Obituary: John Lanigan

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The Independent Online
The Australian tenor John Lanigan was for nearly 30 years one of the mainstays of the Royal Opera, Covent Garden, first in leading lyric roles, then in character parts.

As the Duke of Mantua in Rigoletto, Rodolfo in La Boheme, Alfredo in La Traviata, Pinkerton in Madama Butterfly or Jenk in The Bartered Bride, he made a dashing and convincingly youthful hero throughout the 1950s. However, it is probably for his Shuisky in Boris Godunov, Flute in A Midsummer Night's Dream, Rector in Peter Grimes, Mime in Das Rheingold and in Siegfried, Monsieur Triquet in Eugene Onegin or his Spalanzani in Les Contes d'Hoffmann that he will be best remembered. His ability to draw a fully-rounded character, both musically and dramatically, appeared effortless, but in fact a great deal of careful observation went into these portrayals.

John Lanigan was born in Seddon, Victoria, in 1921. His mother sang in J.C. William-son's Gilbert and Sullivan productions under the name Lucy Colahan. Lanigan studied with Horace Stevens at Melbourne Conservatory, but was called up during the Second World War and served in the Army Signal Corps. With help from his comrades in obtaining leave, he managed to compete in the 1945 Melbourne Sun Aria Contest, which he won with the Prize Song from Die Meistersinger.

After demobilisation the following year, he came to Europe to study further, first in Milan, then in London with Dino Borgioli. He made his debut in 1949 with the New London Opera Company at the Stoll Theatre, singing Fenton in Falstaff, and Rodolfo in La Boheme.

In August 1951 Lanigan sang the leading tenor role of Thadeus at some of the 13 performances of Balfe's The Bohemian Girl, put on at Covent Garden at the instigation of Sir Thomas Beecham. Then, on 30 October the same year, he sang the Duke of Mantua as a member of the company. His other roles that season were Rodolfo, and Tamino in The Magic Flute. In 1953 he took over the Earl of Essex in Gloriana from Peter Pears, who had created the part in Britten's Coronation opera. After Pinkerton, Alfredo and Jenk, in 1955 Lanigan scored a considerable personal success, creating Jack, the mechanic, in Michael Tippett's The Midsummer Marriage. The following year he took on another very congenial role, Laca in Jenufa, in the British stage premiere of Janacek's opera.

Lanigan's next three roles, Hylas in Berlioz's The Trojans, the Chevalier in Poulenc's The Carmelites (another British premiere) and Cassio in Verdi's Otello were all lyrical; then in 1958 came a major dramatic part, Shuisky in Boris Godunov. The opera was sung in Russian, and the scene in the Kremlin between Shuisky and the Tsar, sung by Boris Christoff, achiev- ed tremendous dramatic tension. Lanigan, "one of the best Shuiskys there can ever have been", received his full share of critical acclaim. His manner, a mixture of servility and evil, was totally in keeping with the character, while the smooth oiliness of his voice and the excellence of his Russian accent all added to its authenticity, as can be heard on a fine complete recording of the opera.

Though Lanigan continued to sing roles such as Count Almaviva in The Barber of Seville and Fenton in Falstaff with success, in the 1960s he began to concentrate more and more on character parts. The finest of these, after Shuisky, was undoubtedly Flute in A Midsummer Night's Dream; his hilarious take-off of operatic mad scenes as Thisbe in the play-within- the-play invariably caused a riot. Another Britten cameo was the Rector in Peter Grimes, which he also recorded. In 1962 Lanigan created another role in an opera by Tippett, Hermes in King Priam. Later he took over Pandarus in William Walton's Troilus and Cressida, a character which, like Flute, was first sung by Peter Pears.

Despite his considerable height, Lanigan made an excellent and very malignant dwarf Mime, while his "Tinca" in Puccini's Il tabarro, Spalanzani in Les Contes d'Hoffmann and especially Dr Caius in Falstaff were all remarkable.

In 1970 he was presented with an effective new character in Richard Rodney Bennett's Victory, an adaptation of Conrad's novel. Lanigan was outstanding as the sadistic, perverted Mr Jones. This was followed in 1972 by a vivid portrayal of a very different character, the Cardinal/Archbishop in Peter Maxwell Davies's Taverner, and in 1976 by two roles, the Soldier and the Madman, in Hans Werner Henze's We Come to the River. He last sang at Covent Garden in June 1981 as the Rector in Peter Grimes.

Elizabeth Forbes

John Lanigan, operatic tenor: born Seddon, Australia 7 January 1921; married 1950 Bettina Hayes (one son, and one daughter deceased); died Victoria, Vancouver Island 1 August 1996.