Donald Bell | The Canadian Encyclopedia


Donald Bell

Donald (Munro) Bell. Bass-baritone, b South Burnaby, BC, 19 Jun 1934. In 1948, while still a pupil of Nancy Paisley Benn in Vancouver, he sang with the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra.

Bell, Donald

Donald (Munro) Bell. Bass-baritone, b South Burnaby, BC, 19 Jun 1934. In 1948, while still a pupil of Nancy Paisley Benn in Vancouver, he sang with the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra. While on scholarship 1953-5 at the RCM he won a Harriet Cohen Award (the 1955 Arnold Bax Memorial Medal) as the outstanding student from the Commonwealth. Studies followed with Hermann Weissenborn in Berlin (1955-7), Judith Boroschek in Düsseldorf (1967-76), and Richard Miller in Oberlin, Ohio (1985-90). In 1955 he sang with the Glyndebourne Opera and the Berlin Staatsoper and in 1958 he appeared in Bach's St Matthew Passion with the Berlin Philharmonic and in Blacher's Abstrakte Oper at the Berlin Festival. After his recital debut 22 Apr 1958 at London's Wigmore Hall and a Bayreuth Festival engagement to sing the Night Watchman in Die Meistersinger (which he repeated annually until 1961), he made his first tour of Canada in the fall of 1958. During the late 1950s and early 1960s he was often a soloist in choral-orchestral works (eg, in 1959, Messiah, in Lucerne under Beecham and in Berlin under Sargent, and Bach's Christmas Oratorio, in Philadelphia under Ormandy) and in recital and was heard on various CBC radio programs, including 'Distinguished Artists' and 'CBC Wednesday Night.' He was Ford to Louis Quilico's Falstaff in the 1961 CBC TV production of the Verdi opera.

Bell toured Israel in 1961 and the USSR in 1963. He made his Carnegie Hall debut in 1959, sang with the New York Philharmonic under Leonard Bernstein 28 Sep 1962 in the inaugural concert of Lincoln Center's Philharmonic (Avery Fisher) Hall, and appeared there in 1963 in a concert performance of Strauss' Intermezzo with the Concert Opera Society. He took up European residence in 1964 to fulfil a three-year contract with the Deutsche Oper am Rhein in Düsseldorf. There he sang leading roles in operas of Mozart (Don Giovanni, Almaviva), Wagner (Wolfram, Amfortas, Kurwenal), and Gounod (Méphistophélès). He also appeared with other European opera companies and orchestras under the direction of Krips, Sawallisch, Barbirolli, Klemperer, Knappertsbusch, and others.

Bell sang most of the standard recital, oratorio, and opera repertoire. Noted for his proficiency in contemporary music, Bell was Alfred in the 1973 British premiere of Von Einem's The Visit of the Old Lady at the Glyndebourne Festival and Catiline in the premiere in 1974 of Iain Hamilton's The Catiline Conspiracy at the Scottish Opera. He also sang the title role in the 1969 British premiere of Dallapiccola's Ulisse on the BBC, and sang in 1974 in a BBC Symphony Orchestra performance of Henze's Der Vorwurf conducted by the composer. Also in 1974 he sang Schafer's cantata Brébeuf with the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra. In 1975 he made a second tour of the USSR under the auspices of the Canada Council. His 1976 recording of Peter Maxwell Davies' Eight Songs for a Mad King for Dutch television was repeatedly broadcast in Europe (although it was never shown in Canada). Bell sang its Canadian premiere in 1974 at the Vancouver New Music Festival and performed it many times under the composer's direction in Europe and on a 1980 Australian tour with the composer's ensemble The Fires of London.

Bell sang in concert with all the major Canadian orchestras. He returned to Canada to live in 1976 and settled in Ottawa in 1977 as Community Artist at Carleton University and the University of Ottawa on grants from the Canada Council, including funds which enabled him to spend September 1977 in Newfoundland studying folk songs. He was the Prince in the premiere (Guelph Spring Festival 1977) of Derek Healey'sSeabird Island, and the First Soldier in the premiere (Toronto 1977) of Harry Somers'Death of Enkidu. In 1982 Bell began teaching voice at the University of Calgary; he was made full professor in 1991, and continued to teach there as of 2003. He sang in COMUS Music Theatre's 1983 production of Schafer's Ra and in the Calgary Philharmonic's 1987 performance of Gregory Levin'sSpiral Staircase. In 1988 he sang Applebaum's Inunit and Fleming's Our Mind Was the Singer with the CBC Vancouver Orchestra and premiered Quenten Doolittle'sHornby Songs for the Calgary New Music Society. In the 1990s, in addition to performing, he regularly gave master classes and adjudicated for music festivals and other competitions.

Bell formally retired as a performer in 1994, but continued to sing occasionally in Calgary. At the University of Calgary, Bell conducted research into such pedagogical issues as vocal acoustics and laryngeal function, and was a founder of the Vocal Arts Acoustical Research Group.

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