Philip Langridge, who has died of cancer, was one of the most acclaimed operatic tenors of his generation and a singer without peer in the music of Benjamin Britten.
News of Langridge’s death on Friday was greeted with a heartfelt tribute from the Royal Opera House, while at Birmingham’s Symphony Hall conductor Sir Simon Rattle dedicated that evening’s performance of Bach’s St Matthew Passion to the tenor, who excelled in roles by composers as diverse as Monteverdi and Berg.
Praising Langridge’s ‘intelligence, his humour, his wonderful voice and superb musicianship, [and] his compelling presence on stage,’ Elaine Padmore, director of opera at the Royal Opera House, said that the singer was ‘such a generous friend to all of us at the ROH.’
Born in Kent in 1939, Langridge initially began his musical career as an orchestral violinist. However, following singing tuition at the Royal Academy of Music, his attentions were soon directed towards the opera stage and he made his debut at Glyndebourne in 1964.
Over the years, he excelled in parts such as Mozart’s Idomeneo, Laca in Janácek’s Jenufa, and Loge in Wagner’s Ring cycle, and was also an accomplished and sensitive performer of Lieder. However, it was above all for operatic roles by Britten that he will best be remembered, thanks not least to his immaculate diction, brilliant acting and similarity in tone to Peter Pears, for whom so many of those roles were written.
Langridge first played Peter Grimes at ENO in 1991 – relatively late in his career – and continued to perform the role to acclaim well into his 60s. Likewise, he won praise for his portrayal of Aschenbach in Death in Venice and Captain Vere in Billy Budd.
‘It is for vividly theatrical interpretations such as these,’ writes opera critic Rupert Christiansen in The Telegraph, ‘sung with red-blooded commitment, that he will long be remembered.’