Bass baritone Sir Willard White was born in Kingston, Jamaica, where his vocal gifts were noticed by the wife of conductor Sir John Barbirolli during a concert trip there. The young singer won a scholarship to The Juilliard School and in 1974 made his professional debut as Colline in La Bohème with the New York City Opera. Two years later he joined the English National Opera in London. His large repertoire now includes the roles of Nick Shadow in the Peter Sellars production of The Rake’s Progress; the title role in Boris Godunov for the Welsh National Opera; and Joseph in the world premiere of John Adams’s oratorio El Niño under Kent Nagano. His concert program An Evening with Willard White—A Tribute to Paul Robeson, for jazz ensemble and narrator, continues to be a huge success at festivals and has been produced for BBC television and issued on CD. Operatic engagements during the 2004–05 season include Wotan in Das Rheingold conducted by Sir Simon Rattle; Fotis in The Greek Passion for the Royal Opera; Nekrotzar in Le Grand Macabre for San Francisco Opera; Mephistopheles in La Damnation de Faust with the Atlanta Symphony and the New York Philharmonic; On the Town for the English National Opera; and Tchélio in The Love for Three Oranges for the Netherlands Opera. A resident of Great Britain for nearly three decades, White was awarded the C.B.E. (Commander of the Order of the British Empire) in 1995 and was knighted in the Queen’s Birthday Honours in 2004.
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