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BIRGIT NILSSON

Noble was a pupil at the Choir School of Bristol Cathedral, where he was taught by Hubert Hunt. During World War I he served in France, where he returned, after being invalided out of the army, to sing for the troops at the front. Here he made his first stage appearance in the musical Aladdin, at the Lille Opera House, and after seeing a Dennis lorry driving past took the professional name Dennis Noble, replacing his given names of William Ewart.

During the early 1920s he studied with Dinh Gilly and Mattia Battistini and sang with the choir of Westminster Abbey. Noticed by the conductor Percy Pitt in 1923 while singing in a cinema, Noble was invited to perform Silvio / Pagliacci with the British National Opera Company at the Royal Opera House, London. Shortly afterwards he sang the title role in Rigoletto, Papageno / Die Zauberflöte and Prince Aphron / The Golden Cockerel with this company.

For the rest of the decade Noble was active in concert and oratorio: he toured the United Kingdom in 1924 with Galli-Curci and undertook small parts in the International Season at the Royal Opera House. After 1928 he frequently sang with Beecham conducting, both in concert (Leeds, London and elsewhere) and on record. He was invited to sing Sharpless / Madama Butterfly in the International Season in 1930, following a Marcello / La Bohème in 1928, and remained a familiar figure in these seasons up to the outbreak of World War II. His roles included such parts as the elder Germont / La traviata, Falke / Die Fledermaus, Lescaut / Manon Lescaut, Amonasro / Aida, the title role in Prince Igor and Valentine / Faust.

Noble also appeared in musical comedies and in concert. He was the baritone soloist in the first performance of Walton’s Belshazzar’s Feast at Leeds in 1932 and sang in the highly successful production of Waltzes from Vienna that opened in New York in 1934 and subsequently toured the USA. While in America he sang Figaro / The Marriage of Figaro under Reiner at the Academy of Music, Philadelphia, in 1935.

In England Noble was much in demand for recordings and broadcasts. New works in which he sang in London included: at Covent Garden Judith (Goossens, 1929), Pickwick (Coates, 1936), Don Juan de Mañara (Goossens, 1937) and The Serf (Lloyd, 1938); as broadcasts: Doktor Faust (Busoni, 1937) and Mathis der Maler (Hindemith, 1938); and at Hyde Park Hotel in 1937 Respighi’s Maria Egiziaca.

During World War II Noble was again active entertaining troops and continued to balance musicals with opera, appearing in both Chu Chin Chow and A Night in Venice, as well as the elder Germont and Figaro / The Barber of Seville with the Carl Rosa Opera Company. His post-war work reflected a similar formula, with appearances in The Song of Norway and 1066 and All That as well as the title roles in Falstaff and Simon Boccanegra.

In 1951 Noble underwent two operations for bowel cancer but soon resumed his singing career. As late as 1954 he recorded Belshazzar’s Feast with Boult conducting and in 1955 sang Lescaut at Covent Garden and Rigoletto at Sadler’s Wells; while one of his final appearances was in 1957 as Amonasro in a star-studded concert performance of Aida in Hull. Between 1954 and 1959 he taught at the Guildhall School of Music.

An extremely polished performer, Noble had a firm, slightly metallic tone and excellent diction allied to a powerful stage presence that could range easily from comedy to tragedy. His discography was enormous, extending from 1926 to 1958.

© Naxos Rights International Ltd. — David Patmore (A–Z of Singers, Naxos 8.558097-100).


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