|Walter Widdop as Siegfried|
Potter attributes this to the fact that Widdop was quite a direct and outspoken man, who may easily have offended someone in the record company. This may be true, but Widdop's contemporary Isobel Baillie, in her autobiography, talks of how many English singers were dropped by the record companies in the leaner times of the 1930's; her own 'period in the wilderness' only ended in the late 1940's.
But Widdop has left us some fine recordings, and in this book we have both Potter's discussion of the recordings as well as David Mason's comprehensive list of all Widdop's recording sessions. But any such information is dry without aural documentation and the book comes complete with a CD of Widdop's recordings ranging from Bach and Handel to Wagner, 19 tracks in all. Other valuable lists in the book include all of Widdop's major roles, and a chronology. Inevitably this latter is not complete, as the paperwork no-longer exists, but Michael Letchford has done an admirable job in compiling a list of Widdop's known performances. Fascinating reading it reads too, particularly the way performances of Handel's Messiah interweave with Wagner's Ring and other dramatic operatic offerings in a manner which is hardly conceivable nowadays. The locations of the performances is interesting too with the British National Opera Company (BNOC ) and its successors performing the Ring in such illustrious places as Streatham!
Widdop must have been a very strong minded man, despite working in a mill and a dyeworks as a young man he acted upon the encouragement he received locally and took singing lessons, doing very well in local competitions. When he failed to pass an audition for the BNOC he took advice of the singer Norman Allin and sold his house, travelled to London and had further lessons. When he did start singing on stage with BNOC it was to jump in at the deep end, with the lead tenor roles in Verdi's Aida and Wagner's Siegfried. A gentle hint of these performances can be gleaned from Letchford's fascinating selection of Widdop's reviews. They make lovely reading, and as well as being testament to period writing about music, they show how he really did develop as a singer.
There are other little gems in the book, including a charming memoir from Widdop's younger daughter who accompanied him on his tour to Australia, as well as a couple of articles about Widdop's teachers. Widdop's teacher in Halifax was Arthur Hinchliffe, who was taught by Charles Santley who was himself taught by the great Manuel Garcia junior.
From our historical point of view, Widdop's career is frustrating. He was one of the few English singers of the period to have an international career, he recorded Wagner in German with international soloists and sang at the International Seasons at Covent Garden. Luckily in the 1920's he did record substantial excerpts from the Ring and from Tristan und Isolde and Parsifal. Where the book falls down slightly, is that there is no mention of the live transcription recordings some of which have floated about on disc over the years. I am pretty sure that I used to have a vinyl disc which included a live recording of Widdop singing Lohengrin's Mein lieber Schwann from Covent Garden in the 1930's.
This is an essential book for anyone interested in British singers from the 1920's and 1930's. Perhaps not a book to read from cover to cover, but one to dip into. Put it on your shelves with Isobel Baillie's autobiography and every so often remind yourself of the amazing sound and artistry of Widdop's voice.
Walter Widdop - the Great Yorkshire Tenor
Compiled and edited by Michael Letchford
Goar Lodge 2012, 224pp + 1CD [76.10]
24 black and white illustrations
Elsewhere on this blog:
- Arboles lloran pro lluvia Music from Estonia composer Helena Tulva - CD review
- Serenade: Aurora Orchestra at the Wigmore Hall
- Fine inner life: Handel's Theodora at the Barbican
- Women as Men, my article on Classical Music Magazine
- Astonishing: Tavener's Veil of the Temple - CD review
- A force to be reckoned with: Melos Sinfonia in Panufnik and Myaskovsky
- All is lost: Peter Grimes at ENO
- Magic by candle-light: Duchess of Malfi at the Globet Theatre's Sam Wanamaker Playhouse
- Rare opera: Alessandro Scarlatti's Carlo Re d'Alemagna - CD review
- His Tuneful Voice: Iestyn Davies sings Handel with the King's Consort - CD review
- Sing with a Swing: London A Cappella Festival
- Love Journeys: An encounter with Jacques Cohen
- Not for the fainthearted: JACK Quartet at the Wigmore Hall