Kenneth Neate

Opera Singer
Inducted 30 November 2010

Kenneth Neate was born in Cessnock in 1914. He attended Cessnock High School, where he became school captain, in addition to being captain of the athletics team and vice-captain of the cricket and football teams.

Kenneth’s career in music began with piano and vocal studies in Newcastle, prior to repertoire studies in Sydney and further study at the University of Melbourne. While in Sydney, Kenneth joined the NSW Police force, serving in inner Sydney, while also singing as a soloist in the NSW Police Choir. This earned him the nickname of ‘The Singing Policeman’.

In the late 1930s, he sang his first operatic roles in Australia, before touring New Zealand and then moving to the United States, where he began working with the Metropolitan Opera in New York in 1941.

With the escalation of World War II, Kenneth enlisted with the Royal Canadian Air Force in Montreal. Upon conclusion of the war, he re-located to London, and soon established himself as a major international operatic tenor.

Highlights of his operatic career, which spanned almost forty years, include:

  • Performing at Covent Garden in the first post war season in 1946
  • Singing with opera greats such as Elizabeth Schwarzkopf and Birgit Nilsson
  • Singing beside Dame Joan Sutherland in her famous debut as Lucia di Lammermoor in Franco Zeffirelli’s Covent Garden production in 1959
  • Developing an extensive repertoire of roles in French, Italian and German opera
  • Performing in some of Europe’s most renowned opera houses including the Paris Opera, the Opera Comique, La Fenice and the Vienna State Opera
  • Being recognised as an outstanding performer of roles such as Tannhäuser, Lohengrin and Tristan in Wagner’s operas
  • Working with renowned conductors such as Sir Thomas Beecham, Antal Dorati, Rudolf Kempe
  • Performing at the Bayreuth Festival
  • Touring Australia for the ABC, J.C. Williamson Company and the Australian Elizabethan Theatre Trust

In his later life, Kenneth produced a number of operas, and also lectured in voice and operatic studies in Munich, which was to become his home. He died there in 1997.

In May 1960, Kenneth Neate performed in Cessnock, and was presented with a commemorative citation. On the fiftieth anniversary of that occasion, the words of that citation are just as pertinent on this occasion of Kenneth’s induction into the Hall of Fame. The citation read as follows:

Dear Ken,

We, the citizens of Cessnock, so many of whom are your old school mates, wish to place on record our affection for you, and the pride we feel in your achievements.       

You have returned to us with honours thick upon you conferred in the great cities of Europe.                                        

We share in your triumphs and will continue to follow your progress with unalloyed pleasure.                            

Whatever the future may hold for you, there will always be, if you but cast a backward glance, the rich esteem of your fellow townsmen to sustain you, and their pride in you to inspire you.

(Read on the occasion of Kenneth Neate's home coming for a recital in the Memorial Town Hall.)

Plaque location

202 Vincent Street, Cessnock (Cessnock Performing Arts Centre)