James Milligan. Baritone, b Halifax, NS, 5 Apr 1928, d Basel 28 Nov 1961. He studied 1948-55 with Emmy Heim and Leslie Holmes at the RCMT and made concert and oratorio appearances in Toronto and nearby cities during those years. He was one of two winners of the 1951 'Nos Futures Étoiles'. In the early 1950s, often in company with two other rising young artists of the day - Lois Marshall and Jon Vickers - he was a soloist on many occasions with the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir. In 1953 he sang the title part in Elijah and the Christus in both the performance and the recording of the St Matthew Passion; in 1954 he was a soloist in the choir's performances of Messiah and the St Matthew Passion in Carnegie Hall, New York. That same year he won the radio competition 'Singing Stars of Tomorrow'.
Milligan was making his name as a dramatic baritone during the 1950s, first in the Royal Cons Opera School (University of Toronto Opera Division) productions and later in the Opera Festival productions that grew out of those and that were, in effect, the beginning of the COC. He sang Marcello in La Bohème, Monterone in Rigoletto, and Cancian in School for Fathers in 1954; Germont père in La Traviata in 1955; and Don Carlo in La Forza del Destino in 1959. In 1958 he had an outstanding success as Scarpia in the CBC TV production of Tosca.
The two last-named roles came after his success abroad. In the summer of 1956 he sang Arbace in the Glyndebourne Festival production of Idomeneo. In 1957, after winning first prize in the International Competition for Musical Performers in Geneva, he continued his studies in London with Roy Henderson and came to the attention of Sir Malcolm Sargent. He quickly became one of Sargent's favourite baritones and under his baton in 1958 sang in The Damnation of Faust and The Dream of Gerontius in England and in Messiah, the Fauré Requiem, and Walton's Belshazzar's Feast at the Vienna June Festival. He recorded Messiah, Belshazzar's Feast, and several Gilbert & Sullivan operettas under Sargent.
Other significant roles in Milligan's meteoric career were Escamillo in Carmen at Covent Garden in 1959 and Don Carlo in La Forza del Destino with the COC that same year. Prior to his debut at Bayreuth as Wotan/Wanderer in the 1961 production of Siegfried with Birgit Nilsson and Hans Hopf, he had joined the Basel Opera.
In her book New Bayreuth (London 1969), Penelope Turing discussed Milligan's performance at the Wagner festival: 'A fine Wanderer does not always become Wotan in toto. Therefore it is dangerous to hail even an outstanding performance of the Wanderer as promise of a world Wotan. Yet there was that in Milligan's singing which made many of us throw caution to the winds and believe that we had heard one of the very great Wagnerians of the future... He had a glorious voice of ringing quality, power and range, and he used it with real musicianship. As an actor he had that indefinable quality which we call stage presence... He was the Wanderer in a way which I have never seen displayed except by singers who have had years of experience in this part. It was a thrilling occasion.'
Milligan died suddenly from a heart attack suffered during a rehearsal in Basel four months after that auspicious debut.