Hugh Beresford obituary | Opera


My brother, Hugh Beresford, who has died aged 94, was a successful opera singer whose career took him all over the world, performing in major roles at all the big houses for more than 30 years.

Hugh was born James Ennis (known to his family and friends as Jimmie) in Birkenhead, Wirral, one of four children of James Ennis, who ran a furniture business, and Margaret (nee Smith). He attended Tollemache school, and as a boy sang in our local church choir, where his soprano voice stood out.

During the war the family moved to the Lake District, where he also sang in a church choir. Because of a perforated ear drum he was unable to join the armed forces, and was conscripted as a Bevin boy to work in the mines at Consett, Co Durham, later working on a farm at Winster, near Windermere.

Hugh received no formal music teaching until, encouraged by our father and the local vicar in Cumbria, he applied to the Royal College of Music in Manchester and was offered a scholarship. In 1951 he won first place as a baritone in the Richard Tauber singing competition of the Anglo-Austrian Music Society. The prize was the opportunity to study at the Vienna conservatoire.

Singing by now under his stage name of Hugh Beresford, he soon became successful in Austria and Germany, singing first for companies in Linz and Graz.

Hugh Beresford in Wagner’s Tannhäuser (Bayreuth 1972)

Over the next 30 years, he sang all the major roles in the opera repertoire, appearing at the Vienna State Opera, Covent Garden, the Berlin Opera, the Met in New York and Bayreuth.

He had always had a high baritone voice but in the early 1970s he decided to explore the possibility of training to become a tenor. He consulted the vocal coach Frederick Husler, in Lugano, who agreed the potential was there. After a lot help and guidance from Husler, he was successful.

After a distinguished career travelling the world, Hugh retired to Vienna in 1985 with his wife, Hilde (nee Phefer), whom he had married in 1953. He still gave the occasional concert and taught many private students until fairly recently.

Hilde died in 2004. Hugh is survived by me and by five nieces and nephews.


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