Born in Benoni, South Africa in 1928, Lawrence Folley had a long and distinguished career on the stage, appearing in opera, operetta, musicals and on concert platforms both in the UK and South Africa.
Lawrence moved to London in 1953 and studied at the Guildhall School of Music, Morley College and the London Opera School. After completing a UK tour of Lilac Time, he joined the Sadler’s Wells Opera Company and soon went on to become a principal baritone performing roles such as Count Almaviva in The Marriage of Figaro, Escamillo in Carmen, Prince Yeletsky in The Queen of Spades, the Father in Hansel & Gretel, Valentine in Faust, Agamemnon in La Belle Hélène, Leander in The Love of Three Oranges and Ramiro in Ravel’s L’heure Espagnole.
During this time Lawrence also appeared in productions for other companies. He played amongst others Sam in Ledlanet Nights’ UK premier of Bernstein’s Trouble in Tahiti and performed in Lennox Berkely’s A Dinner Engagement.
In 1967 Lawrence returned with his family to South Africa and became one of the country’s first full-time professional opera singers. He rapidly established himself as a leading baritone of the Italian repertoire and achieved particular acclaim in the Verdi roles, portraying Macbeth, Nabucco, Rigoletto, Count di Luna, Giorgio Germont, Simone Boccanegra, Renato, Rodrigo, Amonasro, Iago and Falstaff.
Lawrence’s repertoire also embraced Puccini’s Scarpia, Michele, Marcello and Sharpless; Mozart’s Don Giovanni and Count Almaviva; Donizetti’s Enrico and Dr Malatesta; as well as the Barber of Seville, Jokanaan in Salome and Balstrode in Peter Grimes.
Over the course of his career, Lawrence forged some powerful stage partnerships. In Cape Town he sang Jokanaan to Leone Rysanek’s final performances as Salome. He also played Scarpia to her final Tosca. Lawrence’s performances opposite Marita Napier in Macbeth and Nabucco were also highly acclaimed. He had great camaraderie with tenors Giovanni Gibin and Andre Turp as “brothers-in-arms” in various productions of Don Carlos and La Forza del Destino. Lawrence was particularly fond of these works and felt privileged to have had a close working relationship with Maestro Franco Ferraris, under whose baton he sang these roles and many others.
In numerous productions Lawrence Folley held his own as the only South African in a cast of international luminaries. He is widely regarded as having been an inspiration to young South African singers who went on to become professionals themselves.
Lawrence also demonstrated a flair for musicals and operettas. He starred as Hajj in Kismet, Johan Strauss Snr in The Great Waltz, Fred Graham in Kiss me Kate, Emile in South Pacific, Eisenstein in Die Fledermaus, Danilo in The Merry Widow, and Paquillo in La Perichole. In 1986, his 30 years on the stage was celebrated in a specially mounted CAPAB production of The Man of La Mancha.
Lawrence Folley was privileged to spend his life making and enjoying music. His career was supported by his violinist wife Marie and their three daughters who also took to singing and have all appeared with him on stage. Roxane who starred opposite Lawrence as Resi in Durban’s production of “The Great Waltz” is married to tenor John Treleaven, Amanda married musician Joe Robinson and Laura married South African baritone, John Eagar.
In 1993 Lawrence retired from the stage and moved back to the UK. In 1998 Marie died and in October 2001 Lawrence married the South African theatre director, Jacky Vermaas. After a long battle with skin cancer, Lawrence died, aged 78.