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Remembering Richard Angas

Stars of the lyric stage to turn out in force for a concert in honour of the loved, lamented operatic bass

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A one-off concert being staged under the auspices of Opera North at the Grand Theatre, Leeds, on Sunday, 16 February, is likely to be remarkable and unforgettable. For this is the Richard Angas Memorial Concert, a celebratory tribute to the life and career of the much-loved operatic bass who died last summer during rehearsals for Peter Grimes.

The late Richard Angas in Weinberg's The Portrait (Opera North)
© Bill Cooper
In the words of Richard Mantle, Opera North's General Director, Richard Angas was "a brilliant artist and a performer of great charisma (who) commanded an enormous amount of affection and respect."

Seen from an audience viewpoint, the most remarkable feature of Richard Angas, even more than his height, his uniquely expressive features and his evident humanity, was the astonishing spread of parts and operas that somehow seemed to fall naturally within his range of performance.

He engaged with contemporary opera from the beginning of his career to the very end. Born in 1942, by 1969 he had joined the English Opera Group for Britten's Curlew River, while in the year of his death he performed in a world premiere and a first UK staged performance.

Another speciality was grotesques, including those where his already imposing presence was enlarged, such as the Cook in Love for Three Oranges and, most famously, the Mikado. He first played the title role in Jonathan Miller's iconic production of The Mikado at English National Opera in 1986 and returned regularly to play it for the rest of his life.

The Mikado was one example of another facet of his career: comic opera, even operetta. Among Angas's most memorable performances at Opera North were appearances in Paradise Moscow and Ruddigore, his last role with the company. These stood in marked contrast to Martinů's Julietta and Weinberg's The Portrait, operas in whose dream-like worlds he was equally at home.

Aside from his versatility, Richard Angas was a company man. Most audiences will recall his memorable performances for Opera North, but he had an even longer-standing relationship with English National Opera (including 15 years as a principal bass) and at different times in his career was a key figure at both Scottish Opera and Welsh National Opera. David Pountney, Artistic Director of WNO and a director with whom Angas had a highly productive artistic relationship, described his 2013 Schigolch (in Berg's Lulu) as "definitive".

The affection and respect to which Richard Mantle referred, plus Richard Angas's huge range of performances, mean that the forthcoming concert is set to offer a glorious variety of music performed by a stellar collection of British opera singers.

Many of the original cast members of the ENO Mikado reassemble, including the first class of 'Three Little Maids from School', Lesley Garrett, Susan Bullock and Jean Rigby. From the end of Angas's G&S career, Amy Freston, similarly pert as Rose Maybud in Opera North's Ruddigore (opposite Angas as Old Adam Goodheart), will also appear.

Major figures on the British opera scene for many years will pay tribute: Dame Josephine Barstow (Opera North's unforgettable Gloriana), Sally Burgess, Helen Field, Dame Felicity Palmer, Donald Maxwell, even, remarkably, Benjamin Luxon, who has long retired from singing.

The Orchestra and Chorus of Opera North will be joined by members of the ENO Chorus, and five conductors will share pit duties; these include the founder Musical Director of Opera North, David Lloyd-Jones and the present incumbent, Richard Farnes. The staging is in the combined hands of Phyllida Lloyd and Jo Davies, appropriately enough the directors of Peter Grimes and Ruddigore respectively.

The programme, described by Mantle as "eclectic and perhaps slightly unusual", covers a huge lyric range from Gilbert and Sullivan to Puccini to Prokofiev, along with music by Schubert and Chopin.

An important feature of the concert is that the modest ticket price (although £10 is only intended as a minimum donation) will go to the English National Opera Benevolent Fund and a bursary for young opera singers.

- For further information including booking details, check the Opera North web page here.