Opera Scotland

Elizabeth Connell Suggest updates

Born Port Elizabeth, 22 October 1946.

Died London, 18 February 2012.

South African soprano.

Elizabeth Connell had a notable international career as a Wagnerian soprano. Initially she sang largely as a dramatic mezzo-soprano, during several seasons with English National Opera. After retraining as a soprano she gave several notable performances at Covent Garden. She travelled widely, working at La Scala, Salzburg, the Met and Bayreuth. Throughout her career, she returned regularly to work at the Sydney Opera House.

She studied music in Johannesburg (at the University of Witwatersrand) before becoming a schoolteacher for several years. She continued to study singing, and in 1970 won a scholarship to train at the London Opera Centre. Her coach there was the baritone Otakar Kraus, better known for the succession of great British basses he taught during those years. After winning the Maggie Teyte prize in 1972 she made her professional debut at the Wexford Festival as Varvara in Kátya Kabanová, a famously effective staging by David Pountney, a few years before his Welsh/Scottish cycle of Janáček operas got under way.

The next phase of her career took place in Sydney, where the new Opera House opened in 1973 with a memorable staging of Prokofiev's War and Peace, in which she sang Marya Bolkonskaya. Back in London, she joined ENO, and spent several years building up her repertoire. Her leading roles included Santuzza, Amneris, Eboli, and a startlingly dramatic Azucena, as well as a return to Marya Bolkonskaya, and a wonderfully villainous Eglantine, in a rare appearance of Weber's Euryanthe. In these early years she already played dramatic character roles more appropriate for much older singers, such as Herodias and Kabanicha. She also began to approach the Wagner repertoire that would dominate her later career. Her Covent Garden appearances began in 1976 with Viclinda in I Lombardi, quickly followed by Federica (Luisa Miller) and Eboli in Don Carlos.

Her debut at Bayreuth in 1980 (as Ortrud) was followed the next year by Brangäne. After her successful repositioning in soprano roles from 1983, she sang many lyric parts at Covent Garden (Leonora in Trovatore), La Scala (Fiordiligi) and Salzburg (Elettra in Idomeneo). Her move towards dramatic soprano territory included her first Norma in Geneva, Leonore at Covent Garden and Reiza in Frank Dunlop's staging of Oberon in Edinburgh. The final period of her career saw her perform the great soprano roles by Wagner (Elisabeth, Isolde, Brünnhilde) and Strauss (Elektra). She also performed Turandot, Lady Macbeth, and Abigaille in Nabucco. A DVD of that last work made in Sydney is one of a sadly brief list of her recordings.

Sources: various obituaries and programmes.

Last updated 18 November 2012.

Roles in Scotland

Second Norn
Götterdämmerung 1976
Waltraute a Valkyrie, Brünnhilde's sister
Götterdämmerung 1976
Reiza daughter of Haroun el Raschid
Oberon 1986

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