Esteemed British bass-baritone Keel Watson has died at 59

In a statement, Steven Swales Artist Management said, ‘It is with enormous sadness that we announce the sudden death of Keel Watson. It was a huge privilege to work with him and call him a friend. Keel’s magnificent voice was admired by so many, as was his sharp wit and generosity as a performer. Only recently he completed acclaimed performances in genres as diverse as Wagner and Gilbert and Sullivan. We send our thoughts to his family and those who knew and loved him.’

My meetings with Keel were rarer in recent years but I reviewed him on many occasions and my favourite quote about his recent Wotan is below. I first met him when I was heavily involved with The Wagner Society and he was always very friendly and a delight to talk to. Despite his extensive list of performances over the years below drawn from his management’s biography Keel was a wonderful singer who perhaps did not get all the opportunities his superb voice deserved.

Keel Watson studied singing with Elizabeth Hawes and trombone with Roger Brenner at Trinity College of Music. He had recently performed Private Willis Iolanthe for English National Opera

Among his recent highlights were acclaimed performances as Wotan Das Rheingold and Die Walküre (Regents Opera); The Bonze Madam ButterflyDon Basilio The Barber of Seville (Welsh National Opera); Commendatore Don Giovanni (Scottish Opera); and Zuniga CarmenThe Bonze Madam Butterfly, Doctor Bartolo The Marriage of FigaroAye Akhnaten (English National Opera).

His operatic roles included Zuniga CarmenFasolt Das Rheingold and Creon Oedipus Rex (Teatro Nacional de São Carlos); The King Aida (Bregenz Festival); Reinmar Tannhäuser (Greek National Opera); Frazier Porgy and Bess (Opéra de Lyon); Fasolt Der Ring des Nibelungen (Teatro Massimo di Palermo); The Doctor Punch and Judy (Casa da Música, Porto); Elder Ott Susannah (Angers Nantes Opéra); Porgy Porgy and Bess (TCC Productions, Lisbon); Baldassare L’arlesiana, Tonio Pagliacci, Jorg Stiffelio and Bertrand Iolanta, Oroveso Norma, Nourabad Les pêcheurs de perles, and Il Re Aida (Opera Holland Park); Zuniga Carmen, Mandryka Arabella, and SpeakerSecond Armed Man/Second Priest The Magic Flute (Opera North); Commendatore Don Giovanni (Mid Wales Opera); Bosun Billy Budd (The Royal Opera); Dosifey KhovanschinaIago OtelloDon Pizarro FidelioFirst Apprentice Wozzeck, Abbot Curlew RiverPluto Il ballo delle ingrateNeptune The Return of Ulysses, Commendatore Don Giovanni, and Voice of Neptune Idomeneo (Birmingham Opera Company); Don PasqualeFiesco Simon Boccanegra, Doctor Bartolo The Marriage of Figaro and Colline La bohème (English Touring Opera); and Hans Sachs Die Meistersinger and Holländer Der fliegende Holländer (Fulham Opera).

In contemporary opera he had performed King Sharyaati Sukanya (The Royal Opera); The Caterpillar Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (Opera Holland Park); King in Luke Bedford’s Seven Angels (The Opera Group); Asantehene/Second Messenger in Jonathan Dove’s The Two Hearts of Kwasi Boachi (Opera OT); The Elder The Country of the Blind by Mark-Anthony Turnage (Aldebugh Festival/ENO Contemporary Opera Studio); and Parlaine Palace in the Sky (ENO Baylis).

Appearances at the BBC Proms included Abbot Curlew River (Birmingham Opera Company) and Usher Trial by Jury (BBC Concert Orchestra)Other major concert engagements include Porgy and Bess (Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra and Royal Scottish National Orchestra); Carmina Burana (Royal Festival Hall); A Child of Our Time (City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra and Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra); and Defiant Requiem: Verdi at Terezin (Durham Cathedral).

Recording and film credits included Second Armed Man in Kenneth Branagh’s film of The Magic FluteHarašta an animated version of The Cunning Little Vixen; and King Sharyaati Sukanya (London Philharmonic Orchestra).

Two recent reviews of his Wotan in Das Walküre for Regents Opera 2023:

This Wotan was caustic, bitter, increasingly depressive — a portrayal superbly brought to life by Watson through booming voice and biting wordplay…’ (The Times)

…Keel Watson perhaps gave the performance of his life as Wotan in this Die Walküre. With his expressive voice Watson displayed all his abilities as a masterly and engrossing tale-teller…’ (Jim Pritchard, Seen and Heard International)

Jim Pritchard

Leave a Comment