The Scot who sang with Callas

The Scot who sang with Callas


norman lebrecht

February 02, 2016

The death has been reported* of Duncan Robertson, a splendid tenor and pillar of Scottish Opera, who enjoyed a far-flung international career. Duncan was 91. He recorded with Callas, Giulini and other giants of his era.

duncan robertson

*in the small notices of the Daily Telegraph


  • Peter Phillips says:

    Sad that there are so far no tributes or comments for a tenor with a pure, steady voice and immaculate diction. I recall seeing him in Elijah in Sheffield with Benjamin Luxon, Elizabeth Harwood and James Loughran conducting. The tenor’s part is relatively thankless in comparison with the named part so it’s some sort of tribute that fifty years or so later I still remember who the tenor was and how he sang it. The clip from Messiah with Helen Watts is surely from the Frederic Jackson recording on Saga LPs. Isn’t it?

  • Peter Phillips says:

    I meant forty years ago, not fifty.

  • David & Morag Robertson says:

    Thank you for your generous words about our father. It is heartening to know that those who heard him perform remember his talent. One of his arias was played at the end of his funeral service today (Feb 5th) – he would have enjoyed the idea of singing at his own funeral!

    • David Brown says:

      By pure chance today (14 Feb) I remembered Duncan, who gave me singing lessons here in Bristol in the 1990s. A lovely man and a great singer and teacher, so inspiring and supporting – like voluntarily coming to some of my performances. So I looked him up on Google and saw this sad news. As well as the fun lessons I remember all the banter about Scotland because I am from Edinburgh! And mad dashes through the Bristol traffic up one-way streets the wrong way after the lessons, as I tried to get him back to Temple Meads in time for his train home! I’ve been listening to his work that’s available on line and his voice was amazing. Can you get more on line? He made a tape for me of some of his radio work, that I think your mother taped off the (live) radio performances! Those were the days! I will play that again and send up a thought for him. I wish you strength through this very sad time. All the best.

    • Norrie Paton says:

      I was indeed saddened to learn of your father’s passing. It did not seem to merit the attention it should have been given in the media. It may have been that I missed it.

      I only have one album of him, singing five Burns songs, in which I thought he had a fine tenor voice. I intend to download some tracks of him from Amazon digital music.

      Recently I wrote an article on Joseph Hislop, another outstanding Scottish tenor, who no longer seems to attract interest in his native Scotland. More’s the pity!

      Norrie Paton.

    • Andrew P Bennett says:

      Dear David and Morag,
      I was so sorry to hear of Duncan’s death. Duncan and Mary came to stay with me in France when I was singing with the Opera de Nantes. I first met Duncan at Charterhouse Summer School when he kindly took me through the Tenor part of Messiah . I still have his breathing indications in my score.
      Later on when I was back in the UK for a few months and my parents were living in Keynsham I used to go across to the house in Bradford on Avon for a singing lesson. We kept contact for a number of years. I think the last time was a call my father took while I was touring with Accentus Choeur de Chambre. Duncan had heard one of our recordings on Radio 3 and was thrilled with it so he rang which was very typical of his kind attitude.
      I have fond memories of both Mary and Duncan in Nantes when I took them to La Cigale restaurant opposite the opera house after the show with colleagues. They really enjoyed all the singer’s shop talk in a mixture of French and English. Duncan had recently won a prize after a BBC French course .
      All best wishes to you. I have had to halt my singing for a year following a major illness and accident, but I hope that further surgery at the end of the month will help restore my autonomy in the long term. I do hope that you enjoy the memories of Duncan I have shared with you. A delightful man, wonderful teacher and singer.

      • Morag René says:

        We have only just seen your comments, Andrew. Thank you for sharing your memories. We hope that you are now in much better health. I remember how much my parents enjoyed visiting you in France.
        With very best wishes from both my brother and me,

        • Andrew P Bennett says:

          Thank you Morag. I am currently undertaking a Continued Professional Development course for Singing Teachers and some voice coaching online to keep as active as possible. Unfortunately I am still ‘in the wars’ as they say with more surgery due . However it has been lovely to share with you about Duncan and Mary. I know how very proud of their family they were. Take care.

    • Mary Craig says:

      I have just learned, a year on, of Duncan’s demise. I was a fellow singin student at RSAM , Glasgow in the period 1944-47. He was a couple of years ahead of me – I am now in my 9stv year. If still of interest to his family I could pass on a piece about him.
      Mary Craig , nee Mills, now in Dunblane.
      Email :
      Tel. 01786 880422.

    • Catriona Watson says:

      Only just now read, and was sad to hear, of your father’s passing. He was my mother Catherine’s (Robertson) cousin, and she often spoke of him. I met him once in Nairn or Elgin many years ago while he was on tour. I always enjoyed listening to him sing, and watching his all too few TV appearances.

  • Robert Hurst says:

    My feeble attempts to find dear Duncan online have only just been rewarded. My fond memories are our joyful lessons in Bristol and visits to Bradford-on-Avon meeting Mary too. Despite the passing years Duncan’s enthusiasm for teaching me a really admiring pupil , have never left me. I will never forget his encouragement when I played Harry Secombe’s Pickwick role at Bristol Hippodrome in 1992. I am saddened he has passed away and wish I could have offered sympathy at the right time which is nonetheless sent today.

  • David Murphy says:

    I have Duncan Robertson on a 1966 Saga Records (stereo LPs) Messiah which of course is playing now!
    Very fine technique, long breathed, and beautiful voice. My favourite compared with McKellar, Wakefield, Brown, even Young.