James Pease

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James Pease in a Haensel & Jones promotional ad, 1947

James Pease (Indianapolis, 9 January 1916 – New York, 26 April 1967)[1] was an American bass-baritone, notable for his Wagnerian roles but also a very distinguished Balstrode in Benjamin Britten’s Peter Grimes, a role he recorded under the composer’s direction in 1958.

A law graduate of Indiana University in 1939, he won a scholarship at the Academy of Vocal Arts in Philadelphia and studied there rather than begin practice as a lawyer. He made his debut with the Philadelphia Opera Company as Mephistopheles in Faust, and sang many other roles with the company in Philadelphia and Boston. He also pursued concert, oratorio and radio work on the East Coast of the United States [2] He was praised by Serge Koussevitzky as having "An exceptionally beautiful, powerful, expansive voice".[3]

In 1943 he was selected a winner of the Metropolitan Opera Auditions of the Air, but was immediately called for service as an aviation cadet. He served three years as a pilot in the A.A.F. Training Command, flying some 15,000 miles. He also directed and performed in musical shows at his home base in Texas.[2]

On his discharge in 1945, he appeared at the Montreal Festivals and in a series of operas at the New York City Center Theatre, making his debut there as Sparafucile on 9 May 1946 (continuing to sing at that venue until 1953). That year he also sang in Carmen at the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles, conducted by Leopold Stokowski. He was also a soloist with the National Symphony Orchestra in Washington, D.C. and at the Berkshire Festival.[2]

He sang a wide variety of roles including Leporello and the title role in Don Giovanni,[4][5] Don Alfonso (Così fan tutte),[5] the Music Master (Strauss: Ariadne auf Naxos),[6] Colline (La bohème), Escamillo (Carmen) and various Gilbert and Sullivan roles including the Pirate King and the Mikado of Japan.[7]

He sang in London's Royal Opera House in various productions conducted by Rafael Kubelík, including as Hans Sachs in Wagner's Die Meistersinger with Geraint Evans and Joan Sutherland in 1957, as King Mark in Tristan und Isolde with Birgit Nilsson in 1958, and in the same year as Balstrode in Peter Grimes,[8] later recording the role under the composer’s direction for Decca.

He returned to the New York City Opera in 1959-60, and again in 1967.[1]

Personal life[edit]

He married English soprano Adele Leigh; who after Pease's death married Kurt Enderl, then Austrian Ambassador to Hungary in a whirlwind romance.[9]


  • Auber Fra Diavolo: with Wilma Lipp, Ursula Zollenkopf, Rudolf Schock; conductor Wilhelm Schuchter (Relief)
  • Beethoven Symphony No. 9 "Ode to Joy": with Frances Yeend, David Lloyd, Eunice Alberts; Boston Symphony Orchestra/Serge Koussevitzky (recorded 1947) (Dante Records Lys)
  • Bizet Carmen: with Winifred Heidt, Ramon Vinay, Marina Koshetz; Choir & Orch Of The Hollywood Bowl Symphony/Leopold Stokowski (Eklipse)
  • Brahms A German Requiem: with Eleanor Steber; Robert Shaw Chorale, RCA Victor Symphony Orchestra/Robert Shaw
  • Brahms A German Requiem: with Carl Bamberger, Teresa Stich-Randall; Hamburg Chorus of the Singakademie; Symphony Orchestra and Chorus of the Norddeutscher Rundfunk/Carl Bamberger (Nonesuch)
  • Britten Peter Grimes: with Peter Pears, Claire Watson,Jean Watson; Chorus and Orchestra of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden/Benjamin Britten (Decca)
  • Gilbert & Sullivan Mikado: with Martyn Green, Barbara Troxell; North German Radio Orchestra/Richard Korn
  • Handel Samson: with Joan Sutherland, Jon Vickers, Joan Carlyle, James Pease, Joseph Rouleau; conductor Raymond Leppard; Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, 3 January 1959 (Andromeda)
  • Mascagni Cavalleria Rusticana: with Astrid Varnay, Hans Hopf, Hanna Scholl, Hanne Münch; Orchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks/Wolfgang Sawallisch (Myto)
  • Joan Sutherland and Jon Vickers - includes James Pease as Hans Sachs; The Royal Opera Orchestra/Rafael Kubelík (Pearl)
  • Mozart Opera Arias with Barbara Troxell; Hamburg Philharmonia Orchestra; conductor Hans Jergens-Walther (Allegro 1698)


  1. ^ a b “Pease, James” in Baker’s Biographical Dictionary of 20th Century Classical Musicians, ed. Laura Kuhn. Schirmer Books, 1997.
  2. ^ a b c The Lewiston Daily Sun, May 5, 1947.
  3. ^ Haensel & Jones booking ad, 1947: [1]. Retrieved 11 September 2011.
  4. ^ "New York City Opera: Handsome young troupe brightens U.S. music scene" in Life, April 11, 1949: pp. 118-122.
  5. ^ a b "NBC Opera: Episode Guide compiled by The Classic TV Archive". Classic TV Archive. Retrieved 2011-12-13. 
  6. ^ Thomson, Virgil. The Art of Judging Music. Greenwood Press, 1969: p. 123
  7. ^ Norton, Richard C. A chronology of American musical theater: 1952 - 2001, Vol. 3. Oxford University Press, 2002: p. 100
  8. ^ D'opéras.xls - vagne.free.fr/kubelik/operas.xls
  9. ^ http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/obituaries/1462897/Adele-Leigh.html