Opera Scotland

Ruth Packer Suggest updates

Born London, 1910.

Died St Bras de Alportel, Portugal, 12 January 2005.

English soprano and teacher.

Ruth Packer had an important career as a dramatic soprano in the years after the war, having particular success in leading Verdi roles with the Carl Rosa and Welsh National companies.

She trained initially in London, at the Royal Academy of Music, then in Leipzig and Vienna. One of her teachers in Germany was the great lieder specialist Elena Gerhardt. It seems strange, given her apparent fluency in German, that her operatic career involved performances almost entirely given in English.

In the early years of her career, in the late thirties and through the rigorous wartime tours, she appeared with Sadler's Wells as well as Carl Rosa, in a repertoire including Violetta, Amelia (A Masked Ball) and Rosalinde, and a rare Puccini role, Giorgetta in Il Tabarro. Through the fifties, her Carl Rosa appearances included Antonia in The Tales of Hoffmann, Donna Anna, Santuzza, Leonora Il Trovatore, and two Wagner roles, Senta and Elisabeth.

She worked many times in those years with Welsh National, starting in 1952 as Abigaille in Nabucco, at the time a great rarity. She followed that with Violetta and an even more uncommon part, Elena in The Sicilian Vespers.

Her only appearance at Covent Garden seems to have been as Helmwige in Die Walküre, during Beecham's 1939 Ring Cycles. When Strauss came to London for Beecham's Strauss Festival of 1947, she sang the Overseer in Elektra, in a BBC Broadcast, one of a very small number of examples where she was recorded.

She created roles in two new works - as Sybil in John Socman by George Lloyd (1951), a commission premiered by the Carl Rosa for the Festival of Britain. She  also sang Madame Defarge in Arthur Benjamin's A Tale of Two Cities, premiered by the New Opera Company in 1957, after which she retired from singing.

In her years as an important teacher based at the Royal College of Music, she helped to train a number of notable performers, including Dame Gwyneth Jones, Catherine Wilson, Katherine Pring, and Dame Anne Evans. Another student was the New Zealand soprano Dame Malvina Major (who may have sung rarely in Britain, but performed Rosina at the Salzburg Festival).

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