It was only after graduating in Civil Engineering that
John Tom, as he is known in the trade, turned to singing and trained
at Manchester's Royal Northern College of Music. His sonorous basso
cantante quickly caught attention and he was soon treading the boards
at London's English National Opera (1974) and Covent Garden (1976).
Since that time his CV has expanded to take in most of the great opera
houses of Europe and America, although not, it seems, La Scala. The
latter omission may not be unconnected with his career direction into
the Wagner repertoire where he has, very unusually, appeared as Wotan
and Wanderer in two different productions, and their revivals, at Bayreuth.
He has also sung Hans Sachs Landgraf, and more recently, Hagen at that
On this disc Tomlinson mixes the higher Germanic bass-baritone
roles with the lower, basso profondo, parts. Thus we get both Pizarro's
'Revenge' aria and Rocco's 'If you don't have any money'
from Beethoven's Fidelio, and the Dutchman's Monologue
and Daland's aria from The Flying Dutchman. The disc starts well
with Osmin's 'Revenge' aria, from Seraglio, where the
pitch and tempo suit the singer well. However, in Sarastro's Prayer
from the Magic Flute, which follows, Tomlinson is troubled to
hold the legato line, and this is only the start of the downside. In
the higher-lying roles he often shows signs of strain and the tone spreads
under pressure to give a wobble. Try 4-5 min. in 'Wotan's Monologue'
(tr 7); similar disconcerting sounds are also to be heard in the Dutchman's
Monologue (tr 9).
Recorded ten years earlier, this programme might have
portrayed this great singer in his prime and in repertoire in which
he has enjoyed a distinguished international career. For me, I shall
cherish, in my mind's eye and ear, Tomlinson's formidable vocal and
histrionic portrayals of Boris and Verdi's Oberto, Attila and King Philip;
his German repertoire will be denied me as I will not, regretfully,
return to this disc.