Saturday, 6 March 2010
Farewell, Philip Langridge
This came as a shock: I had no idea that the greatest singing actor among tenors was even ill, but apparently he died last night at the age of 70. I always remember my old mentor Roger Savage saying, even in the 1980s, 'if you think that's wonderful, you should have heard him even earlier'. And so it proves with Langridge's above contribution to Marriner's 1976 Messiah, which in fact I used to own with no notion of what great Handel singing could truly be.
So no doubt he sacrificed some of the tonal beauty to the fierce heat of his stage-animal impersonations. But it had to be worth it. I wouldn't be able to count the number of roles I've seen him perform, but I do hold several of them in pride of operatic place in my memory alongside Norman Bailey's Hans Sachs and the Salomes of Gwyneth Jones and Hildegard Behrens. It was Langridge who first, for English audience at least, brought Janacek's tormented composer-hero Zivny to life in the peculiar but compelling Osud: I saw it twice in Pountney's production at the Coli and left each performance shaking like a leaf. Thankfully there's a recording with the great Sir Charles, even though it's in English.
There was his Mozart, including a terrifying, wounded Idomeneo, heartbreaking in the confrontations with son Idamante as played by his wife Ann Murray in Johannes Schaaf's wild, apocalyptic Royal Opera production.
And there were the great Britten assumptions. I never saw his Aschenbach, but I can't forget the naked anguish in the voice he brought to Vere's dilemma in Billy Budd and above all to Peter Grimes. Never mind Pears, Vickers, Heppner or Skelton, fine as they've all been in different aspects of the role; I doubt if we'll hear a tenor capture so many facets of this hard-to-like antihero, from the vision of the Great Bear and Pleiades to his howling echoes of the choral 'Grimes, Grimes' in the fog.
Langridge was remarkable in Tim Albery's ENO production, happily captured on DVD along with the Budd, but the most unforgettable moment for me was in a concert Grimes conducted, and none too well, I fear, by the late Richard Hickox. Whenever Langridge left the platform, temperatures dipped, but it was amazing to see him carry the performance virtually single-handed, and one of the weirdest sensations I've ever experienced to be mesmerised by his manic pacing, and think him truly mad, before he stepped up to take centre stage for the final monologue.
10/3 I've finally managed to put together a fuller Langridge tribute on The Arts Desk, with comments from Sirs John Eliot Gardiner and Mark Elder, Ed Gardner, Richard Jones and Vladimir Jurowski.