Barbara Robotham: A Tribute

It is with great sadness that we announce the death of Barbara Robotham, internationally-renowned vocal teacher at the RNCM, who made such an incredible contribution to the College over so many years.

Barbara joined the staff in 1979 when she was engaged as a part-time senior tutor by Alexander Young, then Head of School of Vocal Studies. In January 1992, she was offered a full-time post as Senior Lecturer and was promoted to Principal Lecturer in 1995. Although she retired from her full-time role in August 1999, Barbara continued teaching at the College, providing huge support to staff and students alike. She was made a Fellow of the RNCM in 1992, and given a long service award in reflection of her invaluable contribution to the institution in 2006.

Barbara studied at the Royal Manchester College of Music, where she gained both Teachers and Performers Diplomas with Distinction. She was awarded the Imperial League of Opera Prize and the prestigious Curtis Gold Medal for Singing, an award which thirty years later was presented to her distinguished pupil, Amanda Roocroft. At the end of her College course, Barbara won the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Society International Singers Competition and, the following year, the Silver Medal in the Concours de Genève.

A busy international singing career followed, with regular visits to most European countries for concerts and opera appearances. At home, Barbara was much in demand by the country's major orchestras and choral societies and made many broadcast with a number of eminent conductors, including Sir David Willcocks. Recordings included Stravinsky's Cantata on Old English Texts for Supraphon and the Walton Gloria for EMI, which won the prize for the most outstanding record made for the Queen's Silver Jubilee.

Barbara’s life-long passion for teaching began at the College when she assisted her mentor, Elsie Thurston. She then became Professor of Voice at Lancaster University in 1974 before taking up her position at the RNCM. Among Barbara’s many eminent alumni are the singers Jeffrey Lloyd-Roberts, Amanda Roocroft and Jane Irwin. Barbara made regular appearances on television, including three Granada Celebration programmes, a Channel 4 documentary on the pitfalls facing young artists, and the BBC 2 Late Show. She recorded a programme for Welsh Television with one of her students who represented Wales in the 1996 Cardiff Singer of the World. In 1977, and was invited to represent Great Britain on the jury of the Concours de Genève; one of the world's most distinguished and long established music competitions.

Roderick Barrand (RNCM staff accompanist), who worked with Barbara for over 30 years, wrote this personal tribute to his long-term colleague, collaborator and friend:

‘After more than 30 years' playing for Barbara, I can only say that they were years of constant inspiration. Her philosophy of care over every detail, of technique, drama and interpretation of music and text helped me to approach my own work as a piano accompanist.  Indeed the way she paced her students in the course of their studies so that they were never forced to learn and perform anything that they did not totally own, is such a maxim for all instrumentalists as well as singers. Her deep appreciation of English literature, especially Shakespeare and Austen, gave her incredible insight into English poetry, something she passed on to me, making me go deeper into poetic appreciation of the text in order to colour my own playing. All I can say is that she will continue to be an icon of all that is great in singing and the highest collaboration of instrumentalists and singers.’

In conclusion, Barbara was an inspirational teacher – demanding, professional, disciplined, totally committed to her students, and extremely hard-working, with a minuscule attention to detail in all aspects of preparation, presentation and performance, be it on the recital platform or on the opera stage. She was a role model to all staff at the RNCM, and also a much-loved friend and colleague. Barbara will be sadly missed, both here at the College, and in the wider music profession. We send our sincere condolences to her husband, Eric, and to her family.


2 July 2013