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Philip Langridge CBE, 1939-2010

With the death of Philip Langridge, one of opera's most distinctive voices is now silent. The Kent-born tenor was frequently dubbed the natural successor to another English singer, Peter Pears, but the merest glance at his wide-ranging repertoire and his international standing shows how facile a label that was. Not that it ever held him back.

Langridge's career flourished in Lieder and oratorio, and his profound contributions to the Hyperion Schubert edition are among that cycle's highlights. But he was most truly at home, spiritually as well as musically, in the opera house.

He was a sublime interpreter of complex characters; a singing actor with a deep talent for creating the turbulent, truthful inner lives of the roles he played, irrespective of period or style. His range extended from Handel and Mozart through Wagner and Janacek to Stravinsky and even Schoenberg, and he appeared on all the world's great operatic stages.

He had a striking stage presence. The voice, slightly nasal but fully rounded – never reedy or whiny – was deeply expressive and was articulated with immaculate clarity, whatever the language. It could not be described as heroic or beautiful, though, and he chose his roles with a keen sensitivity to his own vocal qualities – always playing to his strengths. Verdi, Bellini and Puccini were not for him; on the other hand he thrived on the psychological meat of the post-romantic German and Czech masters. And Britten, of course.

Thankfully, recordings by (among others) Steuart Bedford and the late Richard Hickox have preserved Langridge's interpretations of most of Britten's great tenor roles. There is not a dud among them. Whether singing the Madwoman in Neville Marriner's Curlew River or Aschenbach in Death in Venice for Hickox, his extraordinary depth of character dominates the listening experience. The twin jewels, though, are Peter Grimes and Vere in Billy Budd both also for Hickox. Different as they are, each of them ranks among the most subtle and compassionate on record.

Philip Langridge's countless appearances at ENO and the Royal Opera will linger long in the memory – and several of them, including Tim Albery's powerful Budd and Grimes (both ENO), will live on through DVD. But the thrilling immediacy of live performances by this most humane and intellectually incisive of singers is lost to us now, and as opera lovers our world has grown smaller.

- Philip Langridge – born 16 December 1939, died 5 March 2010

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