Obituary: Richard Angas, opera singer

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Born: 18 April, 1942, in Surrey. Died: 21 August, 2013, in Leeds, aged 71

Many opera goers will have fond memories of the bass Richard Angas as The Mikado in English National Opera’s historic production of Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Mikado. The production, by Sir Jonathan Miller, has been much revived over the past 28 years and Angas sang the title role more than 150 times. Angas was a large man and brought to his interpretation of the humane Mikado a “source of innocent merriment” that the public recognised for the professional manner in which it was delivered: full of energy, enthusiasm, fun and vocal dexterity. Indeed it was always finely sung by Angas and given a virtuoso performance that never descended into the stereotypical.

After attending the Royal Academy of Music in London Richard Angas studied further in Vienna and won, in 1965, both the Kathleen Ferrier Memorial Scholarship and the Richard Tauber Memorial Prize.

He made his professional debut in 1967 with Scottish Opera (SO) in the epic production of The Ring Cycle under Sir Alexander Gibson. Angas sang a commanding account of the giant Fafner in Das Rheingold and returned the following season as Lodovico in Verdi’s Otello with Charles Craig in the title role.

He was to return to SO on several occasions – notably for the world premiere of Iain Hamilton’s The Catiline Conspiracy in 1974 – and as Swallow in Peter Grimes (1973), Don Ferrando in Fidelio (1974) and Adam Goodheart in Ruddigore last year.

Angas was often seen at the Ledlanet Festival where he is fondly remembered for his Pluto in Il Ballo delle ingrate (1971). One critic wrote admiringly: “On the tiny Ledlanet stage, Richard Angas was a majestic Lord of the Underworld, even in his lift attendant’s uniform.”

After his early success at SO Angas was asked by Sir Adrian Bolt to take part in his recording of Vaughan Williams’ Serenade to Music.

Angas then spent some years as a member of the Stadttheater in Krefeld, learning many of the German operatic roles such as King Mark in Tristan and Baron Ochs in Der Rosenkavalier. It was to prove invaluable experience for him.

In all Angas spent 30 years with ENO and was for 15 years a company principal. They were years that really established Angas as a major force in opera and led to his being invited to many international houses, including Lisbon, Brussels, Barcelona, Angers and Amsterdam.

At ENO he made his debut as a strong Ramfis in Aida in 1980 and soon became a leading member of the ensemble.

Angas’s years at the Coliseum demonstrated his ability to take on a wide variety of roles – from early music to contemporary. He appeared in three works by Monteverdi – memorably as Seneca in Coronation of Poppea, Doctor Bartolo in The Marriage of Figaro, as the monstrous Cook in Richard Jones’s wonderfully outrageous production of The Love for Three Oranges, and as Jupiter in Orpheus in the Underworld.

He was a strong supporter of the ENO and devoted to the company’s policy of singing opera in English. When ENO toured the United States in 1988 he sang three roles (Balaga, Bennigsen and Davout) in the company’s spectacular production of Prokofiev’s War and Peace at the Metropoloitan Opera House in New York.

Angas revelled in the opportunity to be involved with new operas and was seen delivering significant performances at the ENO in Philip Glass’s Akhnaten and The Making of the Representative for Planet 8. Other demanding contemporary roles included Gloucester in Aribert Reimann’s Lear.

With Welsh National Opera Angas was acclaimed for his appearances in the operas by Janacek and was seen with the company earlier this year in The Cunning Little Vixen. He was also a memorable Circus Trainer in their production of Berg’s Lulu.

His interpretation of these commanding bass roles reflected his large and genial personality. Angas inhabited King Mark in Tristan und Isolde and gave a quirky but lovable Pistol in Verdi’s Falstaff. His roles may have been outsize but Angas had a vocal subtlety that invested each character with a genuine truth and sympathy. He made several recordings and is remembered for his singing of Reciter in Stephen Sondheim’s Pacific Overtures and The Mikado.

It is that image of Angas in overblown white suit – he had to wear layers of padding underneath the costume – and white top hat as he joyfully dances the finale of The Mikado that will linger in the mind.

Sir Jonathan said yesterday: “I owe a great deal to Richard Angas. He was one of the most convivial professional companions whose company I enjoyed for many, many years.”

Richard Angas is survived by his wife Roseanne and their children.

ALASDAIR STEVEN