Keith Latham Memorial Concert, Grand Theatre, Leeds

A fine farewell
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The Independent Culture

Keith Latham, who died last January on the eve of his 47th birthday, was for 16 years a mainstay of Opera North, singing 24 different roles for them. Baritones are not the rarest of vocal species, but few have the power, richness and lyricism that Italian opera demands. Latham did, and, as his friend and fellow baritone Donald Maxwell pointed out, he had mastered the phrasing essential to the great Verdian roles.

Opera North has served Verdi particularly well over the years and, of the 13 operas it has done, Keith Latham appeared in eight. His performances as Macbeth, Amonasro, Rigoletto and Germont père were particularly notable, and although Verdi was well represented in last Sunday's memorial concert, it was surprising that no excerpt from Rigoletto was included.

All artists gave their services for free and proceeds will help to pay for his daughter's post-school education. It is a measure of the affection that he inspired that singers were queuing up to take part. In the end, some 30 soloists appeared, along with five conductors and the chorus and orchestra of Opera North.

This was, quite properly, a pretty theatrical kind of concert, and it began with Peter Sidhom fumbling his way through the curtains to give a quite magnificent account of the Prologue to Pagliacci.Maxwell was the witty and ebullient master of ceremonies. It was, he said with obvious glee, "a night for baritones'' – though not exclusively so. Later on, he and Jeffrey Lawton (tenor) gave us a thrilling account of their partnership as Otello and Iago in Welsh National Opera's famous Otello, with Paul Daniel whipping up the orchestra in the pit.

Memories of Keith were strongly evoked by Alan Opie's appearance as Germont père. He and Linda Richardson (Violetta) gave a moving, finely acted account of the great Act Two duet. Comedy was not neglected. Eric Roberts was on splendid form, especially in "Have some madeira, m'dear'', and Andrew Shore and Clive Bayley were stylishly hilarious as Offenbach's two corrupt gendarmes.

Kevin Latham died when his career was expanding to new levels. Individual loss is always irreparable, but this concert was as much celebration as commemoration – a life-affirming wake.