Musicians and Singers (1926- 1980)

Sir John Tomlinson (b 1946)

Sir John Rowland Tomlinson, CBE was born in Oswadtwistle, Lancashire. Although he had always been a keen singer, Tomlinson trained in civil engineering at Manchester University before making his career in opera. 

Tomlinson studied with Patrick McGuigan at the Royal Northern College of Music and with Otakar Kraus. He sings regularly with the Royal Opera and English National Opera, and has appeared with all the major British opera companies. He made his Bayreuth Festival debut in 1988 as Wotan (Der Ring des Nibelungen) under Daniel Barenboim and went on to sing for the festival every summer from 1988 to 2006, appearing variously as Wotan, the Wanderer, King Marke, Titurel, Gurnemanz, Hagen and the Dutchman. In 2008, he created the title role in Harrison Birtwistle's opera The Minotaur at the Royal Opera House.

He has sung for leading international opera houses, including English National Opera and the Metropolitan Opera, New York, and for the Salzburg, Aix-en-Provence, Munich and Glyndebourne festivals. Along with leading Wagner roles for bass and bass-baritone, his repertory has included Boris Godunov, Bluebeard, Baron Ochs (Der Rosenkavalier), Golaud (Pelléas et Mélisande), Claggart (Billy Budd), Philip II and the Grand Inquisitor (Don Carlo), Méphistophélès (Faust), the four villains (Les Contes d’Hoffmann), Boris Ismailov (Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk) and Moses (Moses und Aron).

Tomlinson was made a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in 1997 for his services to music and was knighted in the 2005 Queen's Birthday Honours List.  In 2014 he was awarded the Gold Medal of the Royal Philharonic Society.

Links with Ayrshire

There is no evidence that Tomlinson has appeared in Ayrshire. However, he sang with the Scottish Opera Chorus, under Gibson, and took the role of Claggart in the 1987 Scottish Opera production of Billy Budd.

[Text based on various biographies including Royal Opera House and Opera Scotland. ]


Sir John Tomlinson, b. 1946.  Date ca. 2011  magnify   Photogragher:  ©A Lander

William McAlpine 1922 - 2004

Born into a working-class family in Stenhousemuir, McAlpine left Larbert high school at the age of 16. Having failed his RAF medical, he became an apprentice bricklayer and moved to London.  In 1943 he was heard singing his heart out on a building site in London in 1943.  An introduction to Roy Henderson, who had taught Kathleen Ferrier, set him on a new course.

Initially, McAlpine was trained by Henderson as a baritone, but when he sent the young singer to Walter Hyde, an eminent tenor of the past, it was decided that McAlpine was himself a tenor. Further sessions from another tenor, Joseph Hislop, a singing adviser to Covent Garden, set him on his way.

In 1952, McAlpine was offered a contract as a principal with the Royal Opera House.   For the next four seasons at Covent Garden, he played cameo roles, in each of which he made his mark - most notably as Jaquino in Fidelio (his own favourite opera), as the Idiot in Boris Godunov (1953), and as the Spirit of the Masque in the premiere of Britten's Gloriana.

Soon, he was invited to sing major parts with Sadler's Wells Opera, making his debut as Alfredo in La Traviata (1955), followed by Rodolfo in La Bohème. He sang regularly with the company until 1965. Among his most notable roles were Lensky in Eugene Onegin, and Hermann in The Queen Of Spades. By this time, his voice had taken on a more dramatic quality, and his poignant timbre suited these tortured souls very well. In 1960, he was back at Covent Garden singing Alfredo to Sutherland's Violetta, and the title part in The Tales Of Hoffmann, another part that fitted his voice like a glove.

He made his Glyndebourne debut as Idamante, in Idomeneo (1956), added the Italian Tenor, in Der Rosenkavalier (1959), and the strenuous part of Bacchus, in Ariadne Auf Naxos (1962). He was also sought after by what was then the City Opera in Berlin, where he sang Bacchus to Della Casa's Ariadne in Strauss's opera, Fenton in Falstaff, Don José in Carmen and Riccardo in Un Ballo In Maschera, among others. In 1963, he was at the Aix-en-Provence festival, singing Tamino in The Magic Flute, and Idamante.

By 1966, he was singing even further afield - as Pinkerton in Vancouver, Handel's Jephtha in Hamburg and Cavaradossi in Prague. Many of his later appearances were with Scottish Opera, as - among others - Faust, Dmitri (Boris Godunov), Bob Boles (Peter Grimes) and Cassio (Otello).

He ended his life as he would have wished: still in harness, after suffering a heart attack following a session at the Guildhall School of Music, where he began to teach singing after diabetes forced him to give up his performance commitments in the 1970s.

Links with Ayrshire

There is no evidence that McAlpine appeared in Ayrshire but he was a regular performer with Scottish Opera during the 1960's and 70's.

[Text based on obituary in the Guardian and material published by Opera Scotland]


William MCAlpine 1922 - 2004, Tenor.  Photograph, ca1960. Photogragher unkown.    magnify

Linda Finnie b. 1952

Linda Finnie was born in Dailly in 1952 and educated in the west of Scotland. A pupil of Winnifred Busfield, she studied at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama in Glasgow, winning all of the major singing prizes, a Sir James Caird Scholarship, the John Noble Bursary from Scottish Opera, the Kathleen Ferrier Memorial Award (London), and graduated DRSAMD in singing, performing and teaching. In 1977 she came to full international recognition on winning the Kathleen Ferrier Prize at the International Vocalisten Concour in 's-Hertogenbosch, Netherlands.

She has performed in all of the major opera houses in Great Britain, significantly with the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden and the English National Opera, and with all of the leading British conductors in concerts, at the BBC Proms and in recordings.

Highlights of her distinguished international career in prominent concert halls and opera houses of the world, with eminent conductors and orchestras, are the memorable performances she gave at the Bayreuth Festival in the Barenboim/Kupfer Ring Cycle in the roles of Fricka, Second Norn and Siegrune, which culminated in award winning recordings and DVDs, and the performances she gave in the inaugural performances at the Tokyo Opera House and Arts Centre, of the late Wolfgang Wagner's production of Lohengrin (Ortrud).

Linda Finnie is resident in Girvan.

Links with Ayrshire

Linda Finnie was born and educated in the Girvan area and continues her residence in the area.  In addition to her performances in and around Glasgow, she has given numerous recitals in Ayrshire.

[Text based on biographical material published by the Casa dei Mezzo Music Festival, Crete and personal recollections.]


Linda Finnie b1952  Photograph, ©Bayreuther Festspiele, 1988    magnify

William McCue 1934 - 99.

Born in Allanton, Lanarkshire, in 1934, William McCue enjoyed a long and varied career as a musical entertainer in Scotland. The breadth of his talent allowed him to perform with equal ease in concerts of traditional Scots songs and as a bass in operas by Mozart and Wagner, Britten and Verdi.

After leaving school, his first job was as an electrician in the mining industry. The National Coal Board eventually gave him a scholarship to study at the Royal Academy of Music, where his teachers included Roy Henderson and Heddle Nash. He had begun his training at the RSAMD in Glasgow, before moving on to Manchester.

McCue's operatic debut came in the first week of Scottish Opera performances in 1962, singing the Bonze. He appeared with the company for thirty consecutive seasons in over sixty roles. His range was substantial. Wagner parts included Fasolt, Hunding and King Mark. Mozart appearances were as the Commendatore, Sarastro, and Bartolo. He sang Rocco at every performance of Peter Ebert's excellent Fidelio staging between 1970 and 1984. Other of his more serious roles included Pimen, Raimondo, Sparafucile, Lodovico, Count Ribbing and a particularly effective Fiesco.

He was also adept at character roles, singing both Don Basilio and Dr Bartolo in different productions of The Barber of Seville, Dulcamara, Peachum, King Dodon, the Sacristan and Kecal. He gave innumerable performances all over Europe, playing Supt Budd and as Bottom when the company toured its stagings of Albert Herring and A Midsummer Night's Dream. In operetta he featured as Don Alhambra in The Gondoliers, the Lord Chancellor in Iolanthe, Zeta in The Merry Widow and Frank in Die Fledermaus. He also acted as co-producer for Peter Ebert's staging of Fiddler on the Roof, in which he played Tevye.

McCue's non-operatic career centred on performing Scottish songs on three long-running broadcast shows. The popularity of the radio series It's a Fine Thing to Sing was probably exceeded by the two TV series, McCue's Music and Double Bill. Like several predecessors, he made extensive musical tours of the Commonwealth countries, entertaining thousands of people of Scots descent. He was also a frequent performer at Burns' Night events.

For several years McCue was a member of the Scottish Arts Council, and in 1982 he was awarded the OBE for services to music. He died at Airdrie in September 1999.

Links with Ayrshire

William McCue was a regular performer throughout Ayrshire, appearing in opera at the Gaiety Theatre, Ayr, and in popular concerts of scottish music. In 1984 he contributed to the Ayrshire Arts Festival and opened the festival at a civic reception in the Maclaurin Art Gallery at Rozelle

[This text draws on a biographical note published online by Opera]


Bill McCue sings 'The Nameless Lassie', in 1982’s New Year's Eve show The Hogmanay Party.  Still image from a ©BBC video record of broadcast.      magnify

Sir Alexander Gibson 1926 – 95

Alexander Gibson was born in Motherwell. He studied at Dalziel High School and the University of Glasgow and the Royal Scottish Academy of Music. At the age of 18 he was appointed organist at Hillhead Congregational Church.  In 1944 his education was interrupted, when he served with the Royal Signals Band, until 1948 when he took up a scholarship to the Royal College of Music in London.  Thereafter Gibson studied at the Mozarteum, Salzburg under Igor Markevitch, and under Paul Van Kempen at the Accademia Chigiana, Siena.

He was Assistant Conductor of the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra 1952-54 and conducted two productions for the amateur Glasgow Grand Opera Society in 1954. At the time of his appointment in 1957 as musical director of Sadler's Wells, he was the youngest ever to have taken that position.  He conducted a total of twenty-six operas over the next two years, making his Covent Garden debut in 1957, conducting Puccini's Tosca 

Gibson returned to Scotland in 1959 to become the first Scottish principal conductor and Artistic Director of the Scottish National Orchestra. He founded Scottish Opera in 1962. The first season opened at the King's Theatre, Glasgow, with Puccini's Madama Butterfly and Debussy's Pelleas and Melisande. The following years saw a period of remarkable growth and artistic achievement. Among the highlights were a famous run of Cosi fan tutte (1967 with Janet Baker and Elizabeth Harwood).

In 1975, when Scottish Opera moved to its permanent home, the Theatre Royal in Glasgow, Gibson continued as Music Director until 1986.  In 1987 Gibson was appointed conductor laureate of Scottish Opera and held this title for the remainder of his life. From 1981 to 1983 he was also principal guest conductor of the Houston Symphony Orchestra. He was principal conductor of the Guildford Philharmonic. During his career he made guest appearances with all the major British orchestras and extensively throughout Europe, Australia, the Americas, Hong Kong and Japan.

Links with Ayrshire

Sir Alexander Gibson was a regular visitor to Ayr when the Scottish National Orchestra gave regular concerts in the Town Hall during the 1960's.  After a brief hiatus, when music in Ayr relied upon the Scottish Chamber Orchestra or the BBC Scottish SYmphony Orchestra, Gibson and the Scottish National Orchestra performed in the Town Hall on a small number of occasions during the late 1970s.  These appearances were facilitated by the Ayr Arts Guild and they were forerunners of the Concert Series.

Links with Ayrshire

Sir Alexander Gibson appeared in Ayr on numerous occasions as principal Conductor of the Scottish National Orchestra. He contributed to the first Ayrshire Arts Festival and some of the earlier concerts in the Ayr Concert Series.

[Text based on various biographies in the public domain]


1.   Sir Alexander Gibson, founder, in 1962, and first artistic director of Scottish Opera.    magnify

Ena Mitchell (d. 1979)

Ena Mitchell, was the daughter of a distinguished cabinet maker.  Her voice attracted attention at school and she started piano and singing lessons. In 1925, she played the lead in Gilbert and Sullivan’s Patience under the direction of Dr F.W. Wadely, the Master of the Music at Carlisle Cathedral who was to later write a lullaby in her honour.

Before World War II, Ena Mitchell mainly sang in music halls but her voice lent itself so much to the classic, that she soon found herself under the guardianship of Ibbs and Tillotson’s, one of the leading musical agents. She sang for all leading choral societies and Festival of the UK and Europe; her appearances included oratorios with the Halle, Royal Choral Society and the Bach Choir in the Royal Albert Hall and the Royal Orangery at Hampton Court under the baton of the leading conductor, Sir John Barbirolli and Sir Malcolm Sargent.

When Ena Mitchell retired from her successful national and international career in 1961 she remained a sought-after coach and teacher. After retirement, she became a teaching professor in Scotland and Manchester but travelled as she would never leave her home in Carlisle. She never left her native Cumbria yet her name became known to hundreds of young singing hopefuls whom she trained through the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama in Glasgow and the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester.  As a teacher, one of her guiding principles was that the student should ”Never sing louder than lovely”.

Ena Mitchell died within just two days of her husband William in Howard Place, Carlisle, in 1979.

Links with Ayrshire

There is no evidence that Ena Mitchell sang or taught in Ayrshire but many of her students came from the county. Some students travelled regularly to Carlisle to receive instruction and coaching.

[Text based on an article in the Cumberland News (October 2004) and the Lebrect Music Arts Photo Library; International Who's Who in Music & International Directory (6th Edition, 1972)]


Ena Mitchell (d 1979) magnify

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