It was with great sadness this week that we heard of the death of Eric Roberts, a much loved and greatly admired member of the Opera North family.
One of Eric’s signature roles for the Company was as Doctor Bartolo in Giles Havergal’s production of The Barber of Seville. It was as Bartolo that Eric made his final performance with Opera North when the production was revived in 2015.
In between, there were many performances to savour. His hilarious Jupiter in Orpheus in the Underworld; his Benoît and Alcindoro in La Bohème; and his Taxi Black and wild-haired Dr Rook in Kurt Weill’s One Touch of Venus – to name but three – will live long in the memory of those fortunate enough to witness them.
Eric’s masterly comic incarnations always sprang from story and character and his consummate craft was never deployed in a way that would diminish his fellow artists. To focus solely on his comic roles however would be to underestimate the breadth of his talent, as his unique performances ranging from Sir Robert Cecil in Gloriana to a more than usually mature Papageno in The Magic Flute to Solon in Keiser’s The Fortunes of King Croesus so amply demonstrated.
Alongside these were many other memorable performances such as Don Alfonso in Così fan tutte, Don Isaaco in Gerhard’s The Duenna and Mr Gedge in Albert Herring.
Eric Roberts as Doctor Bartolo with Gavan Ring, Katie Bray and Nicholas Watts in Opera North's 2015 revival of The Barber of Seville © Tristram Kenton
Richard Mantle, General Director, Opera North, commented:
“Although Opera North has no official ensemble of guest artists, Eric was a leading light in that informal band of singers with whom we have established long-standing relationships over the years. As time went by, his very presence could turn a rehearsal room into a masterclass for younger singers, not only by delivering his priceless pearls of wisdom with characteristic modesty, but also simply by being Eric.
“His great gift to the Company was, I like to think, that his character helped shape our character: his warmth, wit and enormous generosity of spirit touched and affected everyone who worked with him. That and of course all those treasurable performances that brought such joy to audiences in their thousands. May he rest in peace.”