Ken Neate (1914-1997) was a tremendously gifted Australian tenor. Born in Cessnock, New South Wales, Neate studied at the University of Melbourne as well as privately with fellow Australian tenor Lionello Cecil. Before launching his operatic career, however, the future tenor joined the New South Wales police force and became a soloist with the police choir. Neate picked up the nickname “The Singing Policeman” and began to develop a reputation as a fine vocalist. His operatic debut came about in Brisbane in 1937 as Pinkerton in Madama Butterfly and the following year, he sang the title role in Lohengrin during a concert performance with Melbourne Symphony. Neate caught the attention of celebrated Australian baritone John Brownlee, who took the young tenor to New York in 1941 and arranged for lessons with famed Spanish baritone Emilio de Gogorza. Neate was also introduced to conductor Bruno Walter, who recommended that the tenor be engaged as a cover for Charles Kullman in the Metropolitan Opera’s upcoming production of Die Zauberflöte. However, as he was preparing the role of Tamino, America entered the war and the tenor was called to serve in the Royal Canadian Air Force. Sadly, Ken Neate would never return to the Met.
Despite this inconvenient interruption to his career, Neate made up for lost time after the end of the war. His career took off rapidly, with appearances at most of the major theaters of Europe. He became a particular favorite at London’s Covent Garden, where he debuted as Don José in Carmen in 1946. Neate was also a frequent visitor to the Opéra de Paris, the Opéra-Comique, Teatro La Fenice in Venice, Naples’ Teatro San Carlo, as well as the stages of Parma, Bologna, Palermo, Bordeaux, Nice, Marseille, Monte Carlo, Strasbourg, Vienna, Munich, Amsterdam, Zürich, Stockholm, Montreal and New York. His repertoire was wide ranging, encompassing everything from lyric to dramatic, classic to contemporary. Among the more than thirty roles at Neate’s command were Edgardo in Lucia di Lammermoor, Radames in Aïda, Cavaradossi in Tosca, Rodolfo in La Bohème, Calaf in Turandot, Raoul in Les Huguenots, Arnoldo in Guillaume Tell, Florestan in Fidelio, Bacchus in Ariadne auf Naxos, as well as the title roles in Les Contes d’Hoffmann, Faust, Oedipus Rex, Lohengrin, Tannhäuser, Don Carlo and Otello. Neate also created the title role in Henri Tomasi’s Sampiero Corso in Bordeaux in 1956 and the role of Danforth in The Crucible at New York City Opera in 1961. The busy tenor was also the first Australian to sing a major role at the Bayreuth Festival…Loge in Das Rheingold in 1963.
In addition to his operatic work, Neate was also an accomplished soloist in oratorio, cantata and other non-operatic works such as the Verdi Requiem (not to mention the Mozart and Berlioz Requiems), Beethoven’s 9th Symphony, Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde and Symphony No. 8, Handel’s Messiah, Schoenberg’s Gurre-Lieder and Dvořák’s Stabat Mater. He also dabbled in composition and produced numerous operatic productions in his homeland and abroad.
After a duration of thirty-eight years, Ken Neate’s singing career came to an end in 1975. Following a final Otello in Innsbruck, the 61-year-old tenor left the stage to devote his time to teaching. Having accepted a position at Richard Strauss Conservatorium in 1972, he spent his time working with young singers until his retirement from that institution in 1980. Afterwards, he continued teaching privately in his Munich home. Ken Neate passed away at his home in the early morning hours of June 27, 1997, just a few weeks shy of his 83rd birthday.
Ken Neate was a remarkable artist who was equally at home in Italian, French and German opera. He was a perpetual student, always eager to learn and improve. When he found himself undertaking more and more French repertoire, he pursued studies with one of the great tenors of the past, Lucien Muratore. When it became obvious that he would be venturing into the realm of Wagnerian opera, he sought out Heldentenor Max Lorenz to perfect the style. As his vocal resources changed with the passage of time, his technique and approach evolved, as well. His rich, spinto-dramatic voice was captured well on numerous recordings, both commercial and private. Here, Neate sings "Apri la tua finestra" from Mascagni's Iris. This recording was made in Paris for the Le Chant du Monde label in 1956. Napoleone Annovazzi conducts the Paris Philharmonic Orchestra.