One of the leading English basses of his day, Owen Brannigan became strongly associated with the operas of Britten and Mozart. He also sang and recorded a number of roles in Gilbert and Sullivan operettas, and while he made numerous appearances abroad, his greatest successes were at English opera houses, most notably Sadler's Wells, Glyndebourne, and Covent Garden. He appeared regularly in concert and recital as well. Despite his reputation in the works of Britten, Mozart, and Sullivan, his repertory was fairly broad, taking in Handel (Acis and Galatea), Cavalli (Calisto), Offenbach (Tales of Hoffman), Purcell (Fairy Queen), and many songs by English composers (Boyce, Morley, Horn, Warlock, Sullivan, etc.), and folk songs, particularly Northumbrian folk songs. Brannigan possessed a rich, powerful voice and made numerous recordings, most notably of the operas by Britten and Sullivan. Many are still available on EMI, Decca, Chandos, Pearl, and Melodram.
Owen Brannigan was born in Annitsford, England, on March 10, 1908. Though he sang in his childhood and teen years, he became a carpenter. Eventually, though, he began studying music at the Guildhall School of Music in London.
Brannigan won the gold medal there in 1942 and debuted the following year at Sadler's Wells — at age 35! — portraying Sarastro in Mozart's The Magic Flute. He then became a member of the company, first from 1944-1949 and then from 1952-1958. It was here that Brannigan appeared in two important premieres of Benjamin Britten operas: Peter Grimes (1945), as Swallow, and The Rape of Lucretia (1946), as Collatinus.
Meanwhile, he branched out, debuting at Covent Garden in 1947 and at Glyndebourne in 1948. He sang regularly with both companies thereafter and also appeared in several important Britten premieres for them, including the 1948 first performance of Albert Herring at Glyndebourne, in which he sang Superintendent Budd.
Brannigan made most of his recordings in the 1950s and '60s. Among the more noteworthy efforts were a pair of Malcolm Sargent-led Gilbert & Sullivan operas — the 1958 H.M.S. Pinafore (as Dick Deadeye) on HMV and the 1961 Pirates of Penzance (Sergeant of Police) on EMI. But he had many other recording successes, including the 1970 Decca effort of Purcell's Fairy Queen, with Britten conducting. Brannigan was named an Officer of the British Empire by the Queen in 1964. He died from pneumonia in 1973, suffering from the affects of a serious automobile accident the previous year.