Sergei Larin: Fine interpreter of Russian opera

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The Independent Online

The tenor Sergei Larin, born in Latvia of Russian parentage, sang for most of the first decade of his career within the Soviet bloc. With the break-up of the Soviet Union, he began to appear all over Western Europe and in North and South America.

The lyric repertory of his early years became heavier as his voice grew stronger and darker in colour. Though a very fine interpreter of Russian music, especially in the operas of Tchaikovsky and Mussorgsky, he also sang in Italian, French and German operas with great success. Don José in Bizet's Carmen was probably the role he sang most often, but he was equally at home as Cavaradossi in Puccini's Tosca or, later in his career, Verdi's Don Carlos.

Larin was born in Daugavpils, Latvia, in 1956. He studied modern languages at Gorky, then singing at the Conservatory of Vilnius in Lithuania. He made his début at Vilnius in 1981 as Alfredo in La traviata. One of the companies he sang with in the early part of his career was the Slovak National Opera in Bratislava, and the tenor made his British début at the 1990 Edinburgh Festival with that company as Vladimir in Borodin's Prince Igor. A couple of years later, he became a permanent soloist of the Slovak Opera, using it as his base for guest appearances in Europe and America.

Larin made his Covent Garden début in 1991 as Don José. The following year he made his American début at San Francisco as Cavaradossi, then in 1993 he sang Sergei in Shostakovich's Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District, gaining excellent reviews for his singing and also for his acting, which had not been a strong point in his early career. At the 1994 Salzburg Easter Festival he appeared as Dmitri, the false pretender in Boris Godunov, probably his finest Russian characterisation.

After singing Don Alvaro in Verdi's La forza del destino and Florestan in Beethoven's Fidelio – two widely contrasting roles – in Turin, Larin returned to San Francisco for one of his best roles, the Prince in Dvorák's Rusalka, with Renée Fleming as Rusalka. Some years later, they would repeat their roles in Paris and London, with spectacular results.

In 1997 Larin sang Don José and Calaf in Turandot at the Paris Bastille, then took on Dmitri again at the Salzburg Summer Festival. This was a triumph and was shortly followed by his equally successful Metropolitan Opera début in the same role. During his early career, Larin had sung both the Fool and Shuisky in Boris Godunov, before graduating to Dmitri.

The title role of Verdi's Don Carlos, which Larin sang at the 1998 Salzburg Festival, then at San Francisco and in 2000 at the Munich Nationaltheater, requires both vocal and dramatic skills of a superhuman variety. Though he may not have had all those skills, Larin possessed quite a number of them and made a praiseworthy attempt to supply the rest. His final attempt at the role, in San Diego in 2004, was one of the last performances he gave.

In 2003 Larin sang Bacchus in Strauss's Ariadne auf Naxos at the Berlin Staatsoper and the title role of Verdi's Otello at San Diego, two very heavy parts that perhaps he should not have attempted at that time. At Covent Garden in July, he and Fleming gave a concert performance of Rusalka that for sheer enjoyment could hardly have been bettered (except, of course, by being staged).

Then, in September Larin's Dmitri was at last heard at the Royal Opera House. At the first performance, apparently, he was not well, and acted the role while another tenor sang, but at the performance I heard he was in excellent voice.

Elizabeth Forbes

Sergei Larin, opera singer and recitalist: born Daugavpils, Latvia 9 March 1956; married Lila Larinova; died Bratislava, Slovakia 13 January 2008.