BILL McCue was an enthusiast - he once asked me in a radio interview if I had enjoyed a certain opera production and seemed genuinely nonplussed when I said no - but his enthusiasm was tempered by an endearing sense of disbelief that he himself could be someone worth enthusing over.

Scottish Opera, in its early days, recognised this instantly, choosing him as one of a handful of singers who could truthfully be said to be founder members of the company. His baritone voice, which in other circumstances might have seemed exclusively designed for the singing of Scottish songs, adapted itself with ease to the roles Scottish Opera selected for it. Alexander Gibson and Peter Hemming, as conductor and administrator, knew that in McCue they had found a local star, but one who could shine in an international context.

Shine he did, in his own way. It was not a voice that lent itself to the big Verdian parts, the villains and the duped husbands seeking revenge. His serious roles tended to be German ones - Rocco in Fidelio, Fasolt in Das Rheingold, Sarastro in The Magic Flute - which generally stopped short of out and out villainy. His Rocco, indeed, was so avuncular that you began to suspect an undercoating of shiftiness that was exactly right for Beethoven's ambiguous prison officer and of the two menacing giants in Wagner's Ring cycle. It seemed apt that he was cast as the one who cared more about love than money, and who was killed as a result.

But he could be a baleful Hunding in Die Walkure - the role that took him furthest from the cheerful Scottish side of his personality. If his voice was not really quite dark enough for this sort of music it was certainly resonant enough for the many comedies in which he participated, thanks partly to his expert sense of timing and his ability to convey an impression of shocked astonishment. As the pompous Superintendent Budd in Albert Herring - one of the character parts in which he excelled - he could provoke mirth merely by clearing his throat. Of all the productions of Britten's comedy I have seen since this Scottish Opera success of the 1960s, not one has contained a Budd to match McCue's.

His Don Basilio in the company's first, and scandalously underrated, production of The Barber of Seville, was one of a brilliant cluster of comic portrayals that revolved around Anne Howells's sparkling Rosina. But it was not just his flair

for comedy that distinguished his grubby, lip-smacking portrait of the ponderous priest. Though he was no Chaliapin, he sang the Slander Song to admiration, making it one of the waited-for highlights of a production I had the good luck to see many times.

But it was the chance to sing Doctor Bartolo in Peter Diamand's Edinburgh Festival Opera production of The Marriage of Figaro that perhaps delighted McCue most of all. It was not that the role was a large or (apart from the Act One aria) greatly challenging one. It was simply the opportunity it gave him to be a cog in Mozart's inspired musical machinery, and to share the stage of the King's Theatre with Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, Teresa Berganza, Ileana Cotrubas, Heather Harper, Geraint Evans, and other members of what seemed the cast of a lifetime.

As the product of a Scottish mining community, he used to say, he could not have travelled further from his roots than

this. With Daniel Barenboim

as conductor the performance was subsequently recorded

and remains a souvenir of McCue's achievement.

an appreciation by

Conrad Wilson