The great US bass Arthur Woodley died yesterday at the age of 71. The conductor Stephen Lord mourns a friend:
The year 2020 started with such promise. But instead of giving, it has been a year of relentless taking, most recently one of the kindest, most generous, beautiful people and colleagues to grace the music business. Arthur Woodley. Arthur always greeted friends with a smile that gave off the warmth of his native islands.
We collaborated on so many projects it is hard to recall them all but recalling what he brought to them is simple. He was a champion. In a performance of I puritani, when his tenor colleague canceled and the cover was under the weather, Arthur, too, was suddenly unwell. Rather than sending his inexperienced cover on with the possibly of making an already impossible situation worse, he said “Never mind, I’ll do what I can” and the brave, unique soul tried to sing the second act and couldn’t. What did he do? He did a Rex Harrison and spoke his lines almost as eloquently as Bellini wrote them.
When the great bass Morris Robinson was starting his career, I set up a meeting for the two of them to discuss the business and the business of black men in opera. And in his Arthurian way, they became fast friends for life and Morris grew from their mentorship.
From Basilio to Publio to Giorgio, Sarastro to Emil Griffith in a world premiere (for which he was greatly praised), he not only embodied those characters, but imbued his colleagues and company with more of that island magic. When my world unfairly crashed, Arthur was one of the very first to call and send me all his love and unqualified support. As he said as Sarastro regarding Tamino in a beautiful Die Zauberflôte, “er ist Mensch.” Safe journey, friend, to the Island Sunshine.