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William Ludwig

William Ludwig

William Ludwig was really William Ledwidge, born in Dublin on 15 July 1847. His father was a musical copyist and tenor chorister and the son followed his father, singing in various Dublin choirs as a baritone. He studied locally for a time, joined the chorus at the Gaiety Theatre London about 1870, and in the autumn assisted in an opera season starring Charles Santley. The experience proved fruitful, he took Ludwig as a stage name, and was eventually recruited by Carl Rosa.

He made his Rosa debut in Dublin on 29 March 1875 as Raymond in Lucia, and after Santley’s departure two years later became the company’s leading baritone, singing some forty roles in about 1200 performances. This included three world premières, Esmeralda, Columba, Canterbury Pilgrims, two British premières, Porter of Havre and Manon, and five British English-language premières, Lohengrin (Frederick), Tannhäuser (Wolfram), Meistersinger (Hans Sachs), Aida (Amonasro), and the title role in Mefistofele. His Wagnerian repertoire extended to five with the addition of Valkyrie (Wotan) and The Flying Dutchman (Dutchman). Surprisingly for an artist associated with English-language productions he was acclaimed as an interpreter of Wagnerian roles. He was a memorable Hans Sachs but it was The Flying Dutchman that provided him with his signature role. He sang it with the Rosa on about eighty occasions.

Ludwig was a busy man! He also sang with the Moody-Manners and Turner opera companies, successfully pursued a parallel career in concert and oratorio, and crossed the Atlantic to tour with the American National Opera Company. He frequently sang in church choirs and in his later years promoted concert parties throughout the British Isles to serve Irish traditional music. His Rosa farewell was at Dublin in January 1911 with Lily of Killarney, Maritana, and Bohemian Girl. The English Ring operas were an appropriate finale but there was more. Ludwig, assisted by local artists and an orchestra conducted by Vincent O’Brien, followed with two concerts at the Abbey Theatre on 31 January and 1 February 1911. Both featured costumed extracts from The Flying Dutchman. Wagner had not been forgotten!

Plans for retirement and teaching were abandoned when essential throat surgery later in the year led to loss of voice and an uncertain future. However his colleagues rallied round with a benefit performance at His Majesty’s Theatre on 8 December 1913 which enabled him to live in modest comfort. He subsequently worked in the silent film industry presumably because of his stage experience and where lack of voice did not matter. Ludwig never made sound recordings but there is the possibility that some obscure reel of film contains a moving image of this famous singer. Information of his film work would be welcomed by the Trust.

William Ludwig died at his home in West Kensington on Christmas Day 1923.

© 2020 John Ward

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