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CHESTER LUDGIN 
1925-2003

Co-Founder and Artistic Advisor, emeritus
Opera New York

 

An extraordinary American artist and musician, baritone Chester Ludgin appeared on the roster of nearly every leading musical organization across the whole of North America during his forty-five year career. His distinctive, unforgettable voice and powerful stage presence made him an esteemed leading baritone of the New York City Opera from 1957 until 1991 and an important part of that company’s glorious roster of iconic singing-actors from that era.

As a result of the extremely favorable press for his creation of the role of John Proctor in the world premiere of Robert Ward’s The Crucible at NYCO, Ludgin’s reputation as an exciting singing-actor came to the attention of opera companies in North America and throughout the world. The San Francisco Opera Company favored him with the most interesting and dynamic repertory of his career including the leading baritone roles in such operas as Rigoletto (his most frequently performed role), Otello, Aida, Boris Godunov, Lohengrin, Tristan und Isolde, La Gioconda, La Fanciulla del West, Tosca, and the American premieres of Imbrie’s Angle of Repose and Reimann’s Lear.

The creation of Old Sam in the world premiere of Leonard Bernstein’s final opera, A Quiet Place, at the Houston Grand Opera was a crowning achievement in Ludgin’s distinguished operatic career, and it subsequently took him to many of Europe’s operatic capitals including Teatro alla Scala, Vienna State Opera, Rome Opera, Netherlands Opera and the Scottish Opera.  Bernstein himself described Ludgin as being “a man of enormous gifts dramatically and vocally,” and “the kind of singing-actor that defines the very term, with colossal energy, integrity and sincerity in every performance that I have witnessed.”

With a repertory of well over one-hundred operatic roles, and though he sang all of the standard leading roles at NYCO and elsewhere, he is perhaps best remembered as a tireless, passionate advocate of contemporary opera, creating numerous leading roles in both American (8) and world premieres (12). In addition to the opera companies Mr. Ludgin appeared regularly with some of world’s leading orchestras including: Amsterdam, Baltimore, Central City, Chattanooga, Chautauqua, Chicago, Cincinnati, Denver, Detroit, Edmonton, Fort Worth, Hartford, Honolulu, Little Rock, Louisville, Los Angeles, Memphis, Mexico City, Miami, Milwaukee, Mobile, Montreal, New Orleans, Oklahoma City, Omaha, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Reno, Sacramento, St. Paul, San Antonio, San Diego, Santa Fe, Seattle, Syracuse, Toronto, Tulsa, as well as Vancouver.

“A towering, impressive figure on the stage; a memorable, totally involved singing-actor of equal parts intensity and intellect; an imposing Verdi Baritone voice of great strength, trumpeting brilliance, rich beauty and startling compass; a musician of incisive, detailed preparation and near limitless imagination and resource; a performer of indefatigable energy and unstinting, generous heart; a beloved colleague of unsurpassed humanity, warmth and supportive, calm inspiration. . .”  These are just some of the words that have been used over the last fifty years by colleagues and critics to describe Chester.

His unfailing collegiality, infectious joie de vivre, and phenomenal performing spirit endeared him to friends and audiences the world over for the entire length of his unique and remarkable career, ensuring him a special place on the list of great American operatic performers.

Chester Ludgin was born in New York City and trained entirely in America. His career was an undeniable achievement and a favorite argument against those who believe that operatic eminence can be achieved only after European study.

With Chester Ludgin’s passing in August 2003, America lost one of her greatest national treasures and the operatic world lost one of its finest artists and most beloved singing-actors.  For those who knew his work and those who cherished him as friend and colleague he will forever be remembered.

Chester Ludgin as 'Scarpia'
Portrait by Bethany Short

 


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