Richard Angas: Singer who performed as Jonathan Miller’s Mikado more than 150 times

Depending on the role his unique, sonorous voice could be sinister, comic or imposing

Richard Angas was something of a phenomenon among English singers: a real bass, equal to the great Norman Allin, whose role in Vaughan Williams’s Serenade to Music – which was written in 1938 with particular singers of the day in mind – he sang in the 1970 recording conducted by Sir Adrian Boult. Little wonder that, after an initial appearance with Scottish Opera as Ludovico in Verdi’s Otello in 1966, it was as Fafner, the giant, in Das Rheingold that he returned there in 1967. Physically as well as vocally he was suited to this role, standing 6ft 7in tall.

Regular appearances in Scotland after that included Pluto in Ballo delle ingrate (1971), Swallow in Peter Grimes (1973), Don Fernando in Fidelio (1974), the Cook in The Love for Three Oranges (1989) and, as recently as last year, Old Adam Goodheart in Ruddigore. He created the role of Cato in Iain Hamilton’s The Catiline Conspiracy (1974) and was Richard Taverner in Peter Maxwell Davies’s Taverner in 2009. He also appeared with the Welsh National Opera, Opera North and the Royal Opera, Covent Garden; in Germany he was King Mark, Baron Ochs, Osmin, Rocco and Mephistopheles, with engagements throughout Europe and in Australia, Israel and South America in oratorio and recital. With the English Opera Group he was the original Abbot in Britten’s Curlew River in 1969.

In 1980 he made his debut with the English National Opera as the chief priest Ramfis in Aida and was a company principal there for 15 years; but he was associated with the ENO for more than 30 years, much admired and much loved by audiences and colleagues alike. His versatility knew very few bounds and he seemed equally at home in early operas, the standard repertoire, light opera and in challenging modern works. His sonorous voice, quite unlike any other, could be sinister, imposing, or comic, depending on the music and on the role.

Richard Angas was involved with his family in amateur music from an early age, starting as a chorister at St George’s Church, Esher, and at King’s College School, Wimbledon his music master was the future distinguished baritone John Carol Case. (They were reunited in that Boult recording of the Vaughan Williams Serenade, Case singing the part originally written for Robert Easton.)

Angas at first chose to follow his father by training as a chartered accountant in the City of London, but was soon advised to think about a singing career and entered the Royal Academy of Music in 1960. There he studied with Olive Groves and George Baker and in 1964 won second prize in the Kathleen Ferrier competition (the first-prize winner was Alfreda Hodgson). In 1965 he won the seventh Richard Tauber Memorial Scholarship, awarded by the Anglo-Austrian Music Society for a year’s study at the Vienna State Academy of Music and Drama with Ilse Rapf and Erik Werba.

Among the many roles he undertook at the Coliseum were the Doctor in Wozzeck (1990) and the Earl of Gloucester in Aribert Reimann’s Lear (1989); he also sang in the world premiere of Birtwistle’s The Mask of Orpheus (1986), and the British premiere of The Making of the Representative for Planet 8 by Philip Glass (1989). At the Metropolitan Opera in New York in 1988 he appeared in the ENO’s spectacular production of Prokofiev’s War and Peace, in the roles of Balaga the coachman, General Bennigsen and Marshal Davout.

And yet the abiding memory is of the Mikado, in Gilbert and Sullivan’s eponymous opera, in the (at the time) revolutionary production by Jonathan Miller, first seen in 1986, with dazzling sets by Stefanos Lazaridis and costumes by Sue Blane, in which the action takes place not in Japan but in a 1920s English seaside hotel.

Angas – with his considerable height, resplendent in vanilla-coloured fat suit and hat, like (as Miller put it) “a seedy British consul in Georgetown in 1928: more Sydney Greenstreet than Fatty Arbuckle”, with booming voice and surprisingly deft footwork – was sensational, and went on to give more than 150 performances in the role, including the latest revival in 2012. For Miller he was “one of the most amiable and friendly colleagues it has been my privilege and pleasure to work with”.

He also sang in Welsh National Opera’s recent production of Alban Berg’s Lulu (Animal Tamer and Schigolch) and Jonathan Harvey’s Wagner Dream (Old Brahmin), and there was a string of future engagements waiting to be fulfilled. He collapsed during a rehearsal of Britten’s Peter Grimes in Leeds and died later in hospital. He is survived by his wife, the mezzo-soprano Rosanne Creffield, and his son Dominic and family.

Among the many tributes paid to him, Opera North general director Richard Mantle described him as “a gentle giant of the opera world in every possible way”. Peter Jonas, general director of the ENO from 1985-93, hailed him as a “vivid figurehead of the artistic and corporate identity of ENO for over 30 years; he was a great artist, wonderful singer, man of complete integrity and loveable, too”.

Richard George Angas, bass-baritone singer: born Esher, Surrey 18 April 1942; principal bass, English National Opera 1980-95; married 1967 Rosanne Creffield (one son); died Leeds 20 August 2013.

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