Death of an influential English singer, 87

Former students are posting news of the death of Joseph Ward, an estimable opera singer who founded the opera school at the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester.

A Preston baritone who found his way up into tenor range, he created a small baritone role for Benjamin Britten in A Midsummer Night’s Dream and then took on the major title role of Billy Budd, going on to become principal tenor at Covent Garden.

He toured Australia with Joan Sutherland and featured in the first recording of Vaughan Williams’s A Pilgrim’s Progress.

l-r: Peter Pears, Joseph Ward, Britten, unnamed BBC studio manager during Billy Budd recording. Photo: BBC

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  • RIP Joe. A wonderful, entertaining man; fine teacher and great singer. Thoroughly enjoyed playing for your classes in Manchester.

    Joe also directed Billy Budd at the RNCM in the 1980’s. The student cast featured Simon Keenlyside, Paul Nilon, John Connell, Mark Glanville, Clive Bayley, Geraint Dodd, Gareth Jones, Mark Tinkler, Gwion Thomas, Colin Campbell, Andrew Greenan and many others whose names no longer readily spring to mind. Conducted by David Lloyd-Jones it was an incredible production featuring a student body of unparalleled talent:

  • Joe was a wonderful Loge and perfect foil to David Ward’s superb Wotan during Scottish Opera’s Ring cycle in 1971.

  • Joseph Ward was a dynamic Head of studies and at that time many young singers put RNCM vocal and opera department as their first choice. I am so glad to see his college production of Billy Budd mentioned. It was great to be caught up in the excitement of all the rehearsals during my first term and the press reaction was so favourable that people were lined up all down Oxford Road, Manchester trying to get returns because it was a sell out.
    In addition to a very fine list of teaching staff Mr Ward organised masterclasses which enriched students study and added further renown to the college – Dame Joan Sutherland and Richard Bonynge , Sherill Milnes, Dame Joan Hammond ( televised by Granada TV) Norma Procter are among those I remember at that time, but there were many, also Eleanor Fazan the West End Choreographer/ Producer. Still fairly new on the opera scene at the time , Richard Jones came to produce Massenet’s Manon.
    Mr Ward was a very kind man who was dedicated to helping young singers .
    We were too young to have heard him in his singing career, but I do remember at an informal singing session of Victorian and Edwardian ballads, led by another fine singer and teacher April Cantelo, after much persuasion Mr Ward sang for us ‘ The Rose of Tralee’ and there wasn’t a dry eye in the house…. a special memory!

    • Nice that you mentioned April Cantelo, a delightful, gently lady. The RNCM’s teaching staff in those days boasted at least three singers on Britten’s recording of Albert Herring (April, Joe and Catherine Wilson) and, as AndrewB mentions, we benefited enormously from high-grade visiting singers, producers and conductors. The RNCM was the place to be in those days.

  • I am very sorry indeed to hear of the death of Joseph Ward. May he rest in peace.

    When he was head of Opera Studies at the RNCM he was a keen supporter of the late Jean Buckley’s work in promoting the Webster Booth Esso Award. In a letter to her on 15 April 1991, he said, “In doing so you have established a very valuable scholarship which has already benefitted several of our students and will, no doubt, continue to promote the careers of young singers for many years to come…” Sadly, Esso withdrew its sponsorship of the award several years later.

  • I and so many singers and teachers have so much to thank this amazing man for. He was a true “one off” He demanded the highest of standards always. He was utterly fearless, generous, and honest in his dealings with young singers and teachers alike. He had a unique innate knowledge of the “singing business “ the like of which I’ve never come across since. It was indeed a very sad day when he left the RNCM and the wonderful dept he’d built up. Those of us who were privileged to have his input as students and later as members of his teaching staff were indeed blessed .

  • Joe Ward was an absolute inspiration to me as a young singer at the RNCM. I was Squeak in his fantastic production of Billy Budd and learnd so very much just doing this small role. He also coached me on my first Don Jose in Carmen, it was a revelation. Thanks so much Joe, you will be forever in my thoughts.

  • Dearest Joe taught me when I was at the RNCM. Such a generous man with both his time and knowledge. I shall always be thankful for all his nuggets of musical insight and humour in lessons. He taught me everything I know about bel canto singing. Thank you Joe. RIP.

  • Joe was so generous, encouraging and a joy to work for. During his time has Head of Vocal Studies at RNCM I found him so supportive and I remain eternally grateful to him for the opportunities that came my way as an accompanist in concert with such wonderful singers as Jane Eagle, Barry Banks, Claire Moore, and Joan Rogers. He was a man with a big heart, wonderful humour and had an amazing ability to bring out the best from his students. He will be remembered by so many. Thanks for the videos on this site.

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