Ken Neate

Picture of Ken Neate in Madama Butterfly

Picture of Ken Neate in Madama Butterfly
Ken Neate was born in Cessnock, New South Wales on 28 July 1914. He studied piano and voice in Newcastle and had further study in Sydney with Lute Drummond and Lionello Cecil. Neate joined the New South Wales Police Force, serving in inner-city stations in Sydney. He became a soloist in the NSW Police Choir and soon became known as "The singing policeman". He also studied at the University of Melbourne.

He sang his first operatic roles as Pinkerton in Madama Butterfly and the title role in a concert performance of Lohengrin with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra.

After hearing Neate sing in 1939, John Brownlee introduced him to the Metropolitan Opera, New York, and recommended he study with his own teacher, Emilio de Gogorza, and with Elisabeth Schumann. In 1941 he toured New Zealand with Oscar Natzke. That year, he studied roles such as Don José with Brownlee, and Lohengrin with Lotte Lehmann. He auditioned for Bruno Walter, which led to his becoming understudy to Charles Kullman for Die Zauberflöte at the Met. In 1941 he joined the Royal Canadian Air Force, becoming a pilot officer. He had already appeared in opera and concert under the direction of Sir Thomas Beecham in Montreal.

After the war, he appeared as Don José at Covent Garden in 1947 in the very first performance by the Covent Garden Company; that season, he also appeared as Tamino , and as the Italian Singer. That year he sang the title role in Faust for the first time (he was to sing the role over 80 times until 1965, in Europe, the UK and Australia). In 1948 he sang Alfredo in La traviata opposite Elisabeth Schwarzkopf.

In 1950 and 1951, Ken Neate sang the roles of Rodolfo, Cavaradossi, and Pinkerton in productions televised by the BBC. He often appeared with his fellow Australian Rosina Raisbeck at Covent Garden. He made the first of five tours to Australia in 1952. He returned in 1955 (when he appeared with an Italian touring company alongside singers such as Gabriella Tucci and the up-and-coming Donald Smith), 1960, 1968 and 1970 (that year as Florestan in Fidelio.

In May 1956 at Bordeaux, Neate created the title role in Henri Tomasi's Sampiero Corso, which was repeated at the Holland Festival in June. That year, Neate sang in the first television recordings for Italian radio and television of La fanciulla del West, Turandot and Alfredo Catalani's Loreley.

Neate's lyric tenor had developed into a heldentenor by the end of the 1950s. He sang Tannhäuser over 160 times, in German, Italian and English. In Germany he met and married the German mezzo-soprano Gertrud Vollath. He also sang Stolzing (Vienna State Opera and Zürich Opera), Eric, Lohengrin and Siegmund (Die Walküre). At the Bayreuth Festival of 1963 he sang the role of Loge in Das Rheingold, at the invitation of Wolfgang Wagner and Rudolf Kempe, becoming the first Australian to sing a major role at Bayreuth. He studied heldentenor roles with Max Lorenz.

In Italy in the mid-1950s, he had a major career in the houses of San Carlo (Naples), La Fenice (Venice), Parma and Bologna, in roles such as Faust, Calaf and Don Carlo.

In 1956 he released his first solo LP Una serata dell'opera with the Orchestre Philharmonique de Paris under Napoleone Annovazzi (later available on CD). The 1959 Franco Zeffirelli production of Lucia di Lammermoor at Covent Garden is famous for Joan Sutherland's breakthrough performance in the title role. The tenor role of Edgardo in that production was sung by Ken Neate, who replaced the scheduled tenor at short notice.

On 26 October 1961, Neate created the role of Danforth in the world premiere of Robert Ward's The crucible at the New York City Opera. That year he also sang there as Radames in Aida, Don José, and Stravinsky's Oedipus rex.

In 1962 he sang at the Paris Opera. In Paris and other centres in France, he sang Arnold , Roméo and Hoffmann. In Paris, he studied with Lucien Muratore, who presented Ken with several of his own costumes including that of Don José and his swords and daggers.

In 1966 and 1967 he appeared opposite Birgit Nilsson in a new production of Tristan und Isolde at the Royal Opera in Stockholm, and at Expo 67 in Montreal. The role of Brangäne was sung by Kerstin Meyer.

Ken Neate also sang the Richard Strauss roles of Ägisth, Bacchus and Apollo. However, his repertoire was not confined to opera. He sang in such works as Beethoven's 9th Symphony, Mahler's Symphony of a thousand and Das Lied von der Erde, Schönberg's Gurrelieder, Händel oratorios, Dvořák's Stabat mater, and the Requiems of Mozart, Verdi and Berlioz (Grande messe des morts), under such conductors as Sir Thomas Beecham, Antal Doráti, Eduard van Beinum, Jascha Horenstein, Josef Krips, Rudolf Kempe, Wolfgang Sawallisch and Carlo Maria Giulini.

On his return to Australia to sing Tannhäuser in 1968, his voice was showing signs of degeneration. His last performance in opera was in the title role of Verdi's Otello, at the Landestheater in Innsbruck in 1975. Although he was then aged 61, his interpretation of Otello was highly praised, both vocally and dramatically.

Neate also produced operas in Ireland and Austria, such as Il trovatore, Don Carlo, Tosca, Samson and Delilah, Tannhäuser and Fidelio. He also wrote some songs (Homeward calling; I am off to Kambalda).

Ken Neate died in Munich, Germany on 27 June 1997. His body was discovered in his apartment in Munich, after not being heard of for several days, by Martin Cooke and Thomas Silverbörg.

His book "Great singing: common sense in singing" was left uncompleted at his death, and has since been published by his widow.

Ken Neate sings Turandot: Nessun dorma
In RA format

Ken Neate sings Turandot: Principessa di morte, with Maria Pedrini

Ken Neate singsIris: Apri la tua finestra
In RA format

Martin Cooke's website
Martin Cooke's site is very interesting. He talks about his career, with the inclusion of many interesting pictures. We have also a rundown on Australia where Martin is from. And there is the best information available on Ken Neate. Neate was Martin's teacher, while Muratore was Ken Neate's teacher. It also has audio samples of Ken Neate, plus an obituary of Ken Neate written by Martin for the magazine "Opera".
I wish to thank for Martin Cooke for the additional picture.

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