One of England's most distinguished singers, Anthony Rolfe-Johnson was a student of Ellis Keeler at the Guildhall School of Music in London, and later of Vera Rosza. He gained experience singing in the chorus and appearing in small roles at the Glyndebourne Festival between 1972 and 1976. In 1973 he made his formal operatic debut with the English Opera Group in Iolante. In 1978 he made his first appearance with the English National Opera in London as Don Ottavio.
Anthony Rolfe-Johnson's schedule included concerts with the major orchestras and festivals in UK and in the leading European capitals. In America, he has sung with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra under Georg Solti, the Boston Symphony under Seiji Ozawa, the New York Philharmonic Orchestra under Rostropovitch, and the Cleveland Orchestra under Simon Rattle. Conductors with whom he worked also include Carlo Maria Giulini, Nikolaus Harnoncourt, Rostdestvensky, John Eliot Gardiner, Tennstedt, Pierre Boulez, Kurt Masur, Bernard Haitink and Claudio Abbado.
Anthony Rolfe-Johnson had a vast range of recordings to his name, reflecting his worldwide reputation as an interpreter of J.S. Bach, George Frideric Handel, Haydn, W.A. Mozart and Benjamin Britten. He has been acclaimed for his recordings of the great G.F. Handel oratorios, the Evangelist in both St John Passion (BWV 245) and St Matthew Passion (BWV 244) by J.S. Bach, and many award-winning recordings including Haydn's Die Jahreszeiten and Die Schöpfung, W.A. Mozart's Die Zauberflöte, Idomeneo and La Clemenza di Tito, and B. Britten's War Requiem. He recorded the title roles in Oedipus Rex under Welser-Möst for EMI, in Samson under Nikolaus Harnoncourt for Teldec and in Peter Grimes under Bernard Haitink for EMI; Tom Rakewell (The Rake's Progress) under Seiji Ozawa for Philips; Florestan under Charles Mackerras for Telarc and Captain Vere (Billy Budd) under Kent Nagano for Erato.
Anthony Rolfe-Johnson appeared with all the major opera companies in Britain since his debut at the Glyndebourne Festival as Fenton (Falstaff); he sang Albert Herring for the English Opera Group; Don Ottavio, Tamino, Ferrando and Belmonte, Essex (Gloriana), the Male Chorus (The Rape of Lucretia, Florestan, and the title roles in Monteverdi's Ulysses and Orfeo for the English National Opera; Jupiter (Semele) and Oronte (Alcina) for the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden. At the Monnaie in Brussels he sang his first Pelléas; at La Scala, Milan, the title role in W.A. Mozart's Lucio Silla and he was a regular guest with the Netherlands Opera with whom he travelled to New York to sing the title role in Il ritorno d'Ulisse in patria.
Anthony Rolfe-Johnson sang his first Aschenbach in 1983 in a joint production of B. Britten's Death in Venice, mounted by the Geneva Opera and Scottish Opera, and he has subsequently sung the role at the Metropolitan Opera New York. In 1991 he sang Idomeneo at the Salzburg Festival under Seiji Ozawa, at the Vienna State Opera under Nikolaus Harnoncourt and the Metropolitan Opera, New York under James Levine. In 1994 he sang his first Peter Grimes on stage, with Scottish Opera, at the Glyndebourne Festival, and then at the Metropolitan Opera New York. In 1996 he made his Paris Opera debut as Idomeneo. He recently appeared as Don Ottavio at Covent Garden, Tito at the Metropolitan Opera, New York, and Peter Grimes in Munich. Future engagements include the Missa Solemnis with the Berlin Phiharmonic Orchestra under James Levine and with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra under Kurt Masur. Future operatic engagements include Peter Grimes in Tokyo and at the Savonlinna Festival, Ulisse in Amsterdam and Peter Quint in Brussels.
Anthony Rolfe-Johnson was a founder member of Graham Johnson's The Songmakers' Almanac.
Anthony Rolfe-Johnson was awarded a CBE in the 1992 Queen's Birthday Honours. After a long battle with Alzheimer's he died in London in July 2010, at the age of 69.