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.


jondrytay said...

As I said elsewhere, it's horrible to think of the two tenors in the wonderful Glyndebourne DVD of Idomeneo no longer being with us.

Very sad news. Perhaps the only glimmer of cheer comes from the fact that, by all accounts of the Met Hansel and Gretel, he was at the top of his form right until, or near to, the end.

Will said...

Very sad news and received over here with real shock, seemingly across the board. His Witch in H&G was much loved at the MET; we're being told that run of performances late last year may have been his last work on stage. Age 70 and still singing lead roles -- an admirable achievement capping an exemplary career.

David said...

Indeed. And how that Cieca 'separated at birth - Langridge witch and Susan Boyle' - made us all laugh (and him too, I hope). He was booked for performances last month, including a Wenlock Edge in Scotland, but I don't know if he did it or not.

Rachel said...

This is horribly sad news. In my time at ENO, the 'Grimes' you mention (Tim Albery's) was one of the greatest experiences of my life. Not only a wonderful musician and actor but also a thoroughly lovely man.

David said...

Yes, Rachel, I'd realised my misattribution shortly before your message arrived: both Britten shows were by Albery (and I'm surprised everyone forgets them in the rush to rather overpraise the Alden).

He was indeed very down to earth - as Glyndebourne chorenes I knew sharing a train back to London with him will tell you. Oddly the tortured intensity of his performances never came through in everyday life, nor in the narrations he used to give in recitals, but then it wouldn't, would it?

Hannah Northedge said...

A tenor with the most incredible tonal beauty I have ever heard. Such sincere and honest delivery too.
Can't believe I won't see him in concert again now.

JVaughan said...


This is the first I have heard of it, so thank you _VERY_ much!

I think my first exposure to Mr. Langridge's art was in that 1976 _Messiah_, which I found _SO_ refreshing at the time, though our knowledge has moved on since then. Then came 1980, and the Leppard _Samson_, where his "Loud As The Thunder's Awful Voice" almost made one forget that he was portraying a heathen, his way with that air having been _SO_ irresistably infectious! Mr. Padmore, at Maestro Christophers' slower tempo, is _NO_ match in my opinion! As I may even have written here, I met him once, after a performance of _A_ _Child_ _Of_ _Our_ _Time_ here in Washington with Sir Neville conducting, and he was _QUITE_ a character, having spoken of Finzi's _Intimations_ _Of_ _Immorality_. He does a fine job on a disc of Holst with Miss Gritton and Mr. Maltman. The only Britten roles in which I currently have him are the two in _The_ _Turn_ _Of_ _The_ _Screw_, and he seems to handle them aptly at _VERY_ least! I particularly enjoy some Britten folksong arrangements on a disc with other artists. Since you prize his Grimes, I hope this is not an inappropriate place to bring out a little problem I have with Sir Peter in that role, which hopefully, unless Britten insisted on it, is not present in Mr. Langridge's portrayal. When Grimes, in that great final monologue, sings that the other died, just died, a little pause between just and died would seem to be _CRIED_ _OUT_ for, and yet Sir Peter does not do it, or subtly at most. What say you? I have not heard his Veer nor his Aschenbach. Yes, he could wobble a bit when high and loud, but I expect we must excuse that due to the rest, including a _WONDERFUL_ lyricism when soft!

I could not agree more about Mr. Bailey's Sachs, but wonder what Mr. Terfel might do with him once ready.

J. V.

David said...

Re Bryn's Hans, we shall find out very soon at WNO - another Jones production, so I can't wait.

No time at present to check your query about the Pears Grimes, but do check out Langridge's performance, preferably on the DVD even if only for the sound, because the conducting is better than Hickox's on the Chandos recording. Ditto the Budd. And I think PL was probably the most creepy-sensual Quint ever, too: I love the old Britten recording, but that Bedford one with FLott is just as special.

So much I want to hear - to relive his Schubert, for example.

JVaughan said...

Before coming to my main text which I intend to copy and paste in, I forgot to say that I have never heard his Schubert, but would be interested to do so. Do I assume it is _Schoene_ _Muellerin_ and/or _Winterreise_?

Does this WNO Sachs come before Mr. Terfel's much-publicized return to Wotan, at the Met next Spring with Herr Kaufmann debuting as Siegmund?

I usually buy my Classical DVD's, but, in this instance, may wish to listen, if possible, to these Langridge Britten ones first since I am generally wedded to the composer's recordings of these two operas, the _Budd_ being the later one (I heard a little of the Mackerras DVD, with substantially, if not entirely, the same cast as on the Britten CD's, and it seemed that Mr. Langdon's Claggart was at least a bit more menacing than on the Britten). Yet this could prove difficult since there may only be one shop in our area that _MIGHT_ rent Classical/opera DVD's. I could, of course, also check libraries. I _REALLY_ like Mr. Glossop's Budd, notably his lyricism in that passage near the end when he is dreaming fathoms down fathoms, but understand Mr. Keenlyside to possibly be today's foremost exponent of that role. Sir John T.'s voice may not be as attractive to me as Mr. Langdon's, but expect he would make a Claggart one would _NOT_ wish to mess with. Yet we are primarily concerned with Starry Vere here, and would be particularly interested to hear what Mr. Langridge does with that passage when he is struggling with himself just after Claggart is killed. At the risk of seeming heretical to the composer, I somehow think he would get at least marginally more out of Grimes' final monologue than Sir Peter. As for Quint, it was good to hear Sir Charles conduct that opera last year, but, after doing so, I was re-checking some passages in Bedford, and began to realize what a fine recording that is!

I now recall also having Mr. Langridge in the Handley recording of Elgar's _King_ _Olaf_, though, apart from a few moments near the end, generally join Mr. Kennedy in preferring _Caractacus_ over it, though my favourite big early Elgar choral work is still _Light_ _Of_ _Life_. And he is the Hilarion in Sir Charles' BBC-broadcast _Ida_.

J. V.

David said...

Great Philip in G&S too - now there's a rarity...and to think we have him singing 'Ida was a twelvemonth old'. I can hear his intonation already. Apparently he took to Offenbach rather well at Grange Park, so it makes sense.

Yes, Bryn's Sachs is coming our way early this summer - or at least that's the plan...As for his Wotan, I admired him in Rheingold, much less so in Walkure, but that may have improved. I think it's a step too far, though. He never did get as far as the Wanderer.

JVaughan said...

I personally liked his _Walkure_ Wotan, notably the famous Farewell. Are you saying that the reason he did not take on the Wanderer was that he is, or was at the time, not equal to that role's demands?
I wish the BBC would see fit to make those late-80's G&S broadcasts available to the general public!
I am writing this from a library, about to have my taxes done, though am only seeking a refund of a local tax.
J. V.

Will said...

I can tell you that there is widespread scepticism here that the Terfel Wotans -- any of them -- will ever happen in New York. There have been so many cancellations for so many reasons that Terfel's credibility has worn rather thin.

I will have tickets to both the Rheingold and the Walkure next spring at the MET and am keeping my fingers crossed. He was both a Count in Figaro and a Falstaff for me in New York, the first exemplary, the second OK but not up to the level of Taddei, Evans or even Colzani. There was a televised Don Giovanni that was coarse, and repulsive in all the wrong ways.

I'm hoping he does show up for the Wagner. I would like to be impressed by him again with performances that truly live up to the reputation.

David said...

But aren't cancellations de rigeur right across the board at the Met? We've never heard the like...and I know singers fall sick, and are fragile, but has there actually been a run of anything there recently that's been cast as advertised?

Well, I feel proud that our Gambler cast were there for the run, down to the tiniest part.

Terfel is still capable of greatness. His 'villains' programme, which I'd never have dreamed of going to had I not been sent to review it, had some splendid stuff, not least Iago's Credo. The night I saw his Walkure Wotan was not a good one for him - he copped out of the farewell with a bit of down the octave marking and crooning. He was tremendously authoritative in the Rheingold earlier, though.

And I'll forgive him anything for 'This nearly was mine' on the first R&H CD.

Will said...

Announced casting has indeed suffered carnage at the MET this season. Interestingly, the two undisputed genius productions so far, the only ones that have been universally praised -- From the House of the Dead and The Nose -- arrived with all hands present as scheduled and performing brilliantly. I see The Nose this Saturday.

Hoffmann lost all its principals except for Netrebko's Antonia and spoken-only Stella--she dropped Giulietta and Olympia; Villazon and Pape withdrew and Garanca was pulled for Carmen replacing Gheorghiu who cancelled. Tosca lost its Scarpia and Attila its Ezio, Hamlet has lost Dessay, and Armida one of its cohort of tenors.

In some cases, nobody is quite sure what happened. Well, New York is pretty sure Gheorghiu's bonkers.

David said...

Mind you, we lost Domingo for a role he should surely never have thought about taking in, in a production no-one wants to see. And his indisposition was of course totally genuine and necessary.

Kentridge will have to have come up with something less deadly than the deadly dreary puppet Ritorno d'Ulisse I walked out of at the Edinburgh Festival last year.

JVaughan said...

Did you hear the _Walkure_ at the Proms, the one I heard? If I am not mistaken, Mr. Terfel had a bit of a strain with his wife a while back due to him being away so much, so could some of these cancellations be due to him now trying to make such up to her? I think Herr Kaufmann has also made a cancellation or more, one of these indeed having been a recital here in Washington. By the bye, if we do not have another, we are due to have one Mr. Finley here on St. Patrick's Day, and I am eagerly looking forward to hearing, and hopefully meeting, him! Since we have been talking about Britten and Maestro Bedford, I expect you know their recording of _Albert_ _Herring_!

I think you may know that I like virtually all of that R&H disc!

Since this thread is now well off topic, I will bring more Prokofiev into the proverbial mix. I just heard over the weekend that there was a production of _War_ _And_ _Peace_ at the Kennedy Centre, though whether from the Washington National Opera or something else I do not know.

I ordered _The_ _Greek_ _Passion_ this past Sunday, and it was reported shipped by day's end!

And one other thing of which you are hopefully aware--today is Barber's centenary!

J. V.

Anonymous said...

Really liked your post on this David.

The "nigra sum" that JEG mentions is my first indelible memory. Westminster Cathedral 1972, Proms, unforgettable.

And the last was comc perfection in the title role of Barbe-Bleue directed by his son in 2008 at Grange Park. Crisply conducted by Richard Balcombe.

I mention the first encounter and the last because I just sense he was a massive presence year-in, year-out.

And because it's still hard to get over the fact that he has just- suddenly - gone.


David said...

Wish I'd seen the Barbe-bleu - even if I do have a temperamental aversion to Offenbach comedy. With PL and the surroundings of Grange Park, I'd probably have lasted beyond the first half - which is more than I can say for La vie Parisienne at the Opera Comique or La Belle Helene at ENO...

Will said...

Mr. Kentridge came up with something truly spectacular. I suspect the technical rehearsals to have been a very major operation but the results were inventive, never less than illuminating, often witty and thoroughly hand in hand with the style of the music. After the final curtain I immediately got down to the Museum of Modern Art where a major kentridge exhibit included several of his anti-apartheid films, preliminary work on The Nose, his Brussels Magic Flute work and a great deal else.

Glimmerglass had a success with Barbe-bleu several seasons ago. The production was updated and starred a powerful cohort of singing actors: Tracy Welborne (title role), Kevin Burdete, the great Phyllis Pancella and MET character stalwart Anthony Laciura. I think casting and director concept are all-important for this piece in today's world.

I've seen Vie Parisienne twice, both times in successful productions, but the first time in a truly memorable Jean-Louis Barrault production in which he himself played the Peruvian tourist.

David said...

I envy anybody who's seen ANYTHING with Jean-Louis Barrault in it. A shame I don't know any of the Glimmerglass names in the Barbe-bleu you mention. Shows our mutual transatlantic ignorance of each other's home grown singers (or rather in many New York queens' books, pure suspicious hatred of the effing Brits).