Donald Smith (OBE)
(27 July 1922 – 1 December 1998)
Donald Smith was an Australian tenor.
His voice had a bright Italianate quality to it and he could match in size and carrying power all the voices of the sopranos and mezzos he was singing with.
Donald Smith connected so well with audiences he attracted a fiercely loyal public many of whom had no previous knowledge or experience with opera, in much the same way that Jussi Bjorling did with his native Swedish audiences.
Wherever he sang, his performances were regularly sold out.
He began singing on a local radio station singing mainly country and western songs where he was encouraged to take lessons and develop his talent.
After some lessons he played the tenor lead in Merry England by Sir Edward German in 1944 in Brisbane then went on to sing in major operettas of the time - The Bohemian Girl and Maritana.
Joining the Brisbane Opera Society in 1948 he then had his first forrays into the world of opera singing Don José (Carmen), the title role in Faust, the Duke of Mantua (Rigoletto), Roméo (Roméo et Juliette) and Canio in (I Pagliacci). Canio was later to become one of his signature roles.
He went to London in 1952 to study for two years at the National Opera School and returned to sing Count Almaviva (The Barber of Seville) and Tamino (The Magic Flute) and in 1960 he sang Pinkerton opposite the great Dame Joan Hammond's Madama Butterfly.
He returned to London to sing with the Sadler's Wells in 1962, where he added many more roles to his repertoire including many Verdi operas such as Attila. He made his Royal Opera debut singing Calaf to the Turandot of English soprano Amy Shuard.
He stayed in the UK for six years before returning to Australia in 1966 to sing Canio, Manrico (Il Trovatore), Bob Boles (Peter Grimes), the Duke of Mantua, Dick Johnson (The Girl of the Golden West), Cavaradossi (Tosca), Radames (Aida), and the King (A Masked Ball) and Florestan in Fidelio for the Australian Opera.
With fellow Australian Marie Collier, and with Tito Gobbi as Scarpia, they played the first ever opera telecast in Australia of Tosca in 1968.
In 1973 he sang at the inaugural concert of the Sydney Opera House.
His last appearance on an opera stage was with Joan Sutherland and the Australian Opera in Verdi's Il Masnadieri.
In 1981 he became ill and retired, becoming a vocal coach in Brisbane. He died in 1998.
Donald Smith left many recordings with the Sadlers Wells and on an Australian recording abel.
It is said that throughout his career he knocked back many offers and opportunities to sing in the major houses of Europe and America preferring to return to his beloved Australia. There is no doubt he had the quality and the capability to have made a much bigger career on the world stage had he wanted to.