A personal tribute from our Artistic Director Malcolm Rivers to former ENO principal baritone and esteemed voice coach and teacher Neil Howlett, who died on 21st May 2020, aged 85, after a long illness.
From the time I first met Neil during rehearsals and performances for the world premiere of Gordon Crosse’s “The Grace of Todd” in the Jubilee Hall at Aldeburgh, and thereafter at Sadlers Wells, I knew that he was a force to be reckoned with. He was singing Lance Corporal Shard, and Robert Tear and I were mere privates . He relished the authority the role gave him and immediately impressed himself on the opera world with an amazingly rich and beautiful baritone and natural stage presence – to be with him always; most notably as far as I am concerned during the tenures we both enjoyed at ENO from the early 70s until late 80s when we both left the company – he to Academia and me to Musical Theatre.
During that time his repertoire was astonishing. His Verdi singing was the most accomplished I had heard from a British baritone since Glossop and in particular his Iago, Gerard and Scarpia were unique in the beauty of tone and legato that he brought to such dramatic roles. In addition the contemporary repertoire was also where his talent was awesome. Later in his career when he added Wagner roles to his repertoire he was equally impressive. At Mastersingers he was our first Wotan and relished coming to this role whilst coaching at our musical institutions. So much was passed on from him to the younger artists in our system by the majesty of his singing and his willingness to guide and encourage “from the wings” with boundless energy and generosity. He undertook lectures and Masterclasses for us in London, Aldeburgh and The Rodd at Presteigne that were beneficial to many who went on to international careers. Particularly informative was his lecture on the five different types of tenor voice (not including character tenor) required to sing Wagner.
He was distinguished, unique and a wonderful colleague and friend to us all in the world of opera . I doubt we shall hear his like again and we are all deeply indebted to him.