Tuesday 29 March 2011

Robert Tear: life and soul

So the last of the three great British tenors has just gone to join Philip Langridge and Anthony Rolfe Johnson up/out there - what a hell of a Britten/Vaughan Williams concert they could give together. He'll be making them laugh, too, as he did Elaine Padmore, Petroc Trelawny and me when we met for what turned out to be a relaxed book-review programme at Broadcasting House just over a year ago. A curious mixture: waspish but kind, anecdotal but hugely interested in other people. And liked to shock, just a bit: I gave them the Finnish equivalent of 'cheese', 'muikku', when a studio manager took the above photo - it's actually a delicious lake fish - and he retorted with 'blowjob - you see, it makes people grin somewhat bemusedly'.

Quite apart from the gorgeous, bigger-than-Pears stream of sound he made in his prime, watching Tear on a concert platform was always a delight. Some thought his febrile response to everything going on around him was stagey; it wasn't, he couldn't be otherwise. The only Britten opera I saw him in was Death in Venice, where he made a suitably tormented Aschenbach, and his enjoyment was as visible as Rozhdestvensky's in an extraordinary Britten Spring Symphony at the 1980 Proms (Schubert 9 in the first half, typical Noddy programme).

After a not very involving Moshinsky production of Stravinsky's The Rake's Progress in which he wore a bad young-Auden wig, there were plenty of cameos. Just found this touching specimen, of crazy-fond Hauk-Sendorf, one of 337-year old Emilia Marty's old lovers (from her Eugenia Montez days), in The Makropoulos Case. Lehnhoff's Glyndebourne triumph seems to be playing on the continent, and is sung in German, but it's very much Silja and Tear as I remember them:

This morning we sat down to listen to his recording of Vaughan Williams's On Wenlock Edge, in the orchestral version of the early 1920s conducted by Rattle. Here are the first four songs.

The only one I especially care for as expressive poem-setting - along with 'Bredon Hill', which is to be found in Part Two - is the typically spiritual 'From far, from eve and morning'. The Housman text is worth quoting in full:

From far, from eve and morning
And yon twelve-winded sky,
The stuff of life to knit me
Blew hither; here am I.

Now - for a breath I tarry
Nor yet disperse apart -
Take my hand quick and tell me,
What have you in your heart.

Speak now and I will answer;
How shall I help you, say;
Ere to the wind's twelve quarters
I take my endless way.

And now I must hie me back to a piece on productions of Britten's A Midsummer Night's Dream for one of the new ENO guides, which of course had me thinking of this best of tenors yesterday, some time before I heard the sad news.

30/3: A generous obit here will fill you in on more of the life. Love the lead picture of him in Sir John in Love.


Susan Scheid (Raining Acorns) said...

If you haven't seen them (though no doubt you have), there are some lovely videos of Tears at Boulezian. I am sorry only to learn of him only now.

David said...

Passing on that one, RA, but I will add another (for me) discovery, though possibly not easily accessible as it's on Vol. 23 of EMI's Vaughan Williams edition: Tear singing RVW arrangements of folksongs. The sequence starts with an East Anglian chiller, 'The Captain's Apprentice', astonishing anticipation of the Grimes scenario (must check whether the arrangement was made before or after the premiere of Britten's opera).

Susie Self said...

Hi David really great comments on Bob Tear thanks very much appreciated. Are you coming over at Easter? Much love Susie

David said...

Just emailed you, Susie. Dxx

Susie Self said...

I only actually worked with Bob once in the late eighties at Covent Garden. Although I was in the chorus he treated me like an equal, he had a sensuous grin and a loving enthusiasm for deep talking. His favorite snack was a raisin Club bisquit. Whenever I subsequently met him: Munich,Glyndebourne etc he was so friendly that he felt to me like the most maternal of men, a truly special gift. Susie Self

Isobel Buchanan said...

I would like to add my voice to the many who have expressed their great sadness on the death of Robert Tear on the 29th March.

Bob was a dear friend and I count myself lucky to have met and known such a unique individual ; curious about the world and its ways, vital, inquisitive, funny, witty, restless, helpful, kind, generous and loving. He could also be infuriating, frustrating and hard to pin down, but these are the qualities I experienced in this greatly treasured friend and sometime mentor and it was ALL of these qualities that made Bob the completely full and rounded character that he was.

I sang with him first when I was twenty four years old in the Beethoven 9th with Solti conducting and we hit it off immediately. He, being fifteen years older and more experienced than I , recognised that it was a "big deal" for me to be singing with Solti in the Festival Hall and took it upon himself to make me comfortable and at ease and so a long friendship began.

We sang with each other often over the years, most memorably in a production of The Turn of the Screw for Cologne Opera which started life in Munich and to which Bob and I were attached for a few years; he singing, of course,Peter Quint (who could surpass him in the role?) and I as the Governess. Needless to say, we had many an adventure during those years, many a laugh, the odd tear (pardon the pun) and stories enough from our travels to last us plenty of dinner parties yet to come.

Bob was fearless, or seemed to me to be. Who else could talk his way through passport control in the UK carrying my one year old daughter in his arms, no passport for her, by simple stating that "the mother is just coming." ??? And when he and his wife, Hilary, my daughter's nanny and I went for car drive in Munich and found ourselves stuck in no man's land between two passport control areas, with only Hilary's passport to serve, managed to bluster his way through with his no nonsense approach and the promise of tickets for the opera we were
doing the next night.

We share friends in common, Bob and Hilary, Jonathan and I and we will miss greatly one of our dearest pals, but also that larger-than-life, extraordinary human being who, although he died too soon, lived the lifetime of half a dozen people.

The other Sunday I sat by his bed, knowing that it would be the last time I would see him.

Once upon a time, he wrote me a poem, which was very touching.... how much more that means to me now.

I will be forever grateful to have had such a friend in my life.

Goodbye Darling Bob.

Isobel Buchanan