John Brownlee (baritone)

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John Brownlee as Sharpless in Puccini's Madama Butterfly

John Donald Mackenzie Brownlee (7 January 1900[1] – 10 January 1969) was an Australian operatic baritone. For most of his professional career he was based in Europe and then United States. He married former Countess Donna Carla Oddone di Feletto in Paris on 29 November 1928, and the couple had a daughter and two sons. He died in New York and was buried in Ferncliff cemetery, Hartsdale.


John Brownlee was born in Geelong, Victoria.[2] As a boy, he became a junior naval cadet in the Royal Australian Navy, serving during World War I. Following service, he studied accounting. He entered a singing contest in Ballarat, winning first prize even though he had never had a lesson. Several singing engagements followed. One of these, a performance of Messiah, was attended by Nellie Melba, who convinced him to go to Paris for serious study with Dinh Gilly. His debut took place at Covent Garden on 8 June 1926, in the performance of La bohème in which Melba made her farewell appearance. That autumn he was engaged by the Paris Opera, the first time a British subject had been made a permanent member of that company; his Paris debut was in Thaïs in 1927.

In 1934, he appeared in the British film The Private Life of Don Juan.

On 17 February 1937, he appeared for the first time at the Metropolitan Opera. The opera was Rigoletto. Besides making important appearances elsewhere, Brownlee remained a regular at Covent Garden, the Paris Opera, and the Met, making his last performance there in March 1957.

Brownlee's greatest successes were in the Mozart repertory, particularly at the Glyndebourne Festival. He was also acclaimed in Salome and Pelléas et Mélisande. After retiring from singing, Brownlee became a stage director, making his debut at the Met on 27 November 1958 during a performance of Die Fledermaus.

Brownlee died in New York in 1969. An Australian scholarship in his name was first awarded after his death in 1969.

He can be heard on CD as Don Giovanni, as the Count in The Marriage of Figaro, and as Don Alfonso in Cosi fan Tutte.


  1. ^ Some sources say 1901, but see Australian Dictionary of Biography entry by Williams. His centenary was widely celebrated in January 2000.
  2. ^ Williams, Morris S. (1979). "Brownlee, John Donald Mackenzie". Australian Dictionary of Biography. 7 (Online ed.). National Centre of Biography, Australian National University. Retrieved 8 January 2014.


  • Encyclopedia of the Opera by David Ewen (Hill and Wang, New York; 1955)
  • John Brownlee - baritone - Brownlee Memorial website