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Sir Charles Santley (28 February 1834 – 22 September 1922) was an English-born opera and oratorio star with a bravura technique who became the most eminent English baritone and male concert singer of the Victorian era. His has been called 'the longest, most distinguished and most versatile vocal career which history records.'
Santley appeared in many major opera and oratorio productions in Great Britain and North America, giving numerous recitals as well. Having made his debut in Italy in 1857 after undertaking vocal studies in that country, he elected to base himself in England for the remainder of his life, apart from occasional trips overseas. One of the highlights of his stage career occurred in 1870 when he led the cast in the first Wagner opera to be performed in London, Der fliegende Holländer, at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane. Santley retired from opera during the 1870s in order to concentrate on the lucrative concert circuit.
Santley also wrote books on vocal technique and two sets of memoirs.
Santley was the elder son of William Santley, a journeyman bookbinder, organist and music teacher of Liverpool in northern England. He had a brother and two sisters, one of whom named Catherine should not be confused with the actor-manager Kate Santley. He was educated at the Liverpool Institute High School, and as a boy sang alto in the choir of a local Unitarian church. His voice began to break before he was fourteen. Following musical lessons from his father (who insisted upon his singing tenor), he passed the examination for admission to the second tenors of the Liverpool Philharmonic Society on his fifteenth birthday, and in the same year took part in the concerts at the opening of the Philharmonic Hall. It was not until he reached the age of seventeen to eighteen that he rebelled against his father's decree and dropped into the bass clef, and was pronounced to be a bass. Santley was apprenticed to the provision trade. He enlisted, however, as a violinist in the Festival Choral Society and the Società Armonica, and as a chorus member, with his father and sister, he sang in a performance of Haydn's The Creation at the Collegiate Institution, Liverpool, in which Jenny Lind was a soloist. Soon afterwards he was in a hand-picked choir for Handel's Messiah, where the tenor Sims Reeves headed the soloists, at the Eisteddfod at Rhuddlan Castle, and was in the chorus for Elijah and Rossini's Stabat Mater under Julius Benedict at the Liverpool Festival. He heard Pauline Viardot, Luigi Lablache and Mario there. While acting as accompanist to his sister at St. Anne's Catholic Church, Edge Hill, Liverpool, he sang 'Et incarnatus est' from Haydn's Second Mass, reading from the same score as Julius Stockhausen, as a trial, and obtained a place as bass soloist, modelling himself upon the style of the Austrian bass Josef Staudigl (1807–1861), and of the German bass Karl Formes (1815–1889) (whom he heard as Sarastro in London).