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Charles Donald Adams (20 December 1928 – 8 April 1996) was an English opera singer and actor, best known for his performances in bass-baritone roles of the Savoy Operas with the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company and his own company, Gilbert and Sullivan for All.

Adams began his career with the BBC Repertory Company in 1944. Among other early performances, he was leading man with Great Yarmouth Repertory Company for two years. In 1951, he joined the D'Oyly Carte organisation and soon began to play roles, becoming the company's principal bass until 1969. With Thomas Round and Norman Meadmore, he formed the touring company, Gilbert and Sullivan for All, in which he continuted to play bass and bass-baritone roles as well as to direct. By the early 1980s, Adams was performing in opera and operetta throughout Britain and abroad. He continued to perform nearly until his death, also recording many of his roles, particularly in Gilbert and Sullivan operas.

Beginnings and D'Oyly Carte years

Donald Adams was born in Bristolmarker and educated at the Bristol Cathedral School, where he sang as a chorister in the cathedral and played Thomas Becket in Murder in the Cathedral at the age of sixteen. He made his professional debut as an actor (while still at school) with the BBC Repertory Company in 1944. He interrupted his fledgling stage and radio career to serve in the British Army, where he acted as resident producer of the Army Repertory Theatre at Catterick Camp. After his service, he returned to acting and music-hall performances, gaining good notices. For two years, he was leading man with Great Yarmouth Repertory Company and was a member of the quartet, The Regal Four. He studied with an Italian singing teacher in London, Rodolfo Melle, who had sung at La Scalamarker with the great tenor Aureliano Pertile, and who taught Adams to sustain the vowels of a word before reaching the consonants. This, Adams said, gave the voice "a nice line", and he continued to practise Melle's lessons until the end of his life.

Adams was hired by the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company as a chorister in 1951 and soon began to play the small roles of Bill Bobstay in H.M.S. Pinafore, Samuel in The Pirates of Penzance, Second Yeoman in The Yeomen of the Guard, and Antonio in The Gondoliers, eventually understudying 26 roles. The next season, he took over the principal role of Captain Corcoran in H.M.S. Pinafore and filled in for the ailing Alan Styler as Cox in Cox and Box, the Counsel in Trial by Jury, and Archibald Grosvenor in Patience. He also gave one performance as Old Adam Goodheart in Ruddigore and soon began to appear as the Lieutenant of the Tower in The Yeomen of the Guard.

Beginning in the 1952–53 season, Adams began to fill in for the ageing Darrell Fancourt, who missed an increasing number of performances, as the Pirate King in Pirates, Colonel Calverly in Patience, the Earl of Mountararat in Iolanthe, the Mikado of Japan in The Mikado, and Sir Roderic Murgatroyd in Ruddigore. With Fancourt's retirement at the end of that season, Adams took over those roles, as well as the roles of Dick Deadeye in H.M.S. Pinafore, Sergeant Meryll in The Yeomen of the Guard, and Arac in Princess Ida (when that opera was revived in 1954). He also played Sergeant Bouncer in Cox and Box from 1961 to 1963.

Adams continued as the principal bass of the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company until 1969. He married D'Oyly Carte soprano Muriel Harding in 1952. She died in 1990.

After D'Oyly Carte

Adams began to perform full-time with Gilbert and Sullivan for All, a company that he, Norman Meadmore and Thomas Round had founded several years earlier. That company toured the British Isles, North America, Australasia, and the Far East. Adams appeared with this company as Cox in Cox and Box, the Usher in Trial by Jury, Dick Deadeye in H.M.S. Pinafore, the Pirate King in The Pirates of Penzance, Lord Mountararat in Iolanthe, the Mikado in The Mikado, Sir Roderic in Ruddigore, Sergeant Meryll in The Yeomen of the Guard, and Don Alhambra in The Gondoliers, as well as acting as a director for the company.

During his Gilbert and Sullivan for All years, Adams also appeared as W. S. Gilbert on tour with Thomas Round in Tarantara! Tarantara!, Ian Taylor's musical about the Gilbert and Sullivan partnership, and, again with Round, recorded a musical documentary, The Story of Gilbert & Sullivan, written by Dr. Thomas Heric. In 1982, he appeared in three of the Brent Walker G&S television productions as Sir Marmaduke in The Sorcerer, Colonel Calverly in Patience, and Sir Roderic in Ruddigore.

Opera career and sudden death

Beginning in the early 1980s, Adams began to perform in operettas and grand opera. After singing Alfred Doolittle in My Fair Lady for Scottish Opera and the Mikado of Japan in the Peter Sellars version of The Mikado in Chicagomarker in 1983, he appeared as Mirko Zeta in The Merry Widow and the Theatre Director and the Banker in Lulu, before making his Covent Gardenmarker, debut later that year as a Frontier Guard in Boris Godunov, later singing Quince in A Midsummer Night's Dream, and Colonel Frank, the prison governor in Die Fledermaus, a role, said The Times, that suited his comic talents to perfection.

Adams sang with English National Opera many times, beginning in 1985 as Dikoj in Katya Kabanova, and at the Glyndebourne Festivalmarker beginning in 1988. In The Marriage of Figaro he played Bartolo for ENO ("...the only truly rounded, Mozart-size performance is the Dr Bartolo of the immortal Donald Adams") and Antonio in the production which opened the new opera house at Glyndebourne in May 1994.

Adams sang Rossini’s Bartolo in Amsterdammarker, the Sacristan in Tosca at Genevamarker; the Mikado in Los Angelesmarker; Mozart's Bartolo and Pooh-Bah in The Mikado for ENO; Quince, and the lawyer Swallow in Peter Grimes at Glyndebourne. His Baron Ochs in Der Rosenkavalier (1990) for Welsh National Opera was described by The Independent as "a triumph for the singer, now 62 years of age, and no longer in his finest or freshest voice, but who made up for any vocal deficiency by the marvellously subtle way he handled the text". Returning to Covent Garden in 1993, he gave "excellent performances of Badger and the Priest" in The Cunning Little Vixen.

He also continued to record, especially with Charles Mackerras and Welsh National Opera and appeared as Sergeant Meryll in the Welsh National Opera production of Yeomen 1994-95, the first Gilbert and Sullivan production staged at the Royal Opera House. The Times, in its obituary of Adams, concluded: "At the time of his death Adams had a diary as packed as any leading opera singer half his age. He was particularly looking forward to a performance this autumn in Benjamin Britten's A Midsummer Night's Dream at the Metropolitan Opera".

Adams also composed and arranged music. He died in Norwichmarker, England, at the age of 67 of a brain tumor.


Adams recorded prolifically. With the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company and Decca Records, he recorded Sergeant Bouncer in Cox and Box (1961), the Usher in Trial by Jury (1964), the Notary in The Sorcerer (1953), Sir Marmaduke in The Sorcerer (1966), Dick Deadeye in H.M.S. Pinafore (1960), the Pirate King in Pirates (1958 and 1968), Colonel Calverly in Patience (1961), Mountararat in Iolanthe (1960), Arac in Princess Ida (1955 and 1965), the Mikado in The Mikado (1958), Sir Roderic in Ruddigore (1962), Sergeant Meryll in Yeomen (1964), and King Paramount in Utopia Limited (1964 excerpts). He also appeared in the title role in D'Oyly Carte's 1966 film of The Mikado and as the voice of Sir Roderic Murgatroyd in the Halas & Batchelor cartoon version of Ruddigore.

Adams was one of several D'Oyly Carte artists to appear on a Reader's Digest LP collection, "The Best of Gilbert & Sullivan," in 1963. Because he was prohibited by contract from recording the roles he had played with D'Oyly Carte, Adams recorded, for Reader's Digest, excerpts as Ko-Ko in The Mikado, the Sergeant of Police in Pirates, Private Willis in Iolanthe, Don Alhambra in The Gondoliers, and Reginald Bunthorne and Major Murgatroyd in Patience.

In the 1970s, Adams also recorded his roles with Gilbert and Sullivan for All. These were complete recordings of Trial by Jury and Cox and Box, and potted excerpts (as much as would fit on two sides of an LP record) of seven others. He also made two recordings of lesser known Sullivan music. With Charles Mackerras and Welsh National Opera's Gilbert & Sullivan series, begun in 1992, Adams recorded the title role in The Mikado, the Pirate King in The Pirates of Penzance, Dick Deadeye in H.M.S. Pinafore, and Sergeant Meryll in The Yeomen of the Guard.


  1. Forbes, Elizabeth. "Obituary: Donald Adams", The Independent, 11 April 1996
  2. The Times, 16 April 1996
  3. Rollins & Witts, p. 176-77
  4. Rollins & Witts, p. 177-86
  5. The Times 1 November 1993
  6. The Sunday Times 21 July 1996


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