Anthony Rolfe Johnson dies, aged 69
26 July 2010, London, UK
Anthony Rolfe Johnson
British tenor Anthony Rolfe Johnson has died, aged 69, following a long battle with Alzheimer’s.
Johnson came to music relatively late in life, starting out as a farmer before deciding to change direction. Throughout the 1970s and 1980s he was recognised as one of the leading English tenors of his generation, performing and recording prolifically before illness forced him to stop.
A student of Richard Lewis and Peter Pears, Johnson’s career included all of the major operatic roles and song cycles written by Britten for Pears. He was also active as a teacher at the Britten-Pears School in Suffolk, and went on to be appointed as the director of the School in 1990.
Johnson’s approach to vocal colouring and articulation, coupled with his own enormous emotional range, made him a natural successor to Pears. In particular, Johnson was a formidable interpreter of the role of Aschenbach from Britten’s Death in Venice, which he first performed in the 1983 co-production by Scottish Opera and Geneva Opera, then later at New York’s Metropolitan Opera.
Other operatic roles in which Johnson excelled included the Evangelist from Bach’s St John and St Matthew Passions, Debussy’s Pelléas and Mozart’s Idomeneo. He became the tenor of choice for several recordings by Nikolaus Harnoncourt and Sir John Eliot Gardiner and was a founder-member of Graham Johnson’s Songmakers’ Almanac.
Anthony Rolfe Johnson was appointed a CBE in the 1992 Queen's Birthday Honours list.