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Originally published Saturday, May 16, 2009 at 12:00 AM

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Obituary | Julian Patrick, 81, famed baritone

Julian Patrick, a longtime Seattle baritone who was a fixture at Seattle Opera and on the faculty at the University of Washington, died May 8, 2009, in New Mexico.

Seattle Times staff reporter

Julian Patrick, the Seattle-based baritone whose credits extended from Broadway theater to Wagner's "Ring," died in his sleep of natural causes May 8 while on vacation in Santa Fe, N.M. He was 81.

A much-revered teacher (he was a University of Washington emeritus professor) as well as a singer of tremendous versatility, Mr. Patrick created the role of George in Carlisle Floyd's opera "Of Mice and Men," and was in the original casts of the Broadway shows "Once Upon A Mattress," "Bells Are Ringing" and "Fiorello."

Mr. Patrick also performed more than 100 major roles worldwide with significant European and U.S. opera companies; in Seattle, he drew international raves for his Alberich, the central villain of Wagner's "Ring." He performed with Seattle's 5th Avenue Theatre as Benjamin Franklin in "1776," Tony in "The Most Happy Fella" and Judge Turpin in "Sweeney Todd."

A true man of the stage, Mr. Patrick created many remarkable performances here in Seattle, as well as at the Metropolitan Opera, Theâtre de Genève, Vienna Volksoper, L'Opéra du Rhin, Marseille Opera, Netherlands Opera, Welsh National Opera, New York City Opera, San Francisco Opera, Chicago Lyric Opera, Houston Grand Opera and Dallas Opera.

Even late in life, this born performer loved the stage: He created the acting role of the tormented Gad Beck in the 2007 premiere of "For a Look or a Touch" with Seattle's Music of Remembrance, and later recorded it on the Naxos label.

Born in Mississippi in 1927, Mr. Patrick grew up in a music-loving family and joined the Apollo Boys Choir of Birmingham, Ala., beginning a singing career that continued through high school and a stint in the Navy. He went on to the then-Cincinnati Conservatory to study music.

Early performances with the impresario Boris Goldovsky led to some operatic appearances, but the young singer's work on a master's degree was interrupted when he was drafted back into military service in 1951 during the Korean War. Based in New York as the singer with the First Army Band, Mr. Patrick found that his uniform got him into Metropolitan Opera standing-room for free.

Mr. Patrick later began auditioning for Broadway shows, finding his first success in 1954 with "The Golden Apple" — leading to other opportunities, including operatic ones, touring the country with the Metropolitan Opera National Company for two years.

In addition to familiar operatic roles in "La Boheme," "Madame Butterfly" and "The Marriage of Figaro," Mr. Patrick undertook roles in such new works as Douglas Moore's "Carry Nation" and Leonard Bernstein's "Trouble in Tahiti."

A creator of roles in many opera and Broadway premieres, Mr. Patrick had strong views on what made new music successful.

"If a composer writes something that is melodically and harmonically accessible and is dramatically compelling, it's very likely the critics won't like it," Mr. Patrick told one interviewer.

"They are somehow wedded to pieces that are outrageously difficult to play and listen to because they think it is the 'future' of music. I think that the return to melody, however derivative it seems, is most welcome. You may say, 'Oh, it sounds like Puccini.' Well, thank God. That's wonderful. I think that returning to singable lines and to pieces that are dramatically convincing is the right step. There are so many wonderful new pieces now. The greatest of them take compelling stories and set them to music that enhances them and connects to the audience."

Mr. Patrick is survived by his life partner for 56 years, Donn Talenti, and also by the Talenti-May family and two cousins, Dr. Bernard Patrick and Ann Nelson Lambright. A memorial service will be scheduled for late June.

Melinda Bargreen:

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company

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