Britain has a habit of producing one remarkable tenor in every generation and in Philip Langridge, who has died at the age of 70 from bowel cancer, it found its greatest exponent of the most covetable singing voice of all.
Born in Hawkhurst, Kent on December 16, 1939 Langridge initially began his musical career as a rank-and-file orchestral violinist after studying at the Royal College of Music.
He began his singing career as a baritone (taking lessons from Bruce Boyce) before switching register, making his professional debut in 1964 with the Glyndebourne chorus.
Effortlessly ranging over a wide repertoire, Langridge quickly established himself in the UK’s opera houses, at the BBC Proms and Edinburgh Festival.
The Aldeburgh revival of Britten’s Peter Grimes in 1973 earned him favourable comparisons to the festival’s begetter Peter Pears, whose reputation for intelligent and expressive but focused and precise singing he inherited.
He excelled in 20th-century opera, following Grimes with a role he came to own, Aschenbach in Britten’s Death in Venice, and which he continued to perform globally well into his sixties.
For Harrison Birtwistle, with whose music he had a long and mutually beneficial relationship, he created the title role in The Mask of Orpheus in 1986, the Lawyer in Punch and Judy (1989), Kong in The Second Mrs Kong (1994) and, most recently at Covent Garden, Hiereus in The Minotaur in 2008.
Langridge had the enviable capacity to inhabit and own music from Monteverdi to the modern age, equally at home in Mozart, Mussorgsky, Wagner and Janacek, for which he won an Olivier Award in 1984 for Osud at ENO.
His last stage appearance was at the Met in New York three months ago in Humperdinck’s Hansel and Gretel and he had been due to premiere a new work by Mark-Anthony Turnage at Covent Garden next year. With his son, Stephen, directing, he starred in a revival of Leopold Lewis’ Victorian Melodrama The Bells at the Riverside Studios in 1992.
A chronic asthmatic, Langridge lost his voice for four months in 1996, forcing him to relearn his singing technique. Accompanied by high-profile pianists, he was a fine recitalist, his recordings of 20th-century British song were full of character, colour and concentrated drama. One of his last recordings, still to be released, was of Georgian songs with the pianist David Owen Norris and his cellist-daughter, Jennifer.
Langridge died at the age of 70 on March 5 and is survived by his second wife, the Irish mezzo Ann Murray, their son, and three children from his first marriage.
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