Charles Craig

A man with a noble voice

Charles Craig was born in London on 3 December 1919, he was the youngest of a family of 15 children. From an early age he was interested in singing, but his parents both died while he was young, and the need to earn a living made it impossible for him to pursue a musical career. He worked first in a tailor's shop. However, he had the opportunity to sing during the Second World War when he joined the army in 1940. He began to sing concerts and soon became attached to the Southern Army Entertainments Unit, with whom he toured India and Burma, singing arias he had learnt by ear without any formal training. After the war, he was in 'Stars in Battledress'.

In 1946, Charles Craig married Dorothy Wilson.

On his return to England after the end of the war, he auditioned for the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, where the then Musical Director Karl Rankl and General Administrator David Webster accepted him into the chorus in 1947 with a promise of solo roles, but this never materialized, although he sang First Prisoner in the 1948 Fidelio. In 1951, he auditioned for Sir Thomas Beecham for a part in Beecham's forthcoming Covent Garden production of Balfe's 'The Bohemian girl'. Beecham at one point shouted at the bewildered tenor: "You'll have to leave here. We will have to sponsor your training and get the money somewhere." Beecham realized that Charles Craig's natural vocal talents needed proper training, financed his tuition with the veteran Italian tenor Dino Borgioli for two years, and also generously paid him a salary so that he could leave the Covent Garden chorus. Craig sang in a biopic of Nellie Melba with Patrice Munsel. On 17 December 1952 at the Royal Festival Hall, London, Beecham engaged Charles Craig for a performance of Händel's 'Ode for St. Cecilia's Day' and Liszt's 'Psalm 13', unfortunately, he was not well, suffering from pneumonia and as a consequence, did not make an impression on the critics or the audience. This was then followed by a recording with Beecham of 'A mass of life' by Frederic Delius, which heralded the start of Craig's solo career.

The touring Carl Rosa Opera Company took him under contract, his debut being in September 1953 in 'La bohème'. For four years, he sang a wide variety of leading roles, including des Grieux in Puccini's 'Manon Lescaut', Rodolfo in 'La bohème', Faust, Don Ottavio in 'Don Giovanni' and the title role in the first British production of 'Benvenuto Cellini' by Hector Berlioz. He then made his debut with Sadler's Wells as the Duke in 'Rigoletto' in 1957 and later that year joined Sadler's Wells Opera Company, where he further extended his repertory with Babinsky (Švanda dudák/Schwanda the bagpiper), Samson, Andrea Chénier, Luigi (Il tabarro), Manrico in 'Il trovatore', Cavaradossi in 'Tosca', Nadir in 'Les pêcheurs de perles' and Bacchus in 'Ariadne auf Naxos'. In 1959, he appeared as the Prince in the British premiere of Dvořák's 'Rusalka' opposite Dame Joan Hammond in the title role. Also in 1959, he achieved his greatest ambition, when he returned to the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden to take a leading role there for the first time, that of Lieutenant Pinkerton opposite the Cio-Cio-San of Sena Jurinac in 'Madama Butterfly'.

Craig quickly went on from his success at Covent Garden with Turiddu in Franco Zeffirelli's acclaimed staging of 'Cavalleria rusticana', and in the following few years sang a number of other roles, including Canio in 'Pagliacci', Radames in 'Aida' (1961), Aegisth in 'Elektra', Don Alvaro in 'La forza del destino' and Calaf in 'Turandot', the last two frequently opposite the British soprano Amy Shuard.

In addition to his performances at Covent Garden, Craig soon was in demand with other major companies all over the world, including Scottish Opera, with whom he undertook his first Otello in Anthony Besch's production in 1963 and Siegmund ('Die Walküre') in 1966 in the first Ring Cycle presented by Scottish Opera. He also sang Florestan ('Fidelio'), Siegfried ('Götterdämmerung') and Gustavus in 'Un ballo in maschera' with the company.

In 1963, He sang Golitsyn in Musorgskij's 'Khovanshchina' and Sergej in Shostakovich's 'Lady Macbeth Mtsenkogo uezda/Lady Macbeth of Mtsenk' at Covent Garden.

In 1963, Charles Craig sang Hüon in Weber's 'Oberon' for a Third Programme studio production with Joan Hammond.

In Paris, in May 1964, Craig sang Pollione opposite the Norma of Maria Callas in what was to be the final new production of her career. He made his American debut in Chicago in 1966 as Otello, and he continued to sing this demanding role for 20 years all over the world, including Rudolf Steiner's production at Berlin in 1967, conducted by Lorin Maazel, La Scala, Salzburg under Herbert von Karajan, at the Doge's Palace and eventually at Covent Garden in 1983 substituting for an indisposed Plácido Domingo. HT comment: It is shameful for Covent Garden to have Craig sing Otello because of the illness of a less excellent tenor in the role. He partnered Joan Sutherland in 'I puritani' in Boston and Covent Garden. After the Sadler's Wells Opera Company moved to the London Coliseum and became English National Opera, Craig returned to sing some of his favourite roles in English during the early 1980's, including Radames, Cavaradossi and Otello in Jonathan Miller's production, the last of which was recorded live in 1983. His last appearance on stage was as Cavaradossi at ENO in 1985. He retired not long afterwards, with his voice still in good condition thanks mainly to a solid vocal technique and well paced career. In later years, Craig taught voice and sometimes judged singing competitions.

He died on 23 January 1997 at the age of 77. His wife, Dorothy sadly passed away in October 2006. They were survived by two children, Gilda & Stephen.
John Freere Perry

Charles Craig sings Il trovatore: Di quella pira
In RA format

Charles Craig sings Die Walküre: Winterstürme wichen dem Wonnemond
In RA format

Charles Craig sings L'alba separa dalla luce l'ombra
In RA format

Charles Craig singsOtello: Esultate
In RA format

Charles Craig singsOtello: Ora e per sempre addio
In RA format

Charles Craig singsOtello: Sì, pel ciel marmoreo giuro, with Gian Piero Mastromei
In RA format

Charles Craig singsOtello: Dio, mi potevi scagliar
In RA format

Charles Craig singsOtello: Niun mi tema
In RA format

Charles Craig singsTurandot: Non piangere, Liù
In RA format

Charles Craig singsTurandot: Straniero, ascolta ... No, no, principessa, with Amy Shuard
In RA format

Charles Craig singsTurandot: Nessun dorma (1)
In RA format

Charles Craig singsTurandot: Principessa di morte, with Amy Shuard
In RA format

Charles Craig singsTurandot: Nessun dorma (2)
CHARLES CRAIG Great tenor arias
cond: Michael Collins/ 1959

CHARLES CRAIG sings Puccini 
cond: Michael Collins

CHARLES CRAIG  Mélodies italiennes
cond: Michael Collins/ 1961

La bohème, Tosca, Madama Butterfly, Faust, Il trovatore, Aida 
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Sadler's Wells Opera Chorus & Orchestra, Philharmonia Orchestra
cond: Vilem Tausky, Bryan Balkwell, Michael Moores 

Charles Craig, Elizabeth Fretwell 
Sadler's Wells Orchestra
cond: Vilem Tauski/ 1959

Christina Deutekom, Charles Craig, Jan Derksen, Patricia Hay
Orchestra Scottish Opera
cond: Alexander GIBSON/ 1976

Charles Craig, Marie Collier, Ann Robson, Gwyn Griffiths
cond: Bryan Balliwill


Published live recordings:

Marie Collier, Charles Craig, Livia Bartoletti, Peter Glossop, Jerome Hines 
Teatro Colón, cond: Sir John Pritchard
Buenos Aires, 9 August 1966
Charles Craig, Luisa Bosabalian, Guillermo Sarabia, Alva Tripp, 
Gwynn Cornell, Georg Paucker, Malcolm Smith
cond: Alberto Erede
Düsseldorf, 20 November 1972
Charles Craig, Gabriella Tucci, Ettore Bastianini, Rena Garazioti, 
Anna Di Stasio, Jolanda Torriani, Antonio Cassinelli, Antonio Pirino 
RAI, cond: Franco Mannino
Torino, 29 0ctober 1963
Jurinac, Craig, Elkins, Walters
Covent Garden, cond: Bryan Balkwill
London, 13 January 1959
Joan Sutherland, Fiorenza Cossotto, Charles Craig, Ivo Vinco  
Colón, cond: Richard Bonynge
Buenos Aires, 2 July 1969
Charles Craig, Neil Howlett, Rosalind Plowright, Shelagh Squires, 
Bonaventura Bottone
English National Opera, cond: Mark Elder
London, 1983

Other known live recordings:

Hines, Craig, Jones, Bacquier, Cossotto/ De Fabritiis
Buenos Aires, 1967
Craig, Arroyo, Milnes, Ward, Capecchi, Pring, Hudson, Dobson/ Patané
Covent Garden, 1973
Craig, Lorengar, Hesse, Lagger, Nocker, Wixell/ Maazel
Osaka, 19 March 1970
Verrett, Craig, Veasey, Siepi, O'Neill, Bainbridge/ Downes
Covent Garden, November 1979 
Craig, Glossop, Ligabue/ ?
Palermo, 14 December 1966
Craig, Mastromei, Maliponte, Todaro/ Giovaninetti
Marseille, February 1969
Craig, Colzani, Suliotis/ De Fabritiis
Napoli, 1 February 1969
Craig, Glossop, Sass, Hillman, Livingstone/ Gibson
Glasgow, 1975
Craig, Marimpietri, Shaw, Allen, Eggerton/ Gui
Covent Garden, 17 March 1973
Gobbi, Collier, Craig/ ?
Covent Garden, 23 April 1965
Gray, Craig, Howlett, Angas, Shilling, Gibbs, Richardson, Ginn/ Elder
Covent Garden, 29 January 1981
Craig, Orlandi Malaspina, Montefusco, Lazzarini/ ?
Date and place unknown
Shuard, Craig, Maliponte, Médus, Dresse, Demigny, 
Chevallier, Noel/ Giovaninetti
Marseille, April 1968
Craig, Weathers, Cvejic, Montefusco/ Gatto
Catania, 11 April 1970
Krilovici, Verrett, Craig, Shaw, Rouleau/ Matheson
Covent Garden, 8 October 1971  
Craig, Stich Randall, Elkins, Cameron/ Dorati
BBC, 26 June 1969
Craig, Johansson, Raffanelli/ Coppola
Cincinnati, 27 July 1985
Craig, Collier, O. Kraus/ Downes
London, 13 December 1966
Craig, Kingsley, Kirschstein, Ward, Reynolds, MacCue/ Gibson
Glasgow, 14 December 1971
I wish to thank Daniele Godor for the additions to the discography.
I wish to thank Claude Ribou for the discography.
I wish to thank John Freere Perry for the biographical notes.
I wish to thank Georges Cardol for the recordings (Turandot, Otello, Walküre).
I would like to thank Thomas Silverbörg for the recording (L'alba separa dalla luce l'ombra).

Go Home