Born: June 6, 1942
Before the emergence of David Daniels as a countertenor superstar, Paul Esswood alone offered a rounded, settled, womanly sound spun around a firm, even vibrato. He quickly made his way among conductors who appreciated both his conscientious musicianship and beautiful sound. His now-legendary series of Bach recordings made with Nikolaus Harnoncourt in the 1970s still gives much pleasure even though Baroque-period performing styles have evolved since then. Esswood trained at the Royal Academy of Music from 1961, studying under baritone Gordon Clinton. Beginning in 1964, he was a lay vicar at Westminster Abbey, remaining in that position until 1971. During that same period, several significant debuts took place; his first professional performance took place in a 1965 broadcast of the Messiah with conductor Charles Mackerras (with whom he later recorded the work) and in 1968, he made his stage debut in Cavalli's Erismena in Berkeley, CA. The following year, he made his European opera debut singing the title role in Scarlatti's Il Tigrane at Basle. His fluency and command in Baroque operas quickly led to other performances in stage works by Monteverdi, Scarlatti, and Handel. During 1971 alone, he appeared in all three of Monteverdi's best-known operas, essaying Il ritorno d'Ulisse in patria in Vienna, Orfeo at the Salzburg Festival, and L'Incoronazione di Poppea in Amsterdam. During the 1976-1977 season at Zurich, Esswood repeated the Monteverdi works in a cycle of productions directed by Jean Ponnelle with Harnoncourt conducting, which was subsequently recorded and filmed for worldwide broadcast. Polish composer Krzysztof Penderecki's Paradise Lost featured Esswood in the role of Death at both its 1978 premiere in Chicago and at La Scala the following season. In 1984, Esswood created the title role in Philip Glass' Akhnaten at Stuttgart (another role of his subsequently released on recording) and in 1988, he sang Oberon in Britten's A Midsummer Night's Dream in Cologne. At Karlsruhe's 1990 Handel Festival, he performed the title role in Admeto and sang Riccardo Primo during the 1991 English Bach Festival at Covent Garden. A later premiere found Esswood creating the role of Seff in Herbert Willi's Schlafes Bruder in Zürich and repeating the role in a second production at Innsbruck. In addition to opera, Esswood has been active as a recitalist and concert singer. On both the concert stage and at many of the world's leading festivals, he has performed works spanning several centuries, including the period of Romanticism, and works from modern times. In addition to Penderecki's Paradise Lost, Esswood also sang the premiere of his Magnificat. Two premieres of works by Alfred Schnittke featured performances by Esswood: the Faust Cantata and the Symphony No. 2 "St. Florian," the latter yet another example of his work now available on disc. During a long career, Esswood has participated in more than 150 recordings, including no fewer than four of Handel's Messiah. His Bach series for Teldec includes the complete cantatas, while his solo recordings engage the music of Purcell, Schumann, and Britten with many others in between. Since 1985, Esswood has been a professor of Baroque vocal studies at the Royal Academy of Music. In 1967, he co-founded the Pro Cantione Antiqua.