After World War II, Bailey emigrated to South Africa with his parents. While studying theology at Rhodes University, Grahamstown he took singing lessons with Annie Hartmann, later continuing his vocal studies in Vienna (with Julius Patzak and Adolf Vogel), Dusseldorf and Essen. Bailey made his operatic début in 1959 with the Vienna Chamber Opera as Tobias Mill in Rossini’s La cambiale di matrimonio; sang at Linz from 1960 to 1963, at Wuppertal for the 1963–1964 season, and at the Deutsche Oper am Rhein (Düsseldorf and Duisburg) between 1964 and 1967. In Germany his parts included the title rôles in Simon Boccanegra, Nabucco and Rigoletto, and Renato/Un ballo in maschera.
Bailey first sang with the Sadler’s Wells Opera (later the English National Opera) in 1967 in Manchester as the Count/The Marriage of Figaro, making his London début with the company in 1968 as Sachs in the legendary production of The Mastersingers of Nuremberg conducted by Reginald Goodall. He repeated this rôle in 1969 at Covent Garden, and in 1969 and 1970 at the Bayreuth Festival. At Covent Garden he also sang Amfortas/Parsifal (1971) and Wolfram/Tannhäuser (1973); and at Bayreuth Gunther/Götterdämmerung (1970) and Amfortas (1971). With the ENO he sang Wotan in its outstanding production of The Ring, again conducted by Goodall, between 1970 and 1973. Other rôles for ENO, a company with which he maintained a close relationship until 1992, included the Count of Luna in The Troubador, Pizarro/Fidelio, Prince Gremin/Eugene Onegin, the Forester/The Cunning Little Vixen and Kutuzov in Prokofiev’s War and Peace.
In 1975 Bailey appeared with the New York City Opera as Sachs and made his Metropolitan Opera début in the same rôle in 1976, to be followed by Wotan/Die Walküre, Amfortas, Jochanaan/Salome and Orest/Elektra. Between 1976 and 1981 he was a guest at Hamburg, Munich and Vienna. In 1980 he appeared with Opera North as the four villains in Les Contes d’Hoffmann and later sang in La Bohème, Le nozze di Figaro, Les Troyens, Macbeth and Tannhäuser with this company.
Among several significant contemporary operas featuring performances by Bailey were Dallapiccola’s Job at La Scala, Milan (1967) and Alexander Goehr’s Behold the Sun at Duisburg (1985). He made his débuts at San Francisco in 1991 in War and Peace and at Glyndebourne in 1996 as Schigolch in Berg’s Lulu.
Bailey sang with an individual and firm timbre, gradually moving during his career from heldenbariton to bass rôles. On stage he had a commanding presence, enabling him to portray a large repertoire with complete credibility. In addition to the legendary recordings with Goodall, he recorded several of his key rôles with major conductors such as Klemperer and Solti.
© Naxos Rights International Ltd. — David Patmore (A–Z of Singers).