Richard Sutliff, a longtime Oral Roberts University music professor whose sonorous sideline as an operatic bass-baritone was highlighted by performances with some of the world’s finest opera companies, died Aug. 28.
He was 70.
A memorial service is set for 2 p.m. Friday at Boston Avenue United Methodist Church. Ninde Brookside Funeral Home handled arrangements.
Sutliff, professor emeritus in music at ORU, retired in 2017 after 35 years with the school, where he’d taught classes and directed the opera theater program.
A classically trained bass-baritone, Sutliff’s vocal career spanned 45 years, more than 800 performances worldwide and some 60 roles, including, notably, with Lyric Opera of Chicago, Houston Grand Opera, Dallas Opera, Los Angeles Opera, the Lucerne Festival in Switzerland and the Wexford Festival in Ireland.
Sutliff became well known across the industry for his abilities as a cover singer, the operatic equivalent of an understudy.
With big-name stars routinely canceling at the last minute, it meant plenty of opportunities.
“When you get the news it is both thrilling and scary — especially when you consider you have three days of rehearsal and then you’re on,” Sutliff told the Tulsa World in 2006 as he prepared to fill in for Italian baritone Renato Bruson in the title role of Cleveland Orchestra’s “Falstaff.”
Of course, he added, “having three days is better than the last time I went on for Bryn Terfel (in Los Angeles), where I found out the morning of the performance.”
But even when the circumstances made it a little nerve-racking, Sutliff viewed every opportunity as “a great gift,” he said.
Sutliff also performed throughout the Tulsa area. He was a regular with Tulsa Opera, after making his Tulsa debut with the organization in 1976 while a student at ORU.
He had sung with Tulsa Signature Symphony, Tulsa Oratorio Chorus and Light Opera Oklahoma, making numerous concert and solo appearances, as well as playing leading roles with various theater companies. That included six summers as Judd Fry in the long-running production of “Oklahoma!” at Discoveryland.
A native of Fullerton, California, Sutliff held a bachelor’s in music from ORU and a master’s in music from the University of Tulsa, where he also served as an adjunct instructor, training music and musical theater majors.
Sutliff’s survivors include his sons, Joel Sutliff, Aaron Sutliff and Daniel Sutliff; five grandchildren; and a sister, Heather McKennon.
Memorial donations may be made to Tulsa Opera, 1610 S. Boulder Ave., Tulsa, OK 74119.
Tulsa Police Sgt. Jennifer Murphy talks about the Tulsa Police new reading program and school supply handout at the Darlington Apartments.