AUDREY LANGFORD will no doubt go down in musical history as a superb singing teacher over a period of 50 years, but she also had two other successful careers, as a soprano who sang at Covent Garden in the late 1930s and, after the war, as a conductor, most particularly of the Bromley Philharmonic Choir and the Kentish Opera Group, both of which organisations she founded.
Born in Rochdale, she studied in London at the Royal College of Music, taking piano as her first subject and singing as her second. In 1936, at the age of 24, she was engaged by Sir Thomas Beecham for his Grand Opera Season at Covent Garden, to sing minor roles. She also appeared in Beecham's Winter Season (1936- 37), the Grand Opera Season of 1937, when she took part in Wagner's Ring cycle conducted by Wilhelm Furtwangler, and the Imperial League of Opera Season during November and December of the same year. She did not sing in 1938, but returned for the Grand Opera Season of 1939, the last before the Second World War.
Langford spent the war years singing with ENSA and soon afterwards, when a perforated eardrum forced her to abandon her own singing career, began to teach - among her earliest pupils was the mezzo-soprano Josephine Veasey, who had just been accepted, at the age of 18, as a member of the Covent Garden chorus - and also to conduct. She was married first to the viola player Frederick Riddle, and in 1949 to the bass-baritone Andrew Field; together they set up the Cantica Voice Studio in Bromley.
As music director of the Kentish Opera Group, Langford chose an admirably varied repertory, most of which she conducted herself. From the mid-Fifties to the mid-Sixties the group's annual performance during July at Orpington Civic Hall included Offenbach's The Tales of Hoffmann (1956); and Vaughan Williams's Riders to the Sea in a double bill together with a shortened version of Rossini's The Thieving Magpie (1958), a family affair in which the conductor's daughter the mezzo Sally Langford, sang Ninetta, while her husband, Andrew Field, took the part of Ninetta's father, Fernando Villabella.
Kentish Opera Group also presented a triple bill of Richard Arnell's Moonflowers, Arthur Benjamin's The Devil Take Her and Donizetti's The Night Bell (1959); the British premieres of Rossini's Il Signor Bruschino and Menotti's The Old Maid and the Thief (1960); Rossini's The Italian Girl in Algiers, with Sally Langford in the title role; the British premieres of Carlisle Floyd's Susannah (1961) and Menotti's The Saint of Bleecker Street (1962), as well as Vaughan Williams's Falstaff opera, Sir John in Love (1963).
In 1965 Audrey Langford conducted Agrippina for Opera 1961 at LAMDA theatre - a performance which, believe it or not, turned out to be the first London staging of Handel's opera - with Sally now re-christened Elizabeth Langford as Otho; this very successful production was repeated the following year at Eltham Palace, where I remember enjoying it very much indeed.
During the 1970s Audrey Langford expanded her teaching activities by giving master classes in Britain and the United States. Later she taught at the Royal Northern College of Music and frequently visited Australia. She will be remembered with affection and gratitude by her many pupils.Reuse content