Lawrence Folley 6 December 1928 to 14 January 2007
Opera April 2007
For a generation of opera-goers in South Africa, Lawrence Folley simply was Rigoletto, Nabucco, Macbeth, Giorgio Germont, Iago, Falstaff and a gallery of further Verdian roles. His repertoire was of course much wider than that, and it is as a host of other characters that he is fondly remembered by older audiences in London, where in the 1960s he was a principal baritone with Sadler’s Wells Opera. In both spheres of his career he made a deep impression on audiences and colleagues alike, and was valued as much for his imposing stage presence, burnished tone and subtle vocalism as for his unfailing wit and professionalism.
The Times March 14 2007
Lawrence Folley was South Africa’s leading singer of Verdi’s roles, to which he brought his imposing stage presence, burnish one and subtle vocalism. His signature role was Rodrigo in Don Carlos. He trained in London, becoming principal baritone with Sadler’s Wells Opera in the 1960’s and singing a wide variety of roles. He returned to South Africa in 1967.
Tributes from colleagues
He was undoubtedly one of the greatest and most beloved operas singers and artists this country has ever produced. He was as comfortable performing in operettas and musicals like “The Merry Widow” and “Man of La Mancha” as he was in the great operas of Verdi, Mozart, Donizetti and Rossini, and gave never-to-be forgotten performances of Scarpia in “Tosca".
It had been an extraordinary privilege to have worked with an artist of such stature, who was also an incredibly generous college. In every way, he was the true professional – always punctual, always knew his work and never gave the directors any problems.
With these qualities he brought a voice with a great range of expression as well as pure diction, breath control and a huge stage presence.
For almost 30 years, he gave us one marvellous performance after another. These were not only for the audience, but also for his colleagues like Aviva Pelham, Manuel Escocio and myself, offering us quiet advice yet never making it sound as though he was being interfering.
He was undoubtedly one of the greatest and most beloved opera singers and artists this county has ever produced.
He was as comfortable performing in operettas and musicals like “The Merry Widow” and “Man of La Mancha” as he was in the great operas of Verdi, Mozart, Donizetti and Rossini, and gave never-to-be forgotten performances of Scarpia in “Tosca”.
It had been a truly great experience to have appeared opposite him in so many musicals, operettas and operas. You could watch and learn so much from his awesome stage presence and his insight into the characters he was playing.
One of the most professional singers who gave of his best in every performance in every note he sang. He was only satisfied when his contribution was not only absolutely note perfect but also perfectly in tune. And it was not only his fine noble singing that made such an impression on one, he was also a true gentleman.
We performed many times in various shows and in “La Mancha” when I sang the song “I like Him” I meant every word and note.
How does one sum up a colleague like Larry? We did so much together, but when I sing a particular show for a second or even a third, time, I always remember Larry with a smile! It was Larry who told a very nervous Brit in the wings at her debut in Cape Town “Just go out there and do your best!” I remember that perfect combination of wit, humour and theatrical discipline.
It was through ENO connections that I went as a wet-behind-the-ears assistant conductor to South Africa, and during my eight years there I worked with Lawrence Folley regularly. I was honoured to know his family as a friend, being occasionally hijacked to coach Mandy and Roxane. I worked with Laurie on new roles and conducted performances in which he was singing. His endearing vulnerability as a man, when one got closer to him, put his masterly stage performances into all the more impressive relief.
Coaching him in Salome involved a monumental hike in both our cigarette consumptions (he didn't really want to do the role, probably because it wasn't Verdi), and yet the eventual results were spectacular. I well remember Leonie Rysanek, who sang the title-role, disbelieving her own ears - she just couldn't understand why Laurie wasn't singing it all over the world.
I will be conducting the Merry Widow in Monte Carlo later this year. It was my first show in Cape Town thirty years ago, and as an inexperienced idiot I tried to get the waltz to sound “Viennese”, leaving Laurie stranded on some uncomfortably high F sharps which he gamely held. In the interval he came to my dressing-room not, as I thought, with a hammer and bag of nails, but screaming with laughter at my attaining the first ever five-four waltz! Laurie, your humour, and the unstinting generosity of your spirit and your singing will remain for ever in my heart. I hope you'll be there in MC – it's the first Widow I've conducted since ours together. So I'll try to get the waltz right, and we'll have a good laugh.
When the sad news of Lawrence's death reached me last week, I really felt as if I had (again) lost one of my own parents. Not only as a splendidly subtle artist of magnificent stature and great power, but also as a wonderfully warm and generous spirited human being and colleague did Lawrence Folley leave a lasting impression on me personally and on my career.
It was my great privilege to conduct him in his performances in Cape Town as the Count in Figaro, the title role of Rogoletto, as the Cantor in Martin Kalmanoff's The Joy of Prayer, and as Elijah. And an even greater privilege to be warmly received in South Africa with the tremendous hospitality of both generations of the Folley family.
I consider myself extremely fortunate that I, as rehearsal pianist and coach at CAPAB Opera in the eighties and early nineties, could have been part of Lawrence’s professional career. From my very first encounter with him I was in total awe of his magnificent singing, his total professionalism and the remarkable and powerful performances that he brought to the operatic stage. As a young and inexperienced coach it was a daunting task to have to work with him on roles where he could rather teach me many things. However, never once did he make me feel incompetent or inadequate. His gracious, polite, unassuming and generous manner and his wonderful and crazy sense of humour resulted in working sessions of which a coach could only dream. Out of this working relationship grew a personal friendship which became very close to my heart. Lawrence’s passing leaves me with great, great sadness but then joyfully there are those beautiful and lasting memories of a superb performer and above all, the most wonderful human being.
I was so privileged to have known & worked with darling Lawry. He was kind, generous and gracious.....a true gentleman..... with a wicked sense of humour. Thank you for the laughter and the magic on stage. I will remember & revere you always, dear Lawry
I remember Lawrence during his Sadler’s Wells days when he became one of the mainstay baritones of an opera company that boasted a roster of fine baritones.
I have lost a mentor, friend, a guide and an icon - but his memory will be enhanced to coruscating delight when we think on his many gifts and his value. He rests now in Glory where I know we will sing 'Simple Gifts" again.
So glad to have known Lawrence Folley. The man brought laughter, wit, warmth and exuberance into our every meeting. I will remember him for his kindness and his generosity both as a friend and performer. And we thank God for his monumental talent; a legacy to us all.
I first met Lawrence at John & Roxane's wedding. I shall never forget him singing "Shanandoa" at the reception. He was slightly merry and picked a key that was so high that he had no right to be able to sing it. But sing it he did whilst leaning a casual elbow on my head! For those of you who do not know me, I am somewhat vertically challenged! I was in awe of this magnificent voice! On many other occasions in Kilmacolm, I had the pleasure of his company. He was a big man with a big heart and I count myself honoured to have known him. He will be sadly missed.
Barry & Nicky Snow
Laurie was a giant amongst men, a true artist who taught us all how to be great & remain humble. In our young years Barry was privileged to work with Laurie on many many productions of Operas & musicals & I to watch him rehearse & then performances, he instilled the joy of Opera in us both. Laurie always had a kind word & bothered to get to know us as people. Thank you for all the joy you brought to so many through your incredible & vast talent. A truly unforgettable man
Gerhard & Erika Le Roux
Lawrence was a lovely person and a great singer who served as an example and inspiration for young artists.
We have lost an exceptional artist, friend and colleague. His example shone to so many of us who learnt from our associations with him, whether they were in opera or in oratorio. He delivered both with utmost style and dedication.
In 1981 I had the good fortune to perform with Lawrence, Ken Collins and the late Marita Napier in La Forza Del Destino. My very first opera on stage, and the 26 subsequent years of performing on the same stage I owe in large measure to the impact of watching and listening to Larry way back then.
He had a way of making one totally believe in the character he was playing, of touching one with his voice - a true singing actor.
I was a super in that production and at one stage had to attempt to seize Larry from behind - which he resisted with vigour. At the end of the act he met me in the corridor and with great concern enquired as to whether I was alright and had he been too rough. Of course he hadn't - but that was his way. He always seemed to treat everyone with kindness, from super to superstar
Lawry was one of the first singers I worked with, and one of the finest. A gentleman who made us all see what a joy it is to do something you love. Thank you for that lesson Lawry - we will all miss you.
As a pimply teenager nephew in the 1970s, I was fortunate (in hindsight - probably through Uncle Lawrie’s influence), to get chorus or extra spots in PACT productions such as “Lucia de Lammermoor” and “Kismet”, where I would stand in the wings night after night marvelling at his charismatic acting and flawless singing. As with brother David, he sparked an interest in opera that I still have to this day.