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About John Cheek
Taken into the fold of the Metropolitan Opera before the age of 30, this versatile bass baritone has grown from a promising beginning to satisfying artistic maturity. John Cheek's compact, finely focused instrument has gained in density over the years without losing its firm, handsome sound; indeed, his finest work has come since he entered his forties, a time when many other basses and bass baritones are already showing evidence of vocal deterioration. His good looks have also served to make his an effective stage presence. Often, he has produced performances perceptibly better-sung and acted than those by singers far more aggressively promoted by recording companies. Although Cheek has frequently recorded and has primarily been heard in leading roles, stardom has eluded him. On the other hand, listeners seeking vocal polish and artistic sensitivity have discovered in him a singer who commands utmost respect.
Born in South Carolina, Cheek grew up in Wilmington, NC, and was a student at the North Carolina School for the Arts. Upon graduation, he studied at the Manhattan School of Music and in Siena, Italy, where he underwent advanced training with Gino Bechi, the famous baritone who sang and recorded in Italy during the 1940s and 1950s. Cheek's Metropolitan Opera debut took place on October 11, 1977, when he sang the Physician in Pelléas et Mélisande. In subsequent seasons, he was heard in more prominent roles, such as Mozart's Figaro, Ferrando in Il trovatore, Monterone, Pimen, Panthée (Les troyens), Wurm, Alfonso, Méphistophélès, and even Klingsor. Cheek's New York City Opera debut came in 1986 and he has since sung a number of leading roles in that theater.
Cheek's career has taken him far beyond New York. In the 1990s alone, he sang in Verdi's Don Carlos in Nice and performed Berlioz's La Damnation de Faust with the Minnesota Orchestra under Valery Gergiev. During the 1993 - 1994 season, he again performed La Damnation de Faust in concert, this time singing Méphistophélès with the St. Louis Symphony and in Europe was heard as Attila in Nice and Zaccaria in Bregenz. The 1994 - 1995 season found Cheek returning to Nice for Boito's Mefistofele and essaying Berlioz's devil once more, this time in Stockholm. The next season was notable for Cheek's first Don Pasquale at the Cincinnati Summer Opera, Don Giovanni with Milwaukee's Florentine Opera, and Nick Shadow (his first on-stage) with the Berkshire Opera. For the 1997 - 1998 season, Cheek sang his first Vanderdecken in the Florentine Opera's Flying Dutchman, presented Gounod's Méphistophélès at the Quebec Opera and portrayed Frère Lawrence in Pittsburgh. For 1998 - 1999, Cheek took his Dutchman to both Houston and Columbus, sang King Philip in Montreal and bedeviled Gounod's Faust in Seattle. As his career crossed into the new millennium, Cheek sang with the Dallas Civic Opera in La clemenza di Tito and sang Berlioz's Méphistophélès in Helsinki.
Cheek has achieved equal distinction on the concert stage, having sung with nearly all the major American symphonies and many abroad. Under such estimable conductors as Leonard Bernstein, Sir Andrew Davis, Sir Colin Davis, Charles Dutoit, James Levine, Zubin Mehta, Leonard Slatkin, and Sir Georg Solti, he has sung an eclectic assortment of the core concert repertory as well as works by contemporary composers. Aside from such works as Verdi's Requiem, Beethoven's Missa Solemnis, and Schoenberg's Gurrelieder (recorded), he premiered Tippett's Mask of Time (also recorded) and has been acclaimed in Martinu's Field Mass and Frank Martin's In Terra Pax.