Opera Australia Blog

Obituary: Robert Allman AM OBE

We are sad to report the passing of Robert Allman AM OBE.

June 8 1927 – December 4 2013

June 8 1927 – December 4 2013

Robert Allman was a pillar of the Australian opera scene during the 1970s, 80s and 90s. He first joined the Australian Opera to sing the role of Jokanaan in Salome in 1960, and 28 years later, his reprisal led then Artistic Director Moffatt Oxenbould to remark “he sounded so fresh-voiced and authoritative that it was hard, but wonderful, to believe that he had been with the Company since the first season in which we had performed Salome in 1960”.

His voice has the richness and depth to sing all the big Verdi baritone leads with aplomb, and he made the roles of Iago in Otello and Scarpia in Tosca his own. He sung all of the core baritone roles in everything from Rigoletto to The Flying Dutchman, La Traviata to The Magic Flute, Peter Grimes to Boris Godunov.

Opera Australia’s Artistic Director Lyndon Terracini said Bob Allman was one of the greatest operatic baritones Australia has ever produced. “He was generous by nature and his voice and his performances mirrored his generosity of spirit. For those of us who were fortunate enough to hear him at his best he will never be forgotten. He was a wonderful singer but he was also an equally wonderful human being.”

Robert Allman as Iago in Otello. Photo Courtesy Opera Australia

Robert Allman as Iago in Otello. Photo Courtesy Opera Australia

In Oxenbould’s memoir, he recalls a wonderful season of The Magic Flute in which the then-veteran performer sang the role of the Speaker, while mentoring the three trebles cast as the spirit boys. “The dynamic between Bob, approaching the end of his performing career, and the younger singers, at the beginning of theirs, was wonderful to observe and experience.”

Vale to a great performer, a wonderful artist and a friend to many.

Moffatt wrote this tribute today on hearing of his passing:

“Robert Allman is one of the few artists whose mighty talent and endearing personality  has been inextricably linked to Opera Australia for more than 50 years. His warm, Italianate voice was ideally suited to the dramatic roles of Giuseppe Verdi but his repertoire was wide ranging – including many of the major baritone roles of Donizetti, Wagner, Richard Strauss, Puccini and Leoncavallo. Alongside colleagues such as Elizabeth Fretwell, Dame Joan Sutherland, Donald Smith and Neil Warren-Smith, his performances delighted audiences and set standards to which younger singers could aspire. His career began in Melbourne in the 1950s, took him to Paris to study with Dominique Modesti, then to Covent Garden in London and thence to the major German operatic stages. His return to Australia as a guest artist in 1959 led to regular return visits – notably in 1965 when he appeared with the Sutherland-Williamson Opera Company with which he gave the first of many performances opposite his good friend and colleague, Luciano Pavarotti.

In 1969 he came back to Australia permanently as principal baritone of the Company – although he occasionally returned to the UK, Europe and the United States as a welcome guest. In 1997 Bob Allman bade farewell to the stage in a gala performance in the Sydney Opera House in which artists, management and staff paid tribute to the unique place he held in both the history of the Company and the affections of its people.

But the end of his performing career was not the end of his association with Opera Australia. He was a founding and long-term Trustee of the Company’s Benevolent Fund and a mentor and adviser to generations of young singers.

Fortunately several of his performances are available to lovers of good singing  – Don Alfonso in Lucrezia Borgia with Sutherland and especially in the recently released three CD set by Desiree Records – covering his entire career.”

Robert Allman lives on in memory as one of the very greatest of the many remarkably gifted Australian classical singers.

Robert Allman as Scarpia and Marilyn Richardson as Tosca in 1992. Photo by Jeff Busby.

Robert Allman as Scarpia and Marilyn Richardson as Tosca in 1992. Photo by Jeff Busby.


13 Responses to “Obituary: Robert Allman AM OBE”

  1. Scott Hannigan

    What beautiful comments from Moffatt Oxenbould and Lyndon Terracini. I was fortunate enough to be involved in most of the productions Bob was in from 1986 until his retirement. A truly great artist he was – always dependable and never missing a beat. And a thoroughly good bloke. RIP

  2. Fra Richard Divall

    Robert Allman, was as his surname suggests, a very fine man and human being. Humble, hard working, dedicated, and an artist of the greatest of integrity. He was the ideal ‘team man’ in any operatic production, and when he sang, he gave
    everything of himself. He was a devoted family man, and a shining example to any aspiring young opera singer. Vale and AVE. Richard.

  3. Malcolm Donnelly AM

    To hear such a remarkable singer was a very moving experience, to have the absolute pleasure of working with this fine man, who generously would give advice, help and encouragement was a rare experience. I admired his work ethic , he was a ‘no nonsense singer’, always gave everything to his role, but he was also a very good human being in every sense of the word. Just a couple of weeks ago he phoned to see how I was as he had not had the opportunity to speak with me at a function… this shows the compassion and warmth of feeling he had for his colleagues, putting them before himself.
    He will be sadly missed not only as a great performer but a loving husband and father.

  4. Melody Xu

    Dearest Bob – I feel so fortunate and honored to have known you and have you as my neighbour. Thank you and Jo for encouraging me to keep on practising my piano and all the wonderful conversations we had about music and opera over the years. I promise you that I will not give up and continue to practice my piano so you can hear me play from heaven. My husband and I will miss you greatly!

  5. renee goossens

    What a fantastic role model, an exemplary singer and delightful human being he was. How proud I am to have known him at all. His Di Provenza is one of the most moving and meaningful pieces of singing. We shall all miss him and send our love to his wonderful Jo.


  6. John Martin

    A fine tribute to a lovely man and a wonderful artist.
    Bob will forever be remembered and revered as one of our greats!

  7. Jenny Gaudry

    A very sad day for Opera and the Allman family. A passing of a great talent.

  8. AEnone McRae-Clift

    How sad I was to learn of Robert Allman’s passing. My late mother and I were avid opera and ballet subscribers in Sydney in the 1960s and 70s and we were privileged to have heard Robert in many roles – his presence commanding the stage and his beautiful rich voice soaring around the theatre.
    Along with my favourites of those times – Donald Smith, Donald Shanks, Neil Warren-Smith, Joan Carden, Joan Sutherland, Lauris Elms, Rita Hunter and of course, my beloved Luciano Pavarotti – each night was a treat that I will never forget.
    Those were the golden years of Australian opera, the like of which we shall never see again. I will remember Robert with affection, and I thank him for sharing his beautiful gift with us. Robert, I will look forward to hearing you sing Verdi in heaven!

  9. Ronald Johnston

    Robert and myself were at Essendon High School from 1939/1944, with his older Brother, we were also together in The Sampford Boys Choir as Boy Sopranos at Buckley Street, Essendon, the School ex-students are having our Christmas lunch on Monday next, we are going to miss him.

  10. Peter Davies

    As Bob’s dresser, for 15 of his golden years with Opera Australia, I was privileged to share the process and preparation that is part of inhabiting an opera role. In Bob’s case, this preparation was meticulous, not only vocally but intellectually and emotionally. The warmth of character he brought to roles like Simon Boccanegra imprinted itself indelibly on both audience and those of us listening in the wings.

    The half hour before curtain up is inevitably infused with nervous tension but if Bob had any pre-performance nerves, he never showed them. Conversation was more likely to skirt the performance ahead and focus on the latest exhibition of Australian painting or a restaurant that he and Jo had just visited. He was a secure and generous performer who always had time for his colleagues, on stage and off.

    Bob was a great raconteur. For anyone, like myself, interested in the lore of singing and opera performance, Bob was a magical resource because he was part it. He was also very interested in who’s who and what’s happening in opera now.

    Conversations with Bob, often via long distance phone calls, have been part of my life for 40 years. I will miss them and lament, along with so many others, the passing of a great man.

    Peter Davies

  11. Michael Gluecksmann

    What sad news to learn of Robert Allman’s death. He was a a more than great inspiraton to me when I was beginning my career and had the fortune and privelige to hear him in many of his wonderful performances. I also had the fortune of meeting this modest and warm person then. Years later, when I returned to Australia on one of the occaisions to sing with The Australian Opera as Jochanaan in”Salome”, Bob was my second cast. I said to him that I thought this was wierd and it should be the other way around. Typically he replied- no, it’s your turn now! Later in the season, when I sang Hans Sachs in ” Die Meistersinger”, it my honour to share the stage with him as a wonderful Kothner. This superb artist and person will be greatly missed!


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