Opera Scotland

Philip Langridge Suggest updates

Born Hawkhurst, Kent, 16 December 1939.

Died Kent, 5 March 2010.

English tenor.

Royal Academy of Music, studying violin and singing. Voice teachers were Bruce Boyce and Celia Bizony.

Performances of opera
Throughout his career Langridge combined concerts, oratorio and recitals in a successful blend with his expanding operatic career, which eventually included regular appearances at the greatest opera houses. He sang much new music, claiming that his instrumental training made it relatively easy to learn. His early career included periods in the John Alldis Choir and at Glyndebourne, singing small roles. His voice was agile and, at least in his early years, rather thin in tone, so it penetrated large orchestras with ease. This allowed him to sing a number of heavier dramatic roles which seemed surprising at the time, such as Laca in Jenůfa and Loge in Das Rheingold.

His operatic repertoire ranged from Monteverdi to new works, but he was particularly adept at Handel and some twentieth century classics by Stravinsky, Britten and Tippett. He first sang at Covent Garden in 1983 and returned frequently throughout his career. He also sang with ENO and Opera North. His early international career included appearances at La Scala (Shuisky Boris Godunov, Andres Wozzeck, Tom The Rake’s Progress, and Idomeneo). At the Met from 1985 he sang Ferrando Così fan tutte and a number of Britten roles. Aron in Schoenberg’s Moses und Aron was the role of his Salzburg Festival debut in 1987. His Mozart singing was superb, and at Glyndebourne he sang Don Ottavio in Peter Hall’s excellent Don Giovanni staging and the title role in La clemenza di Tito. His greatest Glyndebourne role was perhaps Idomeneo, where he challenged memories of the incomparable Richard Lewis.


In Scotland, his first operatic role was Alexander the Great in Mozart’s Il rè pastore at Ledlanet in 1968. The young soprano Jill Gomez gave a dazzling performance in the title role. Langridge did not sing frequently with Scottish Opera, but his appearances were always distinguished.  He created the title role in Thomas Wilson’s dramatically effective adaptation of James Hogg’s Confessions of a Justified Sinner (1976), and quickly returned as Satyavan with Janet Baker in Holst's Savitri. His remaining roles were major parts from his Britten repertoire, Captain Vere in Graham Vick’s production of Billy Budd (1987), and Aschenbach in Death in Venice (1988).

Langridge was a regular guest at the Edinburgh Festival, his range covering a wide span of styles, whether he was singing Narrator in both Iain Hamilton’s Pharsalia and Monteverdi’s Combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda (1969), the tenor arias in the St Matthew Passion under Abbado (1981), the Delius Mass of Life (1984) and Gerontius (1994), both with Mackerras, or Klaus the Fool in Schoenberg’s Gurrelieder with Alexander Gibson (1983). He also sang the augmented title role in Frank Dunlop’s fascinating 1986 staging of Weber’s Oberon, conducted by Seiji Ozawa.

Contemporary work

Langridge created roles in three Birtwistle operas, the title role in The Mask of Orpheus (ENO 1986), Kong in The Second Mrs Kong (Glyndebourne 1994), and Hiereus in The Minotaur (Royal Opera 2008). He created the role of the King of Naples in The Tempest by Adès (Royal Opera 2004).

A talent for comedy

He was able to project a wonderful talent for comedy, and scored a notable success at the 1980 Buxton Festival sharing the title roles in Beatrice and Benedict by Berlioz with his future wife, Ann Murray. The director Ronald Eyre, an experienced Shakespearian with the RSC at Stratford, though a novice at opera, reintroduced lots of Shakespeare’s dialogue and Langridge and Murray handled this classic comedy in a wonderful way in the intimate Buxton theatre. A less astute production a decade later in the vast spaces of the Coliseum worked less well. His talent for comedy also showed to advantage as the Witch in Hansel and Gretel, which became his final operatic role in New York in January 2010.

Fortunately there is a wide range of recordings available by Langridge, both on CD and DVD.

The latter includes Mozart and Janáček from Glyndebourne, Britten from ENO, and Birtwistle from Covent Garden.

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