Biography

Thomas Hemsley CBE (1927-2013) was an English baritone who celebrated a singing career spanning more than forty years, during which he sang repertoire ranging from English cathedral music to Wagner at the Bayreuth Festival.

After taking his degree in Physics at Oxford, and while still a member of the choir of St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, Thomas Hemsley started his operatic career during the 1951 Festival of Britain by partnering two legendary sopranos, Kirsten Flagstad and Maggie Teyte, in Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas at Bernard Miles’s Mermaid Theatre. He went on to sing for many years in some of the great German opera houses, at Glyndeboume, with all the major Opera companies in the United Kingdom, and at international festivals throughout Europe. One of the highlights of his career was singing the role of Sixtus Beckmesser in the centenary production of Wagner’s Meistersinger at the Bayreuth Festival.

During this time, while singing some 150 operatic roles, he also built up an international reputation as a recitalist and concert singer. Particularly notable were his Hugo Wolf recitals with the great Viennese soprano Irmgard Seefried.

Thomas Hemsley sang with the greatest conductors of our time, and for composers such as Vaughan Williams, Hindemith, Stravinsky, Britten, Walton, Tippett and Henze (creating roles in operas by the last four). For several years after the premiere of Britten’s War Requiem he sang virtually all the performances – mostly given under the composer’s direction.

After retiring from performing, Thomas Hemsley taught at music academies in Britain and abroad – particularly throughout Scandinavia. He gave Masterclasses on BBC-TV and for Danish TV. In The Listener, his classes on German Song for BBC2 were chosen by Yehudi Menuhin as the best TV music programme of the year. He also produced Opera in Britain and the United States. From 1987 to 2004 he was director of the Opera programme at the Dartington International Music Summer School. He lectured widely.