Death of an exemplary British tenor, 83

Death of an exemplary British tenor, 83


norman lebrecht

November 10, 2019

We’ve been notified of the death of John Wakefield, a mainstay tenor in British opera houses and, in the latter part of his career, professor of voice at Trinity Laban.

He was one of the early winners of the Kathlees Ferrier award.

Abroad he sang in Brussels, Lyon, Munich and Santa Fe.



  • NNN222 says:

    Beautiful voice, lovely man. He’ll be missed. RIP

  • leaky says:

    wasn’t his brother Ted a Black-and-White Minstrel?

  • Sara Feldmann Brummer says:

    Very sad to hear this news, he was my teacher for several years at the start of my professional training. A lovely man.

  • Helen Errington says:

    Such a lovely man, he taught me at Trinity. RIP

  • Prix D'excellence says:

    John was a wonderful man who had a wonderful voice. He alas found his way into teaching after vocal problems, caused by over work. This switch in career suited him well, and he was an outstanding teacher who always took an interest in the vocal aspirations of his students. John could also be found as an adjudicator at many local music festivals, offering constructive, positive and encouraging advice to singers and choirs. Indeed Ted Darling was his brother, and a member of the Minstrels. John decided early on to change his name to the town of his birth, Wakefield, so as to avoid any professional confusion between him and his brother. I will miss John, as both a friend and fellow musician. His performances in “The Messiah” with Sir Colin Davis still remains one of the great performances of all time.RIP.

    • Colin Berwick says:

      Yesterday we learnt here in Chepstow that Ted Darling his brother has most recently passed away.For many years here in Chepstow Ted was The Choir Director for the U3A Choir.He will be missed.

      • Shirley Liberman says:

        Do you have more info on the passing of Ted? I just came across this together with the passing of his brother John.

    • Jason Howard says:

      Hi There. Thanks for your kind words about John. He was one in a million for sure. I do feel I have to correct your statement somewhat though. John did have vocal problems…but they weren’t “caused by over work”. He contracted a rare vocal condition called spasmodic dysphonia which led to his early retirement from the stage. There have been many theories about what happened to him but this is this the correct cause. He wasn’t correctly diagnosed until relatively recently actually and until that diagnosis was even a bit confused about the reasons himself! There are many different causes which can give rise to this condition but it is almost impossible to pin down. The one thing the specialist was emphatic about was that it had nothing whatsoever to do with his vocal technique (which was excellent).


    I shall always remember his fine lyric tenor voice in G. F. Handel’s masterful and masterpiece oratorio “Messiah” that he recorded in 1966 with a starry cast of singer colleagues and under the most inspired baton of Sir Colin Davis. R.I.P., Maestro!
    P. S. I quote from your article: “He was one of the early winners of the Kathlees Ferrier Award.” It is Kathleen, not Kathlees.


    I would also like to mention that maestro John Wakefield’s wife, Mrs Rilla Darling (Darling was maestro’s birth name), and I have been Facebook friends for a few weeks. I was so honoured that Rilla sent me the friend request. Since today, I am also a Founding Member of the opera group “Dearest John”… Memories of John Wakefield (1936-2019), invited by Mrs. Rilla Darling.

    • Colin Berwick says:

      Yesterday we learnt here in Chepstow that Ted Darling his brother has most recently passed away.For many years here in Chepstow Ted was The Choir Director for the U3A Choir.He will be missed.

    • Oliver Broome says:

      I have only just learned about the passing of my school-friend, John Darling, & of his brother Ted.
      Our music-teacher at Thornes House Grammar School, Wakefield, Margaret Markland, trained a fine, prize-winning choir, in which we were members. We also had a male-voice quartet, of which John was the top voice & mine the bass. In later years, John was a soloist under my baton on a number of occasions. Together, John & I, as his accompanist, won the highest marks in Harrogate Music Festival. I am so deeply saddened by the loss of these two dear friends. Please do pass on my condolences to John’s widow.
      Oliver Broome


    Dear friends,
    Thank you very much for posting my two comments concerning the fine lyric English tenor John Wakefield, who passed away a couple of days ago…

  • Alex says:

    John was a wonderful teacher and person. I studied with him at Trinity College of Music from 2001-2005. His style of teaching was very nurturing and he transformed me from a baritone to a tenor (which at the time I was very sceptical about). However of course he was correct.

    It was during this time that he was approached by a doctor who had contacted him about his speech problems. He was a specialist in his field, and it seems that his vocal problems were not the cause of over singing but due to a virus. As far as I can remember he said that the virus attacked his nervous system so affecting the signals from his brain to his larynx. I remember that this was a comfort to John as he had never felt he had over sung during his career.

    A very generous, kind man. I was deeply saddened by his passing.

  • Jason Howard says:

    John was, quite simply one of the good guys. He had a voice of gold with a heart to match and I had the good fortune to have him as my singing teacher, mentor and close friend for the past 35 years. His stellar career and subsequent vocal trials helped forge him into a superb singing teacher. He knew exactly what to say at the right time with the knack of putting things simply and clearly, facilitating a rapid comprehension by the student. A rare gift in the often arcane, opaque milieu of vocal pedagogy. But above all….he was simply one of the nicest people you’d ever wish to meet. His death is a huge loss. Please visit “Dearest John……Memories of John Wakefield 1936-2019” on Facebook for further info about his life and career.

  • Norman Archibald and Alison MacGregor says:

    Norman Archibald Sadlers Wells Orchestra and wife Alison MacGregor singer
    Lovely man many memories

  • Lisa FitzGerald says:

    R.I.P John,
    You were a superb teacher with an amazing sense of humour and drive. You will be sadly missed by many xx

    • James Hay says:

      Dear Lisa,

      I was one of John’s first pupils at Trinity College of Music in the seventies. I had three happy years studying with John. Do you have any further information concerning his passing? Are Trinity planning a Memorial Concert at all?

      Hope you can enlighten me as I have only just heard about his passing.

      Many thanks,

      James Hay

  • James Hay says:

    I was one of John’s first pupils at Trinity College of Music in the late seventies. I had three happy years studying with John. I have only just learnt of his passing. I have a copy of his Messiah with Sir Colin Davis. A remarkable performance.

    RIP John. James Hay

  • Oliver Broome says:

    I was at school(Thornes House Grammar, Wakefield) with both Ted. & John & sang with them in the prize-winning school-choir plus, with John, in a Male-Voice Quartet. I also accompanied John, at short notice, in a competition – Harrogate Music Festival. The adjudicator, Ernest Read? – said :”These boys must have been working together for months” & we won the highest marks of the Festival. We had only had a last-minute run-through. John also sang as a soloist under my baton on several occasions in later years. There is a lovely story (is it true?) : when John first went to sing at Glyndebourne as a soloist, on leaving the train at Lewes station to travel to Glyndebourne in the special car, there was another singer : the bass, Plinio Clabassi who put out his hand to John, saying : “Clabassi” to which John responded : “Tenore” !!!
    But I could write very much more but had better resist.
    I am, though, shocked & saddened by news of his dath.