To many he was the natural heir to Peter Pears, Britten's long-time associate and partner; however his repertoire also included Harrison Birtwistle's The Second Mrs Kong in which he appeared dressed in a monkey suit for the premiere at Glyndebourne in 1994. As Aschenbach in Death in Venice Langridge had a smooth and incisive sound, which he once described as "more a heightened speaking voice". He was absolutely fearless in his frank exposure of his heart and mind and voice, and this gave him a freedom of interpretation that singers more concerned with polished correctness have long admired. He made the music his own and communicated it with all the charisma and power of his own personality. In 1986 Langridge created the title role in Birtwistle's The Mask of Orpheus.
Two years later he sang Captain Vere in ENO's first production of Britten's Billy Budd, then went on to Covent Garden for his first Peter Grimes (1989). In 1990 he sang Pelegrin in the European premiere of Tippett's New Year at Glyndebourne. Back at the Coliseum, in 1991 he took the title roles in Oedipus Rex (by Stravinsky) and Peter Grimes – only the company's second production of Britten's masterpiece since its premiere in 1945. He was also Aschenbach in Death in Venice, a role that he all but made his own, for Covent Garden in 1992, Scottish Opera in 1998 and many other opera houses. If, in the minds of some, the ghost of Pears still haunted Britten's operas, Langridge – who shared many vocal qualities with Pears – was determined to lay it to rest. He maintained that Grimes, with his feral cruelty and sullen majesty, was his favourite role and he performed it in his own manner.
"I really sympathise with this character, who wants so much to be accepted and never comes to understand that the only real way we can ever be accepted into society is first to accept ourselves for who we are," he declared in 2000 when he sang the role with the Los Angeles Opera. Audiences loved him, and so did his colleagues, to whom he was generous with his time, interest and encouragement. He was a man who enjoyed simple things, a man of unostentatious spirituality, a man whose happiness was infectious.
Philip Gordon Langridge was born at Hawkurst, Kent, on December 16 1939. He was educated at Maidstone Grammar School and studied violin at the Royal Academy of Music, playing professionally for a time. While still at the Academy he took a weekly half-hour singing lesson with Bruce Boyce "just for fun". He also studied with Celia Bizony. However, after polishing his art with the baritone role in Delius's Sea Drift, in 1963 he switched to tenor and sang the title role in the Academy's production of Massenet's Werther in which his voice was described by one critic as "notably flexible and well controlled". His Glyndebourne debut came the following year as a footman in Strauss's Capriccio and by 1967 he was appearing at Aldeburgh, where Britten and Pears held court. Further nurturing came in Alexander Goehr's Music Theatre Ensemble and he also became a much-loved stalwart of the choral society circuit. Operatic parts, he said, just seemed to fall into his lap. "You know the sort of roles I do: psychopaths and idiots," he once said with a laugh. "The roles other people don't want."
In 1992, after a series of appearances at ENO were cancelled because of budgetary constraints, Langridge appeared in a small-scale version of The Bells, a Victorian melodrama, directed by his son, Stephen. More significantly, he was directed by his son again in Birtwistle's The Minotaur at Covent Garden in 2008. For many years Langridge's career was primarily based in Britain. However, Riccardo Chailly at La Scala, Milan, heard him in a recording of Henze's Kammermusik and decided that this was the tenor he wanted to sing Tom in Stravinsky's The Rake's Progress in Italy. Langridge also became a regular at the Salzburg Festival, for example in Janáček's From the House of the Dead in 1992, where Gerard Mortier was introducing his radical new ideas to the Austrian city.
There were also Britten-related ghosts to lay to rest overseas. Where Pears had dominated Peter Grimes in the UK, so Jon Vickers had done at the Metropolitan Opera in New York since 1967. Thirty years later Langridge stepped into the same production, delivering a performance that was vocally assured and deeply moving. In 1999 he appeared (with John Tomlinson) as Aron in the Met's production of Schoenberg's Moses und Aron.
In 1994 he sang in the glorious performance of Schoenberg's Gurrelieder with the BBC Symphony Orchestra under Andrew Davis that opened the 100th season of the Proms at the Royal Albert Hall. On the eve of a new production of Hans Pfitzner's Palestrina at Covent Garden in 2001 he claimed – erroneously, as it turned out – that this would be his last new role.
"There comes a time when Anno Domini starts to knock at the door and you can't remember the stuff," he said. "When I did Stravinsky's The Rake's Progress for the first time, I learnt each scene the night before rehearsal. It's taken me two years to learn Palestrina in depth." Lieder recitals, he said, were to be the swansong of his performing career. Winterreise, accompanied by the pianist David Owen Norris, was to become a notable calling card.
Nevertheless, there were still reprises of old favourites, not least Peter Sellars' controversial Idomeneo at Glyndebourne in 2003 conducted by Simon Rattle, with Magdalena Kožená playing the role of his son. When a correspondent to The Times expressed his displeasure at that production, Langridge robustly defended himself and his colleagues in that paper's letters page, saying that he used "every ounce of my knowledge, expertise and emotions to express what Mozart has written".
Offstage Philip Langridge was a genial, English gent – tall and wiry in stature, debonair in personality; in some ways he was, as one interviewer described him, more Richard Briers than Peter Grimes. He served on the Arts Council's music panel from 1983 to 1986, was president of Godalming Choral Society and collected watercolour paintings and Victorian postcards. Langridge met the mezzo-soprano Ann Murray when they were singing in Cavalli's L'Eritrea at Wexford in 1975. In 1980 the couple took part in the Buxton Festival's ground-breaking production of Berlioz's Beatrice and Benedict (in which the two lovers agree to marry only after a spirited quarrel); the rehearsals raised emotions to such a height that on one occasion, in an example of life imitating art, Ann Murray threw a cup of Bovril at Langridge; they were married the following year. In 1989 they were cast together again – as father and son – in Idomeneo at Covent Garden.
He marked his 70th birthday in 2009 with a concert at the Wigmore Hall with Owen Norris and the Doric Quartet, which was followed by a procession of the musical great and good to the green room afterwards. The programme had included Britten's Where are these Children? (the first time that Langridge had sung the work) and a new song written for the occasion by Birtwistle, From Vanitas.