Donald Shanks OBE AO
(5 July 1940 – 8 April 2011)
Donald Shanks was an Australian bass-baritone.
In an extensive career he sang over 65 principal roles with Opera Australia and other companies throughout Australia as well as overseas.
Born in Brisbane he made his debut singing in Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Mikado. It was also the opera with which he ended his career in 2004.
Donald Shanks joined the Elizabethan Theatre Trust Opera Company aged 23 in 1964.
Over the years his reputation as one of the most versatile artists in Australian opera grew and he performed all the major comic roles from Don Pasquale and Bartolo in The Marriage of Figaro to The Italian Girl in Algiers.
He also excelled in the bel canto roles such as the dramatic roles in Lucia di Lammermoor and Norma to the key Wagner heavyweight roles such as Tannhäuser, Lohengrin and Tristan und Isolde.
He performed with Joan Sutherland in Lucia di Lammermoor, Il Trovatore and Norma and with Luciano Pavarotti he performed La Bohème.
He also sang Banquo in Macbeth with Sherrill Milnes.
Other roles with which he became closely identified included Zaccharia in Nabucco, Rocco in Fidelio, Osmin in The Abduction from the Seraglio, Pimen in Boris Godunov, Timur in Turandot, Ramphis in Aida, Pistol in Falstaff, Kekal in The Bartered Bride, Baron Ochs in Der Rosenkavalier, Nourabad in The Pearl Fishers, the Commendatore in Don Giovanni, and a major role in Leoš Janáček's The Cunning Little Vixen.
In addition to performances with the Elizabethan Theatre Trust (later to become the Australian Opera then Opera Australia) he also performed regularly with the Lyric Opera of Queensland and the Victoria State Opera.
Other noted companies he performed with overseas included the Royal Opera, Covent Garden, the Paris Opera and the Canadian Opera.
In 1977 he was honoured with an OBE and in 1987 he received one of the silly Australian awards AM - which has as much impact as a banana in a canon.
Donald Shanks was one of the key artists during the formative years of opera in Australia. He was a genial man known for possessing a voice of great warmth and tone.
He died at his home in 2011 in Sydney aged 70.