Covent Garden

Richard kept strong links with Covent Garden but preferred to stay independent of it and, rather than being a company singer, was happier to be a freelance and, although often engaged to sing in ‘stock’ repertoire was also happy in the more unusual roles. He sang Traviata and Butterfly but felt that this repertoire was better left to Italian tenors.

 

But he soon became a favourite with twentieth century composers creating several important new roles. His musicianship and a photographic memory gave him the ability to learn difficult music quickly, plus he had a knack of making it sound easy. For example, he learned the role of the 'Prince' in Mussorgsky’s Boris Godunov in 24 hours.

 

Sir William Walton and Sir Michael Tippett both chose him to premier their new operas including Walton's Troilus and Cressida (premiered at Covent Garden in 1955) to huge success. This was an ideal role for Richard with its soaring lyrical lines. This work would take him to San Francisco in the US but also premiered it in Australia with Marie Collier in the other title role.

 

His association with Sir Michael Tippett was fruitful and the composer would often have no one else. Tippett’s opera The Midsummer Marriage in 1955 (sung with with Joan Sutherland) was and is a difficult, obscure work but nevertheless it was a British opera in the arid output of British music and it evoked optimistic reviews. Then followed King Priam (1962) with Forbes Robinson in the title role which enjoyed a huge critical success with Richard singing the role of Achilles.

 

Then, in 1965 Georg Solti wanted to put on Schoenberg's Moses and Aaron. It was in the heady Solti days when the conductor lifted Covent Garden to great heights, having a particular love of British artists. 'Moses' was presented with Forbes Robinson as a magnificent Moses and Richard as Aaron.

 

With Peter Hall producing, and leaks about what it was all about, it became a talked about, sensational production. Orgy scenes, simulated sex, a few bare bosoms, rivers of fake blood and three naked virgins and enormous crowd scenes. All this resulted in huge press interest with black market tickets on sale. It was particularly successful for Lewis and Robinson. Later he would sing the role in France (in French) and the USA (in Boston and New York) in English.

Richard as Don Attavio in the 1962 production of Don Giovani at Covent Garden

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