Anthony Rolfe Johnson: British tenor who excelled in the works of Britten, Mozart and Monteverdi

The British tenor Anthony Rolfe Johnson was one of the finest exponents in his generation of the roles originally sung by Peter Pears in the operas of Benjamin Britten. However, his interpretations were in no way copies of the senior tenor's idiosyncratic versions; rather, they were recreations of the music that perfectly suited his own voice and style. His other favourite opera composers were Monteverdi and Mozart, while he sang the great Bach Passions and Handel oratorios throughout his career. As a recitalist he was a founder member of the Songmakers' Almanac and specialised in Schubert lieder and Britten's canticles. He also became an excellent conductor, especially of operas in which he had himself sung, such as Monteverdi's L'Orfeo.

Rolfe Johnson was born in Tackley, Oxfordshire in 1940 and though fond of singing from his childhood, he considered music a hobby and became a farm manager. Consequently, he did not start to seriously train his voice until his late twenties, when he entered the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. In 1970 he sang the title role in Mascagni's L'Amico Fritz and I wrote in Opera magazine that "Anthony Johnson's (sic) musical phrasing and smoothness of tone were a pleasure to listen to and in his aria… there was real dramatic feeling." Rolfe Johnson made his professional opera debut in 1973 with the English Opera Group, singing Vaudémont in Tchaikovsky's Iolantha, followed in 1974 by the first of his Britten roles, Albert Herring. He then sang at Glyndebourne for three summers, as Stroh in Strauss' Intermezzo, Lensky in Tchaikovsky's Eugene Onegin and Fenton in Verdi's Falstaff.

In 1978 he joined English National Opera and sang four Mozart roles in quick succession: Don Ottavio in Don Giovanni, Tamino in The Magic Flute, Belmonte in The Seraglio and Ferrando in Così fan tutte. For ENO he also sang in Monteverdi's L'Orfeo and the same composer's The Return of Ulysses – both of which were greatly admired – and two more Britten roles, the Male Chorus in The Rape of Lucretia and Essex in Gloriana. Meanwhile, in 1983, he had added another Britten title to his repertory: Aschenbach in Death in Venice, which he sang for Scottish Opera and in Geneva. He also acquired several Mozart roles during the Eighties, the Emperor Titus in La Clemenza di Tito at the Holland Festival; the title role of Lucio Silla at La Scala, Milan; and Idomeneo at the Aix-en-Provence Festival. In 1988 he made his Covent Garden operatic debut as Jupiter in Handel's Semele, having already sung there in the Britten War Requiem the previous year. He returned to the Royal Opera in 1992 as Oronte in Handel's Alcina.

Rolfe Johnson made his Metropolitan Opera, New York debut in 1991 as Idomeneo, returning in 1994 as Aschenbach. During the Nineties he sang Idomeneo at the Salzburg Festival, Shuisky in Musorgsky's Boris Godunov at Geneva and in 1994, his first Peter Grimes. Of all his Britten roles, Grimes was probably his finest; quite different from Pears or Richard Lewis or Jon Vickers, his characterisation was utterly gripping. He sang it for Scottish Opera, in Lisbon, at Glyndebourne, with the Covent Garden company in Palermo and in Savonlinna, Finland. His final Britten role was Captain Vere in Billy Budd, which he sang at a concert performance in Manchester in 1997. In 2000 he created Polixenes in Philippe Boesmans' operatic version of Shakespeare's The Winter's Tale in Brussels, repeating it in Lyon.

Elizabeth Forbes

Anthony Rolfe Johnson, recitalist, opera and concert singer: born Tackley, Oxfordshire 3 November 1940; married three times (three sons, two daughters); died London 21 July 2010.

Life and Style
Social media users in Mexico who commented on cartel violence have been killed in the past
techTweets not showing up or loading this morning, users say
Sport
premier leagueLive: All the latest news and scores from today's matches
News
newsMcKamey Manor says 'there is no escape until the tour is completed'
Sport
Torquay United mascot Gilbert the Gull
football
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
News
i100
Voices
Hunted: A stag lies dead on Jura, where David Cameron holidays and has himself stalked deer
voicesThe Scotland I know is becoming a playground for the rich
News
i100
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Architect Frank Gehry is regarded by many as the most important architect of the modern era
arts + entsGehry has declared that 98 per cent of modern architecture is "s**t"
Sport
Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi during Barcelona training in August
footballPete Jenson co-ghost wrote Suarez’s autobiography and reveals how desperate he's been to return
Money
Welcome to tinsel town: retailers such as Selfridges will be Santa's little helpers this Christmas, working hard to persuade shoppers to stock up on gifts
news
Arts and Entertainment
Soul singer Sam Smith cleared up at the Mobo awards this week
newsSam Smith’s Mobo triumph is just the latest example of a trend
News
Laurence Easeman and Russell Brand
people
Sport
Fans of Dulwich Hamlet FC at their ground Champion Hill
footballFans are rejecting the £2,000 season tickets, officious stewarding, and airline-stadium sponsorship
News
Shami Chakrabarti
people
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch has refused to deny his involvement in the upcoming new Star Wars film
filmBenedict Cumberbatch reignites Star Wars 7 rumours
Sport
football
News
news
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Maths Teacher

£110 - £200 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Secondary Maths Teacher for spe...

Business Analyst - Surrey - Permanent - Up to £50k DOE

£40000 - £50000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***ASP.NET Developer - Cheshire - £35k - Permanent***

£30000 - £35000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***Solutions Architect*** - Brighton - £40k - Permanent

£35000 - £40000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

Day In a Page

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
11 best sonic skincare brushes

11 best sonic skincare brushes

Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

Paul Scholes column

I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker