Recognized as much for his acting ability as for his fine singing, baritone Thomas Allen brings a strong sense of style and character to all types of music; his broad repertory includes Monteverdi, Mozart, Tchaikovsky, the lighter Wagner roles, Britten's Billy Budd, Prokofiev's War and Peace, and Janácek's The Cunning Little Vixen.
Allen grew up in a mining community in the north of England where his father ran a glee club and a dance band, provided accompaniment for a local choir, and collected musical instruments. As a boy, Allen learned both piano and organ from his father, and sang in various local choirs. By the age of 16, he was singing baritone solos in the school choir, and even participating as a soloist in various local recitals, as well as continuing his organ lessons and studying music at school. He successfully auditioned for the Royal College of Music in 1964, where he intended to focus his energies on lieder and oratorio, but by 1967 he had already made his first operatic appearance as a substitute singer in Benjamin's The Prima Donna.
In 1968, before graduating, he won the Queen's Prize, an award that included lessons with James Lockhart, the new music director of the Welsh National Opera. Lockhart encouraged him to audition for the WNO, and he was engaged in 1968 to join the company the next year. Between that time and the beginning of his engagement, he sang in the Glyndebourne Festival Chorus.
At the Welsh National Opera, Lockhart continued to act as a coach and mentor, and Allen made his debut as Figaro in Rossini's Il Barbiere di Siviglia in 1969. He made his Covent Garden debut as
Donald in Billy Budd in 1971 (he also took on the title role for the WNO the same year), his Glyndebourne debut in 1973 as Papageno, sang his first Wagner role (Melot in Tristan and Isolde, at Covent Garden), and created the role of the Count in Musgrave's The Voice of Ariadne at the 1974 Aldeburgh Festival. During this period he gave special attention to the major Mozart baritone roles, and, in 1977, sang his first Don Giovanni at the Salzburg Festival, to great acclaim for both his singing and his acting. He garnered even more attention as the Count in a performance of Figaro a few months later at Covent Garden, and made his Met debut as Papageno in 1981. In 1980, he sang Tchaikovsky's Eugene Onegin for the first time at the Welsh National Opera, and this role soon joined Don Giovanni as one of his signature roles. During the 1980s, he started adding a few Verdi roles to his repertoire, such as Posa in Don Carlo and Ford in Falstaff, though he was wary of the heavier roles. In 1999, he was knighted in Queen Elizabeth's Birthday Honors.
He recorded two equally fine performances of Don Giovanni — one based on a Glyndebourne performance with Haitink (EMI CDS7 47037-8), the other on Philips with Marriner. His Eugene Onegin, conducted by Levine (Deutsche Grammophon), captures him in magnificent form in a memorable role.