UNLOCKING THE PAST: A look back at the career of Cessnock's very own opera supremo, Kenneth Neate

Kenneth Neate was born in Cessnock in 1914, and went on to become an internationally-renowned opera and concert singer.
Kenneth Neate was born in Cessnock in 1914, and went on to become an internationally-renowned opera and concert singer.

When Kenneth Neate took to the stage to sing at the Cessnock Memorial Town Hall in 1960 it was a night to remember.

Beginning with the national anthem, God Save the Queen, Kenneth showed his versatility across a wide selection of material: contemporary songs from the hit musical South Pacific, classics such as Ave Maria and even Flower Song from the opera Carmen.

Kenneth was born in Cessnock in 1914. He went to Cessnock High School, where he was a school captain.

Despite winning a scholarship to teacher’s college, Kenneth decided to become a police officer instead. It proved to be a good decision, as the NSW Police Force had an excellent choir which Kenneth joined. His wonderful tenor voice quickly recognised and he soon progressed to become one of their soloists, so renowned that he was nicknamed ‘the singing policeman’.

Kenneth continued his work as a police officer, but also studied with accomplished music teachers in his spare time. With his obvious talent and his passion for singing, especially opera, he was persuaded to pursue a career on the stage. He took a year’s leave from the police force to see if he could make it professionally, and the rest is history.

He sang his first operatic role in Madame Butterfly in 1937 where he took the lead role of American naval officer Pinkerton.

He became a renowned Australian opera and concert singer, who then went on to international fame performing across Europe, the United Kingdom and the USA. As well as singing, he composed and produced operas.

The Cessnock Memorial Town Hall concert in 1960 was one of Kenneth’s last trips to Australia and Cessnock was abuzz with excitement at his homecoming. The concert quickly sold out and extra seating had to be provided to accommodate the crowds. The night didn’t disappoint, with Kenneth earning a standing ovation from the crowd.

The Coalfields Music and Variety Club had engaged him to perform at a fee of £100, but Kenneth generously donated this entire amount back to the club.

His stage career lasted an astounding 38 years. After Kenneth retired he taught Voice and Opera Studies for 10 years at a conservatorium in Munich, where he lived for the rest of his life, dying there in 1997.

In recognition of his global impact in the music world Kenneth was inducted into the Cessnock Hall of Fame in 2010.

Kimberly O’Sullivan is the Local Studies Librarian at Cessnock City Library


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