All products and recordings are chosen independently by our editorial team. This review contains affiliate links and we may receive a commission for purchases made. Please read our affiliates FAQ page to find out more.

Who is Nicky Spence? Everything you need to know about the Scottish tenor, including his best recordings

The winner of this year's BBC Music Magazine Personality of the Year award is well-known for his charisma and vocal stature

Published: May 20, 2022 at 10:43 am
Try 3 issues for just £5 when you subscribe to BBC Music Magazine today!

Who is Nicky Spence?

Nicky Spence is a Scottish operatic tenor known for his vocal and physical stature (right down to his Size 12 feet), his velvety vocal timbre, his open-minded approach to repertoire, and his charisma – qualities that won the 38-year-old singer this year's BBC Music Magazine Personality of the Year award.

Advertisement

Where does he come from?

Dumfries, near the Scottish Borders, where he grew up on a farm. He is still a supporter of the town's football team, Queen of the South ('The Doonhamers'), who currently play in Scottish League One.

How did Nicky Spence get into music?

Although Spence originally wanted to play the trumpet - and briefly took it up as a child - his family could not afford to pay for lessons. Luckily a music teacher at his school spotted his talent for singing, which went on to win him the Dumfries and Galloway Young Musician of the Year Award when he was 14, as well as a place in the Scottish Youth Theatre and National Youth Music Theatre.

When did opera enter the picture?

After a neighbour offered the 15-year-old Spence a spare ticket for Mozart's The Magic Flute. He was hooked.

Where did he study?

At the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, where, during his final year, he got his first big break, receiving a five-record contract with Universal Classics. Within the space of just a couple of years, he released his first album (My First Love), was nominated for the 'Young British Classical Performer of the Year' Classical Brit Award, and toured with Katherine Jenkins and Shirley Bassey. He has said that he owes more to Tom Jones than to Pavarotti in finding his voice. Yet, when the time came to record his second album, Spence turned his back on the £1m contract, choosing instead to return to full-time study at the Guildhall to focus on opera.

And since then?

He has sung in opera houses and concert halls all over the world, with regular appearances at the Royal Opera House and English National Opera. Admitting that he has an aversion to the 'rum-ti-tum' operas of Donizetti and the 'sillier' side of Verdi, Spence has specialised in complex, truthful roles, frequently taking on repertoire by the Czech composers Leoš Janáček and Antonín Dvořák. He also has an affinity for Wagner, having appeared in The Mastersingers of Nuremberg, Der fliegende Holländer, Tristan und Isolde and Das Rheingold and has sung a good deal of 20th century repertoire. But he still casts his net beyond classical music, freely professing his love of musicals and often embracing the sounds of Broadway in his work.

Anything else I should know about Nicky Spence?

Even by A-list singer standards, Spence has a particular talent for keeping busy. Last winter he was one of three mentors appearing on Anyone Can Sing, a TV series in which six would-be singers were given guidance by expert vocalists. During the pandemic he made every minute count, jabbing over 100 people every day as a volunteer in a vaccination clinic.

Nicky Spence’s best recordings

The Diary of One Who Disappeared

Hyperion CDA 68282

Nicky Spence fully inhabits the drama of this unusual song cycle, with pianist Julius Drake and mezzo Václava Housková his sultry seductress.

As You Like It: Shakespeare Songs

Resonus RES 10116

This selection of Shakespeare songs by a range of composers from Schubert to Tippett provides a fine showcase for Spence’s versatility.

Paradis sur Terre: A French Songbook

Chandos CHAN 10893

Spence performs songs by Debussy and lesser-known song cycles by Lili Boulanger, Caplet and Chaminade, with pianist Malcolm Martineau.

Buxton Orr Songs

Delphian DCD 34175

For this collection of songs closer to Spence’s Scottish roots, his nimble and characterful singing is accompanied by pianist Iain Burnside.

Hoddinott Landscapes: song cycles and folksongs

Naxos 8.571360

In these characterful songs, Spence’s interpretation is well matched by Andrew Matthews-Owen’s superb pianism.

Advertisement

Photo: Getty

Authors

Hannah Nepilova is a regular contributor to BBC Music Magazine. She has also written for The Financial Times, The Times, The Strad, Gramophone, Opera Now, Opera, the BBC Proms and the Philharmonia, and runs The Cusp, an online magazine exploring the boundaries between art forms. Born to Czech parents, she has a strong interest in Czech music and culture.

Sponsored content