Erik Buck Townsend was born and raised in Modesto, CA, graduated from Modesto High School in 1954, and attended Modesto Junior College from 1954-1957. He then completed his Bachelor’s in Music at the University of the Pacific in Stockton, and continued his musical studies at the prestigious Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia.
Buck then moved to New York City and began an extremely successful career as a heldentenor, performing the leading tenor roles in opera houses around the country, including New York City Opera, Seattle Opera, San Francisco Opera, Santa Fe Opera, Central City Opera, Kentucky Opera, and many others. Internationally, he performed at Munster State Theater in Germany, and in Canada.
As a concert singer, Buck was a two-time winner of the Liederkranz Wagnerian Contest in New York City, and performed at Carnegie Hall, Alice Tully Hall, and Radio City Music Hall.
In 1982, having performed in opera houses all over the country for over twenty years, Buck began searching for his next challenge. He settled on moving back to Modesto to bring opera to his hometown. He founded Townsend Opera in 1983, presenting the holiday favorite Amahl and the Night Visitors and Pirates of Penzance.
As General Director of Townsend Opera for twenty-five years, Buck Townsend worked tirelessly to bring opera to Modesto and the surrounding region, producing over eighty fully staged productions. He conducted and directed most of the productions, and occasionally performed a role in a production. He also designed and built most of the productions, in addition to overseeing the business.
A dedicated teacher, Buck maintained an active studio of young singers, many of whom went on to study voice and continued performing into adulthood, either professionally or at the community level. Buck also founded the Camerateen and Cameratini youth programs within Townsend Opera, which for many years gave young singers an opportunity to experience performing on stage.
In November 2007, Buck was diagnosed with fourth stage lung cancer. To ensure the company would continue beyond his lifetime, he and the board of directors hired the company’s first Executive Director. Buck continued directing and conducting shows and overseeing the company’s artistic activities until his death in September 2008.
Buck was married to Erika Townsend, who served as the Business Manager of Townsend Opera for over twenty-five years. They had two children: Lisa Townsend, who is very active in the modern dance scene in the Bay Area; and Kristina Townsend, who succumbed to Leukemia just days before her thirteenth birthday. To honor the memory of their daughter, Buck and Erika Townsend started the Kristina Townsend Memorial Vocal Competition, which to this day continues to reward promising young singers in the Central Valley.