Philip Langridge: Versatile tenor celebrated for his dramatic ability

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The Independent Online

During a career lasting nearly 50 years, the British tenor Philip Langridge had a very wide operatic repertory ranging from Monteverdi, Handel and Mozart to Janácek, Stravinsky and Britten. There were few 19th- century works, as his strong lyric voice, clear diction and superb musicianship were better suited to classical and modern roles, but there were exceptions: two of his best characterisations were Shuisky in Mussorgsky's Boris Godunov and Loge in Wagner's Das Rheingold, and he sang in several Rossini operas. His innate dramatic ability was apparent in every part he played.

Langridge was born at Hawkhurst, Kent, in 1939. He studied the violin at the Royal Academy of Music from 1958 and two years later began to study singing with the baritone Bruce Boyce. He made his concert debut in 1961 in Handel's Messiah at Surbiton and the following year joined the John Alldis Choir. After two seasons in the Glyndebourne chorus, he sang in Handel's Poro and Sosarme at the Unicorn Theatre, Abingdon and took on the very high role of Huon in Weber's Oberon at Nottingham University. In 1971 he sang in Stravinsky's The Rake's Progress with Cambridge University Opera Society; Tom Rakewell was one of his best roles and he sang it again in 1979 at the Teatro Lyrico, Milan, and with the Boston Symphony Orchestra in 1995.

In 1973 Langridge sang the title role of Henze's King Stag at its British premiere on Radio 3, and also appeared as Peter the Carpenter in Donizetti's Il borgomastro di Saardam in that city in Holland. The following year he gave two performances with the English Opera Group, as the Male Chorus in Britten's The Rape of Lucretia at Sadler's Wells Theatre and as Satyavan in Holst's Savitri at Aldeburgh. In 1975 he sang another of his most admired roles, Mozart's Idomeneo, at Angers. During the 1980s he sang Idomemeo again at Glyndebourne, La Scala, Milan, Aix en Provence, Berne, Covent Garden and in 1990 at the Salzburg Festival.

In autumn 1975 he sang Eurimidonte in Cavalli's Eritrea at the Wexford Festival, an eventful engagement as the mezzo-soprano Ann Murray was singing Queen Laodicea in the same opera; she became his second wife and frequently his partner on stage.

Langridge returned to Glyndebourne in 1977 for Don Ottavio in Mozart's Don Giovanni, a role he invested with more character than many other tenors could manage and which he repeated at the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées in 1982. He appeared at the Aix-en-Provence Festival for the first time in 1978, and returned there in 1982 for Abaris in Rameau's Les Boréades. The following year he sang Mithridate in Mozart's youthful opera at the Camden Festival and his first part in an opera by Harrison Birtwistle, the Lawyer in Punch and Judy, at the Royal Festival Hall. A momentous year finished with Florestan in Beethoven's Fidelio for Glyndebourne Touring Opera and his debut at La Scala as Shuisky in Boris Godunov.

Langridge's Shuisky, which he later sang at Covent Garden, in Barcelona, Florence and at both the Easter and Summer Salzburg Festivals, was a magnificent creation; powerful, slimy and utterly evil. In complete contrast, Berlioz's Béatrice et Bénédict at the 1980 Buxton Festival, with Murray and Langridge in the title roles, was charming, light as air and ravishingly sung. The two singers repeated their roles at English National Opera in 1990. In 1980 Langridge also sang in two taxing roles in Rossini operas, the title role of Otello in Palermo and Giacomo (King James) in La donna del lago at Pesaro, as well as Paris in Tippett's King Priam at the Royal Festival Hall.

Janácek's operas were to provide Langridge with several particularly fine roles: in 1983 he sang Zhivny in a concert performance of Osud, one of the composer's less well-known works, at the Queen Elizabeth Hall. The result was a musical revelation and the following year when Osud was given its first UK staging at ENO, an equally dramatic one. Langridge received an Olivier award for his performance. In 1989 he sang Zhivny in a concert performance for Welsh National Opera that was recorded. His other Janácek roles included Laca in Jenufa, which he sang at Covent Garden and Glyndebourne.

He made his Covent Garden debut in 1983, as the Fisherman in Stravinsky's Le Rossignol together with the Teapot in Ravel's L'Enfant et les Sortilèges. The following year he made his Metropolitan Opera debut as Ferrando in Mozart's Così fan tutte, continuing to sing at both houses until 2009.

In 1984 he sang Peter Quint in Britten's The Turn of the Screw for ENO and took on another, even more important assignment, Aron in Schoenberg's Moses und Aron with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Georg Solti. He sang another Britten role for Scottish Opera in 1987, Captain Vere in Billy Budd. The following year he sang his finest Britten characterisation, again for Scottish Opera, Aschenbach in Death in Venice, which he repeated at Covent Garden (1991), one of the most moving opera performances that I have ever heard, in Sydney in 2005 and at the 2004 Cheltenham Festival.

Tippett's Midsummer Marriage was shown on television in 1989, with Langridge as an excellent Mark (he also sang the part in Munich) and the following year he sang Pelegrin in the UK premiere of Tippett's New Year, at Glyndebourne as well as the title role of Britten's Peter Grimes at Covent Garden. He portrayed Grimes as seriously disturbed in his behaviour, while the more lyrical music was wonderfully sung. He repeated Grimes at ENO, the Met, Los Angeles and La Scala.

After the title role of Stravinsky's Oedipus Rex at ENO in 1991, Langridge sang the Emperor Titus in Mozart's La clemenza di Tito, an interpretation equal to his Idomeneo, and which he also sang in Munich. In 1993 he scored a major triumph singing Nero in Monteverdi's L'incoronazione di Poppea at Salzburg and took on his only Wagner role, Loge in Das Rheingold, at the Met, which was extremely successful; he received even greater praise when he sang Loge at Covent Garden in 1996, repeating the role there in 2004 and 2007.

He created the role of Kong in Birtwistle's The Second Mrs Kong for Glyndebourne Touring Opera in 1994, repeating the opera, which had had a good reception, at the Festival the following year. He sang in another successful Birtwistle premiere in 2008, The Minotaur. The production was directed by Stephen Langridge, his son, as was Offenbach's Bluebeard at Grange Park the same year, when the tenor proved himself an excellent comedian. In June 2009 Langridge sang three roles in a new production of Berg's Lulu at Covent Garden. In December 2009 he returned to the Met to sing the Witch in Humperdinck's Hànsel und Gretel.

Elizabeth Forbes

Philip Gordon Langridge, singer: born Hawkhurst, Kent 16 December 1939; married firstly (marriage dissolved; one son, two daughters); 1981 Ann Murray (one son); CBE 1994; died 5 March 2010.