Richard Lewis, born Thomas Thomas into a Welsh family that had relocated to Manchester in a search for work, received a good education but left school when he was sixteen to work in a textile factory. He studied singing however, initially with T.W. Evans and later with Norman Allin; and his operatic debut was with the Carl Rosa Company as Count Almaviva / Il barbiere di Siviglia, reputedly in 1939.
Following the outbreak of World War II, Lewis was drafted into the army but was permitted to continue singing and caught the attention of Benjamin Britten, whose works he performed. After leaving the army in 1945 he continued his studies with Allin in London and joined Britten’s English Opera Group in 1947, singing the Male Chorus / The Rape of Lucretia at Glyndebourne. Lewis quickly established himself as a leading interpreter of Britten’s music, singing the title role in Peter Grimes at the Royal Opera House, London in 1948.
In the same year Lewis first sang with the Glyndebourne Festival Opera. He became closely identified with Glyndebourne, appearing regularly until 1974 in such roles as Don Ottavio / Don Giovanni, Ferrando / Così fan tutte, Tamino / Die Zauberflöte, Tom / The Rake’s Progress (British premiere, 1953), Bacchus / Ariadne auf Naxos, Florestan / Fidelio, Nero / L’incoronazione di Poppea and, notably, the title role in Idomeneo.
At the Royal Opera House, London Lewis sang frequently, both in contemporary works (Vere / Billy Budd, Troilus / Troilus and Cressida, Achilles / King Priam and Aaron / Moses und Aron) and in the traditional repertoire: initially in major lyric roles such as Don José / Carmen, Hoffmann / Les Contes d’Hoffmann and Hermann / The Queen of Spades, and later in character parts such as the Captain / Wozzeck and Aegisth / Elektra.
From 1955 onwards Lewis appeared regularly with the San Francisco Opera, where his parts included Des Grieux / Manon, Grigory / Boris Godunov, Jeník / The Bartered Bride, Alwa / Lulu and Eisenstein / Die Fledermaus; and was a guest at the Vienna State Opera in 1961, singing Tamino and Don Ottavio. He was also very active on the concert platform, being a distinguished interpreter of Gerontius / The Dream of Gerontius (the part in which he made his last vocal appearance in 1983) and of the tenor part in Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde.
Lewis, always extremely well prepared, possessed a mellifluous, though powerful when required, voice which he used with great musicality.
© Naxos Rights International Ltd. — David Patmore (A–Z of Singers, Naxos 8.558097-100).