Sir Reginald Goodall was one of the most notable conductors on the British music scene, although he did not establish himself as a major international figure. He was particularly admired for his opera performances, especially in the English language.
He was a boy singer at Lincoln Cathedral. While there, he also took piano. He studied conducting and piano at the Royal College of Music in London while supporting himself as a piano accompanist. He frequently traveled to Vienna or Salzburg to hear the leading conductors of the time.
His first job was as organist and choirmaster at St Alban's in Holborn. During the 1930s he worked on an occasional basis as an assistant to Albert Coates at Covent Garden, and also as an assistant with the Royal Choral Society under Malcolm Sargent, and was an assistant to Wilhelm Furtwängler in Berlin. During World War II he received an appointment as conductor of the Wessex Orchestra, which was a wartime ensemble made of musicians who did not remain in London.
In 1944 he began conducting at the Sadler's Wells Opera. As such, he was entrusted with the premiere of Benjamin Britten's opera Peter Grimes, one of the most important musical events in British history. He continued an association with Britten, co-premiering his next opera, The Rape of Lucretia, with Ernest Ansermet and also leading the premiere of Gloriana in 1953. He became a member of the Covent Garden staff in 1946, and showed abilities in a wide range of repertory.
His career was threatened by eye troubles, but these were corrected by surgery, and returned to the podium. However, the 1961 appointment of Georg Solti as chief conductor at Covent Garden had negative effects on Goodall's career. Solti essentially reduced Goodall's function to that of a répétiteur, or a vocal coach who prepares singers for the main conductor's interpretation of an opera. Goodall had a retiring nature and avoided conflicts, so he did nothing to resist this situation, though the word got out among the singers that Goodall's coaching was of great value to their performances.
As a result, the rival operatic company, Sadler's Wells, asked him to guest conduct in 1968. The occasion was a performance of Wagner's Meistersinger, in English, that is legendary among British opera goers for its eloquence, and for a style reminiscent of those of Furtwängler or Knappertsbusch. He conducted other operas there. In 1971, the year Solti left Covent Garden, he was finally returned to its podium in an English-language Parsifal, again with splendid results.
This led to the Sadler's Wells deciding to produce Wagner's Ring in English. After the four productions were added over a three-year period, Goodall led two complete traversals of the cycle between July 31 and August 25, 1973, praised for their epic concept. This English Ring has been recorded. He continued to be associated with the Royal Opera and frequently appeared with the Welsh National Opera. He was made a Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 1975 and was knighted in 1985.