Sir John Tomlinson

One LP: Bass Arias by Nicolai Ghiaurov

Sir John Tomlinson holding a vinyl LP by Nicolai Ghiaurov, standing in front of a car.

The record I’ve chosen features a wonderful bass singer, a Bulgarian by the name of Nicolai Ghiaurov.

He was born perhaps 15 years before me – so when I was a young student learning how to sing in the 60s. I’d be around 18, 19, 20 and he’d be in his early 40s. He was at the peak of his powers, and his voice was just inspirational to me.

I’ve been studying singing all my life but this was at a time I was studying engineering – I’ve been a civil engineer. My singing was going reasonably well but when I heard a voice like his I thought ‘this is what I’m aiming for, this is what a real operatic bass sounds like’. 

The splendor of it, the richness of it, the glory of it, the expressiveness, power, it was of a different scale to what I’d known in all those ways – extremely beautiful, full and rich. Learning to sing is difficult, it takes a long time. It takes many years because you can’t see the instrument so you’re working on sensation and your teacher is saying ‘that sounds better than that and that sounds worse than that’ and you’re slowly edging forward and trying different things, and perhaps it’s a 10 year process let’s say, to really get the voice going and developed. It’s a muscular thing, the muscles need to develop and it’s to do with sensation.

Vocal technique is being able to sing beautifully on every note in the whole range from top to bottom expressively, fully, beautifully – and that’s what I still try to do today.