To many people Richard Lewis's career began when an informed source in Brussels wrote towards the end of 1945 to Rudolf Bing, then general manager of the Glyndebourne Festival Opera: 'I have a really excellent English tenor for you, who looks wonderful, has a very beautiful voice, is a superb musician and has absolute mastery of Mozart's style... I have not heard such beautiful Mozart singing for a long time.' Glyndebourne acted, but it was another three years before Lewis actually sang Mozart for the Company, and then only at the Edinburgh Festival (Don Giovanni); his real association with Glyndebourne began in 1950, but then he sang there virtually every season between 1950-67, and made his final appearance only in 1979.
Richard Lewis (1914-90) was a Welshman, born Thomas Thomas in Manchester. He studied at the Royal Manchester College with Norman Allin and joined the Carl Rosa Opera Company in 1941, singing Pinkerton and Almaviva, before war service claimed him for the next four years. In 1946 he came to the attention of Benjamin Britten, who immediately engaged him for the English Opera Group as the Male Chorus in The Rape of Lucretia which the Company was performing as guests of Glyndebourne in 1947. Malcolm Sargent also heard him at this time and set him on his twin career as an oratorio singer. During the next few years he sang Ferrando for Sadler's Wells and Dmitri and Peter Grimes at Covent Garden, and made his first recordings (for Decca, including a stylish 78rpm coupling in French of Nadir's Je crois entendre encore from The Pearl Fishers and En ferment les yeux from Manon: both on Dutton CDLX7020).
When Glyndebourne reopened in Sussex in 1950 Richard Lewis sang the first of many Ferrando's there, and the following year made an even bigger impression as Idomeneo when Fritz Busch and Carl Ebert staged the first professional performances of the opera in England. In subsequent years he appeared in Don Giovanni, Die Zauberflöte, Alceste, Fidelio, Ariadne auf Naxos, L'incoronazione di Poppea and Jephtha (Glyndebourne's staged version of Handel's oratorio), and he created the role of Tom Rakewell in the first UK performance of The Rake's Progress. Altogether he sang in over 350 stage performances at Glyndebourne, and was last seen in the 1979 revival of Il rittorno d'Ulisse in patria. At Covent Garden he extended his repertoire to take in Don Jose, Alfredo, Hoffman, and Hermann in The Queen of Spades. Then he sang in other Britten operas, notably as Captain Vere in Billy Budd, and created the roles of Troilus in Walton's Troilus and Cressida, Mark in Tippett's The Midsummer Marriage and Achilles in his King Priam.
Unsurprisingly, he became much in demand overseas, and was seen at opera houses in Vienna, Berlin, Paris, Chicago, Zagreb and Buenos Aires. He had the distinction of appearing in the French and American premières, as well as the British (at Covent Garden), of Schönberg's Moses and Aaron. Lewis was especially popular in the USA where the San Francisco Opera became a second home. Don José was his debut role there (1955) and in a 13-year association he took in Puccini's Des Grieux and Pinkerton, Jenik in The Bartered Bride, Eisenstein in Die Fledermaus, Herod in Salome, the Captain in Wozzeck and Jason in Samuel Barber's Medea. Between 1968-71 he taught at the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia.
Meanwhile, alongside his success on the operatic stage he became equally well known on the concert platform. Here it had quickly became obvious that he was set to inherit the mantle of the tenors of previous generations such as John Coates, Gervase Elwes and Heddle Nash, and he established himself in works such as Messiah, Elijah and The Dream of Gerontius. He sang over eighty performances of Gerontius, recorded it with both Sir Malcolm Sargent and Sir John Barbirolli, and made his farewell in it (1983). He became particularly associated with Sargent, to whose celebrated recording of Coleridge-Taylor's Hiawatha's Wedding Feast he contributed a mellifluous 'Onaway! Awake beloved'. Together they embarked on a famous series of recordings of The Savoy Operas, in nearly all of which Lewis took the principal tenor role. With Beecham he sang in Beethoven's Choral Symphony and Mass in C (recording the latter) and Berlioz's Grande Messe des Morts. One work in which he was especially admired was Mahler's Das Lied von der Erde of which recordings exist with both George Szell and Fritz Reiner. Stravinsky chose him for the first performance of his Canticum Sacrum (1956), and he sang in the première recording of Tippett's A Child of Our Time.
One does not need to delve into Richard Lewis's career for very long before its outstanding feature becomes evident: his sheer versatility. Few singers of his day were as at home on the operatic stage as on the concert platform. In opera houses his handsome stage presence lent credibility to whatever role he undertook, and in the concert hall he established himself as the lyric tenor of the day. His range was from light opera to the most sophisticated modern score, and in everything he did he was as much admired for his sound musicianship and quick learning ability as for his flexible and evenly produced tone quality, which remained astonishingly constant throughout his career.
Richard Lewis's famous recording in English of nine extracts drawn from the oratorios of Handel, reissued on this disc in its entirety, was first published in 1957. It gathered together a number of favourite arias which in the days of 78s had been much sought after from English tenors such as Walter Widdop, Heddle Nash and Webster Booth, while for other admirers up and down the country who flocked to hear Lewis and Sargent in Messiah it was more of the admired same. Its public appeal was instantaneous, despite a few critical murmurings about Sargent's favoured use of a substantial orchestra and the resulting absence of authenticity; but, with the tenor at his best and the LSO's accompaniments most sympathetic and stylish, nothing could prevent it from becoming a huge popular success.
Tracks 11-22 have been selected from an LP entitled 'Folksongs of the British Isles' which appeared in 1960. Twelve of the original nineteen songs are included, which Richard Lewis sings to a variety of accompaniments ranging from harp alone (Tina Bonifacio) to a chamber orchestra led by Robert Masters. The sleeve of the original issue suggested that all were arranged by the Norwegian composer Arne Dörumsgaard (b. 1921). All are sung in English, except for An Eriskay Love Lilt (in Gaelic) and Ar hyd y nos, in which the singer reminds us of his Welsh origins.
Handel arias -
- London Symphony Orchestra conducted by Sir Malcolm Sargent
- No.1 Studio, Abbey Road, London 28-30 September 1957 HMV ASD291 (2XEA1105/6) 1958
- Chamber Orchestra conducted by Charles Mackerras with Tina Bonifacio (harp)
- No.1 Studio, Abbey Road, London 16-17 April 1959 HMV ALP1777 (2XEA1105/6) 1960 First stereo release
- War, he sung, is toil and trouble (Alexander's Feast)
- Total Eclipse! (Samson)
- Where'er you walk (Semele)
- Thanks to my brethren... How vain is man (Judas Maccabeus)
- So long the memory shall last... While Kedron's brook (Joshua)
- Recit: Deeper, and deeper still...
- Waft her, angels (Jephtha)
- Would you gain the tender creature (Acis and Galatea)
- For ever blessed (Jephtha)
- My arms! ... Sound an alarm (Judas Maccabeus)
- The Maypole song
- I will give my love an apple
- The foggy, foggy dew
- The Helston Furry Dance
- O Waly, Waly
- The briery bush
- O love it is a killing thing
- The stuttering lovers
- An Eriskay Love Lilt
- All through the night
- There's none to soothe
Other recordings featuring Richard Lewis:
- Monteverdi - Il Ritorno d'Ulisse in Patria / Benjamin Luxon, Janet Baker, Robert Lloyd, Richard Lewis, Anne Howells, Raymond Leppard, Glyndebourne Opera
- Mozart - Idomeneo / Barstow, Goeke, Betley, Lewis, Oliver, Pritchard, Glyndebourne Opera
- Berlioz: Grande Messe des Morts
- Great Choruses From Messiah
- Handel: Messiah
- Verdi: Messa da Requiem; I vespri siciliana Overture; Schubert: Mass in E flat, D950
- Elgar: The Dream of Gerontius
- Gilbert & Sullivan: The Pirates of Penzance; Overtures
- Beethoven: Symphony No. 9 "Choral"
- Beethoven: Missa Solemnis
- Mozart: Mitridate, re di Ponto, KV 87 (79)
- Gilbert & Sullivan: The Yeoman of the Guard
- Walton: Scenes From Troilus & Cressida
- Johann Strauss II: Die Fledermaus
- Mendelssohn: ElijahRichard Wagner: Der Fliegende Hollander [The Flying Dutchman] [COMPLETE RECORDING] (Leonie Rysanek, George London, Karl Liebl, Giorgio Tozzi, Richard Lewis, Rosalind Elias; Orchestra and Chorus of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden; Antal Dorati)
- Tippett: The Midsummer Marriage
- Mozart: Sacred Choral Masterpieces
- Mozart: Die Zauberflöte
- Arnold Schönberg: Gurre-Lieder