Opera Scotland

William Ludwig Suggest updates

William Ledwidge.

Born Dublin, 15 July 1847.

Died London, 25 December 1923.

Irish baritone.

William Ludwig was one of the most famous baritones in Britain from 1880 to the end of the century.  He also toured extensively in the United States where he sang to great acclaim, especially in Wagnerian roles. He was particularly noted for his interpretation of the Dutchman. 

Ludwig was a stalwart of Carl Rosa Opera. Our listing of the roles he sang is still incomplete, but from his first appearance on the operatic stage in Scotland in 1876, to the last in 1897, he appeared in twenty-two different roles. Notably, he was the first to play Wotan on the operatic stage in Scotland in Valkyrie (1896).

Ludwig came from a musical family, his father being a chorister, copyist, music teacher and member of many church choirs in Dublin. Ludwig also began as a chorister and spent time in a solicitor's office before turning to a musical career.  In 1874 he moved to London and soon joined the Carl Rosa company. It is said that when the great Charles Santley retired from the operatic stage he left his valuable wardrobe to Ludwig as a parting gift.

Why did he change his name?

Then as now this was not unusual among performers. Ludwig performed in an era when British audiences thought a European pedigree a guarantee of quality. Those lucky enough to train or work in other countries would often adopt a style which those non-English speaking audiences would find easier. Thus Ledwidge does not trip easily off the Germanic tongue. Similarly, A J Foley (1835-1899), an Irish bass, studied in Naples, and adopted the form Foli, which stayed with him throughout his career. This habit persisted even into the twentieth century, when Dame Maggie Teyte (1888-1976) adopted that form because French audiences mispronounced Tate.

Supporting  information

No recordings of Ludwig have been identified, though he sang till about 1909 and so could have made one.  Photographs have proved elusive too. Given how well known Ludwig was - he is mentioned by James Joyce - this seems a puzzle. The search continues.


Revised 23 April 2013

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