Robert Poulton’s standing as a stalwart of the contemporary British opera scene acknowledged only his profile as one of the most popular and dependable singers of his generation. The description failed to capture the much admired baritone’s tremendous versatility on stage and his ability to fully inhabit a diverse range of roles in a repertoire that effortlessly stretched from Mozart and Verdi to light operetta and Judith Weir and Philip Glass.
Born in Brighton on June 4, 1957, he studied at the Guildhall School of Music and the National Opera Studio before beginning his professional career as the Ferryman in a BBC television production of Britten’s Curlew River, after which he joined the chorus of Glyndebourne Opera, with whom he went on to develop a long and fruitful relationship.
He gained valuable early experience in minor parts with Scottish Opera before graduating to principal roles with the company in Weir’s Vanishing Bridegroom (1990) and Mozart’s La clemenza di Tito during the 1991 Edinburgh Festival. Appearances in Welsh National Opera’s La Cenerentola and Opera North’s La Traviata gained him wider attention and positioned him as an actor-singer with a vivid stage presence and a voice of considerable flexibility and range.
Poulton made his Covent Garden debut, as Sciarrone in Tosca, in 2000 and the following year sang with English National Opera for the first time in the world premiere of David Sawer’s From Morning to Midnight. He went on to sing Gunther (Gotterdammerung), Almaviva (Le Nozze di Figaro) Prince Arjuna (Satyagraha) and Don Alfonso (Cosi Fan Tutte) with ENO, while recent roles with the Royal Opera included Baron Douphol in La Traviata and Marco in last year’s Gianni Schicchi.
In an increasingly busy career, he found himself in demand both at home – where he sang with the Holland Park, Grange Park and Garsington opera companies, the Chelsea Opera Group and twice in the BBC Proms at the Royal Albert Hall – and abroad, appearing in opera houses throughout Europe and in Australia.
He had been due to sing the role of the Gamekeeper in Glyndebourne’s current tour of Dvorak’s Rusalka the day after his death in a road accident on October 30 at the age of 55.
He is survived by his wife and two sons.