Nigel Rogers, who died aged 86, first came to international attention in 1967 as the principal tenor of the LP recording of Monteverdi’s 1610 Vespers with the Monteverdi Choir of Hamburg and the Concentus Musicus of Vienna under the direction of Jürgen Jürgens. He seemed the epitome of virtuoso singing in the Early 17th century Italian style. But what impressed me the most was its easy flexibility and effortless embellishments.
He always said he learned that from the Indian singer Bhimsen Joshiwhom he met in 1964. Joshi had explained that while European singers practiced first to create a pleasing sound, Indian singers focused on flexibility.
Rogers could never sound less than pleasant, so he worked on flexibility. This came out most spectacularly when he recorded Monteverdi’s Orfeo under Jürgens in 1974.
Shortly after, his opera career took off: although he had sung in all three of Monteverdi’s operas, Orfeo remained his most popular role. But his impeccable diction also served him well in French and English music, notably in his 1970 recording of Thomas Morley’s First Book of Ayres (1600) with Eugen Dombois on lute and Nikolaus Harnoncourt on gamba. The voice there sounds utterly fresh throughout, and its (carefully applied) embellishments have their usual pearly perfection.
It is perhaps the finest and best-regarded recording of English lute song to date: these three musicians never seem to take the wrong foot, performing Morley’s 18 songs in his order with a immaculate taste from start to finish. Rogers certainly knew the music intimately for many years: I remember a detailed and inspiring discussion of Morley’s book with him at the time of the recording.
Born in Wellington, Shropshire, Nigel was the son of Winifred (née Roberts), a piano teacher, and Thomas Rogers, who sang in the local church. In due course, Nigel sang in this choir, and there is even a recording of him as a boy singing Mendelssohn’s Hear My Prayer trebles. From Wellington High School he went on a choral scholarship to King’s College, Cambridge (1953-56), where he sang under Boris Ord.
With the ambition to sing Italian opera, he then left to study in Rome (1957) and Milan (1958-1959); but neither his temper nor his voice – which was always calm and gentle. There is in fact a 1971 recording of Puccini’s Il Tabarro conducted by Erich Leinsdorf, where Rogers sings the small role of “Voce de tenorino” in the distance; but that seems to be his only professional contact with standard Italian opera.
Eventually he found a suitable teacher in Gerhard Husch at the Musikhochschule in Munich (1959-1964), where he mainly studied the repertoire of German lieder of the 19th century. While in Munich, he co-founded the Studio der Frühen Musik, known in English-speaking countries as the Early Music Quartet, with Thomas Binkley, Andrea von Ramm and Sterling Jones.
With them he made his professional debut in 1961, toured extensively and contributed to several successful albums, including two records by Carmina Burana (from the collection that found its way to a Bavarian monastery), one by Dowland and one from 17th century English. “florid-song”, where he first showed what he had learned from Joshi.
In 1964, he left the Studio der Frühen Musik, first because he was invited to be the understudy for Peter Pears at the Aldeburgh festival in the role of Madwoman in Curlew River by Benjamin Britten.
From 1972 to 1976, he taught at the Schola Cantorum Basiliensis, the specialist conservatory for early music in Basel. There he took advantage of the marvelous library to study treatises and other documents of Italian Baroque music and put what he had learned into factual historical song.
In 1978, he became professor of classical singing at the Royal College of Music in London, from which he retired in 2000. He founded the vocal ensemble Chiaroscuro in 1979 to explore the repertoire of Italian baroque music.
He later expanded it to include the Chiaroscuro Chamber Ensemble and the Chiaroscuro Baroque Orchestra, with which he made his conducting debut in 1985. He leaves a legacy of over 70 recordings from the 12th century to Schubert, including his 1976 recording of Die Schöne Müllerin with Richard Burnett on an 1826 Graf hammerklavier.
Combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda by Monteverdi, he recorded with Gustav Leonhardt and the Leonhardt-Consort (1970) and with Reinhard Goebel and Music Antiqua Köln (1980). He returned to the title role of Monteverdi’s Orfeo with Charles Medlam and London Baroque (1983), and at Vespers with Andrew Parrott and the Taverner Consort (1984).
The first four of his five marriages ended in divorce: in 1961 to Frederica Bement Lord, with whom he had a daughter, Francesca; in 1976 to Marika Faccendini; in 1987 to cellist Laurie MacLeod; and in 1991 to soprano Sheila Barnes. In 1999 he married harpsichordist Lina Zilinskyte, with whom he has another daughter, Georgina.
Lina and her two daughters survive him.