Farewell to another trailblazing tenor

Farewell to another trailblazing tenor


norman lebrecht

July 21, 2010

That fine singer Anthony Rolfe Johnson died yesterday, aged 69. He had been suffering for a while from a degenerative condition. Former colleagues were first to post the sad news.

Johnson appeared all over the world in Bach and Handel oratorios and Mozart operas. He was a memorable Peter Grimes and he sang Aschenbach powerfully in Death in Venice at the Metropolitan Opera, New York. In Brussels, where he was a popular Pelleas, he created the role of Polixenes in Phililippe Boesman’s version of A Winter’s Tale.

Coming so soon after the lamented death of Philip Langridge, it marks the start of the passing of a golden generation of English singers. Sic transit gloria mundi.


  • John Hugh Thomas says:

    I have long been a great admirer of Tony’s singing. His recordings of Handel works with John Eliot Gardiner in particular form a wonderful legacy and provide a bench mark for present and future Handelian singers.
    That his career should have been cruelly curtailed was a tragedy. His untimely death is an even greater loss. We are all diminished by his death

  • janet shell says:

    He was a lovely man too; no airs and graces – a man who sang from his heart and who believed in technique being the underpinning for everything you put on top. Just being in the same space as him when he sang was an honour and made a great impression on me as a young singer. His demise in latter years was too cruel for a genuine man and talent. I agree with John 100%

  • paul plummer says:

    A massive loss to the British music profession – Anthony Rolfe Johnson was one of the few greats of our singing tradition in the last few decades and will be very very sadly missed. At least his work, unparalleled in lyricism, will live on in many recordings.

  • When I first started to get interested in baroque singing, Anthony Rolfe Johnson was recommended to me by Charles Daniels. Enough said.
    So sorry to hear of his death.

  • Stuart Dashwood says:

    My wife and I sang in the chorus of Handel Opera and were privileged to sing with Anthony Rolfe Johnson in Handel’s Semele, where he sang the role of Jupiter at Sadlers Wells Theatre.
    His portrayal of the role, especially his singing of the popular tenor aria “Where’er you walk” was heartfelt and “special”, sung, as was everything that he sang, with intelligence and grace.
    He will be particularly remembered for his singing of the Mozart operas and his recordings of the role of Tamino, in “The Magic Flute” rank alongside those of that other great Mozart singer of an earlier age, Richard Tauber.
    Coming so soon after the demise of Philip Langridge, this is indeed a sad period for the English Tenor.

  • Theresa says:

    Rolfe Johnson was one of a coterie, kind of a class of singers, that mean so much to me, they feel like old friends, and losing them is that hard. I was knocked sideways by losing Langridge a few month ago– Mackerras a few days ago. So very sad.
    Yes, it was a remarkable voice, attached to a splendid musical brain, and it really bothers me that he was not more recognized among music lovers in the US.

  • David Hauser says:

    There are some moments in music you never forget. One for me was when, at ENO, Anthony Rolfe Johnson sang Ulysses’ aria on waking up on an unknown shore in Monteverdi’s Il Ritorno d’Ulisse in Patria. Sublimely beautiful.

  • I used to sing in a choir many years ago and ARJ sang the MEssiah with us, a lovely voice. Coming after the loss of Philip Langridge who also sang with us, terribly sad to lose two such fine singers in 2010

  • Kathleen Fearnley says:

    Alfreda Hodgson told of how she and Tony, sitting on the organ bench for the end of Beethoven 9, could neither of them reach the ground with their short legs.