwistle’s grotesquely violent Mr Punch, Tippett’s tragic King Priam, Berg’s tormented Wozzeck—and Donizetti’s hilarious quack doctor Dulcamara. Even among world-class singers, his range is astounding: he truly merits his Titipu title of ‘Lord High Everything Else’.
Andrew’s first major role, at school in his native Lancashire, was as Curly in Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Oklahoma!; he grew up on amateur Gilbert and Sullivan and on the plays mounted by Oldham’s Youth Theatre. Hardly surprising, then, that at Bristol he took the idea of the ‘university’ very seriously indeed, and immersed himself in the vibrant Opera and Music Societies. His career aspirations now clear, it was at Bristol that he began his apprenticeship as an actor-singer and as an opera producer.
From Bristol he went to the Royal Northern College of Music, though he regularly headed back to work with Bristol Intimate Opera and the Bristol Opera Company, and continued a long-standing collaboration with composer David Selwyn, his friend and contemporary at Bristol who went on to teach at the Grammar School. A stage-management course at the London Opera Centre led to his first job, with the Arts Council’s educational project, Opera For All. This small-scale touring group—just principals, piano and a few props—played in venues so tiny that the front row could almost join in.
Seeing how spontaneously the audience reacted instilled in Andrew a determination to dispel what he calls the ‘lazy myth’ that opera is elitist. It also galvanised his belief that opera was best performed in the audience’s native language. As a member of Kent Opera, from 1979, he did more pioneering educational work in schools and colleges, encouraging youngsters to act to the music of operatic scenes, to feel bodily how gestural music can be, and to get a sense of its dramatic power.
Operatic baritones can have a hard time of it. Compared with sopranos and tenors they are not the industry’s darlings, and onstage in the standard Romantic repertoire they are surrounded by love-interest but rarely get the girl. More often, composers give their darker voices authoritarian, conniving or comedy roles. It was as Mozart’s hapless gardener Antonio in The Marriage of Figaro that Andrew first made his mark at Kent Opera, and it is for comic roles that he remains best known. To them he brings unparalleled clarity of diction honed by youth theatre, Rodgers and Hammerstein and patter-song, together with a gift for improvisation, naturalness of gesture, and comic timing. When English National Opera introduced surtitles—for opera sung in English!—he protested for reasons worthy of a stand-up comedian: that they could ruin an onstage joke by pre-empting its punchline. Not for nothing has Andrew been called ‘Opera’s answer to Les Dawson’.
As immortalised by the likes of Peter Sellers or Arthur Lowe, classic British film and TV comedy have influenced him deeply, and in 1999 the critic Rupert Christiansen paid him the ultimate compliment, writing in The Times that the ‘down-in the-mouth exasperation’ of his Papageno in Mozart’s The Magic Flute was ‘reminiscent of the sublime Tony Hancock’. Yet if Andrew has a signature role of this kind it must surely be Verdi’s Falstaff, where, like Hancock, Lowe and Harry H. Corbett as the younger Steptoe, he capitalises on the way the best comedy uses public laughter to reveal private pain.
Andrew Shore is one of opera’s great advocates and communicators. In an environment where—let’s face it—narcissism is not unknown, with Andrew it is never about the singer, but always about the character on stage. His career-long mission to connect musically and dramatically with his audience has made him a consummate actor-singer and a champion of everything that dissolves barriers between opera and the widest possible public. He is a role-model for young singers entering a profession whose apparent glamour belies its toughness.
Mr Vice-Chancellor, since it is not, alas, in your gift to confer on Andrew Shore the title of Lord High Everything Else, I present him to you instead as pre-eminently worthy of the degree of Doctor of Music, honoris causa.