The counter-tenor Christopher Robson worked for 30 years with the late, lamented bass, Richard Angas, who died yesterday. Here is his tribute.
RICHARD ANGAS REMEMBERED
Once again the frustration of living somewhere so far away from many of my friends and colleagues reared its ugly head when I learned last night of the sad and untimely passing of Richard Angas. It immediately brought home to me how fickle nature can be when a man who is seemingly fit and enjoying a wonderful extended career in a profession he loves can all of a sudden be taken from his family, friends and colleagues. That such a man should pass away without warning at the age of only 71 is sad indeed. Yet perhaps the manner and circumstances of his death – collapsing in the middle of a rehearsal for Britten’s Peter Grimes at Opera North in Leeds – is a sign of how dedicated he was to his profession, and perhaps also it is nice to think that many of us who work in opera, theatre, and music would rather leave this world in a similar manner than melt away in to retirement and old age.
I first met Richard in January 1981 at the English National Opera. We were working together on David Freeman’s groundbreaking (at the time, at any rate) production of Monteverdi’s L’Orfeo. The production was my first at the ENO, and I was one of a few guests making up a predominantly “house” orientated ensemble. We had a very long rehearsal period (11 weeks, if I remember rightly), during which time the ensemble all became close friends. It was unavoidable, considering it was a genuine ensemble production in which all the cast were on stage (even on top of each other!) the whole time, taking on various roles as required by the piece. We improvised, developed, exercised (every rehearsal started with a 20 minute warm up), and grew to love and respect each other.
Richard was an extraordinary revelation to me. This tall, tall man who had a voice like gravel one moment and like silk the next, full of good humour and generosity, extremely skilled as an actor, provocative and inspiring in rehearsal and performance. He was someone who just by his stature commanded attention and yet he was also a real gentle giant who showed immense compassion when the going got tough. In L’Orfeo he truly set an example to a new blood such as myself in both his professionalism and his artistry.
Over the following years I worked with him on only two other productions, Philip Glass’s Akhnaten (another David Freeman production) and Aribert Reimann’s Lear (directed by Eike Gramms). He was particularly moving in Lear, playing Gloucester (in the story, my father since I was playing Edgar). The moment of Edgar’s reconciliation with his blinded and tortured father has always stuck in my memory as one of the most heart wrenching and cathartic moments in that particular production. The closeness we developed on stage in that scene from Act II was particularly intense; in every performance, from the moment he held me to him (and then slowly climbed on to my back for me to carry him off into the wings) to the moment I put him down offstage, we were really father & son, weeping together in the pain and tragedy of our circumstances. It was very, very special.
During the time I was a regular item at the ENO I had the pleasure and privilege to see Richard tread the boards in so many roles. For just over 30 years with the company he proved his versatility and skill in an incredibly broad repertoire. Many remember him best as the Mikado in Jonathan Miller’s brilliant (and still regularly revived) production; true, it is a role that has almost become synonymous with Richard Angas. Yet he was a true stalwart (even a figurehead, as Sir Peter Jonas says on Slipped Disc) of the ENO and appeared in so many guises that it is difficult to single them all out. His comic and dramatic timing was brilliant, his physicality both athletic and imposing, his intensity in the more serious roles legendary, his musical versatility was the envy of many, and his integrity was unbreakable. He knew how to bring real life to his stage work and his roles, and he was never afraid of opening his heart and soul to an audience.
It is hard to find any really meaningful words to describe how much of a loss Richard’s passing is to all of us who knew him, worked with him, and loved him. A man of compassion, a man of boundless generosity and loyalty (both personally and professionally), a man who gave all of himself to these he loved through thick and thin. He was a true Man, a true Human, and my heart goes out to his wife Rosie and all of his family at their loss. He left his mark on many of us over the years, and I for one will never forget him. Thank God for Richard, I say, and despite the inevitable grief at this time he will always be a man worth celebrating.