Opera Scotland

Johanna Peters Suggest updates

Born Glasgow, 3 January 1932.

Died London, 26 May 2000.

Scottish mezzo-soprano, administrator and teacher.

Johanna Peters was a versatile mezzo-soprano, particularly adept at comedy, but able to employ her cavernous lower register to chilling effect when required. She became an important teacher, and was also co-founder and administrator of a successful touring company, Phoenix Opera.

She trained in London at the National Opera School. An early solo appearance, in 1958, was as Jocasta in Oedipus Rez with Oxford University Opera Club. In 1959 she made her professional debut at Glyndebourne, as Marcellina in Le nozze di Figaro. In 1962 she appeared as Dame Carruthers in open-air performances of The Yeomen of the Guard, directed by Anthony Besch at the Tower of London, as well as repeating her Glyndebourne appearance.

In 1964 she made her first visit to Scottish Opera, again under Besch's direction, as Marthe in Faust. She also joined the English Opera Group for productions of The Rape of Lucretia (as the servant Bianca) and Albert Herring (as Miss Pike), which both toured to Russia. Herring was recorded, with the composer conducting, and was put on at the 1965 Edinburgh Festival. She also played Mrs Baggott in Let's Make an Opera with the EOG. Florence Pike was her next part with Scottish Opera, and remained a role she sang frequently with the company on continental visits, beginning with the 1968 Florence Festival. That 1966 season of Scottish Opera contained four works, and Peters was in three of them, and may well have covered Quickly in Falstaff for good measure.

She appeared with Scottish Opera regularly in a range of roles that exploited the dark lower reaches of her voice, including First Norn in Götterdämmerung, Mrs Sedley in Peter Grimes, and the unusual feat of doubling Mother Goose and Baba in The Rake's Progress (in David Pountney's first production for the company). She added a further G & S role in the Duchess of Plaza-Toro, in tandem with Ian Wallace's Duke. She created the role of the aristocratic Sempronia in The Catiline Conspiracy in 1974 - clearly composed by Iain Hamilton with her fruity tones in mind. One scene-stealing character part she sang several times was Xenia's Nurse in Boris Godunov. After the final revival of that excellent staging in 1974 she was rewarded a few months later, repeating the part in a rare appearance with the Royal Opera, when the great Boris Christoff sang the title role here for the last time.

Appearances with other companies included the title role in Arne's Artaxerxes at the St Pancras Festival (1962). Mistress Quickly in Falstaff with Welsh National (1971), Mrs Peachum in The Beggar's Opera at Bankside Globe (1972), and Theodosia in Die schweigsame Frau at Glyndebourne (1979), where she had created the role of Widow Sweeney in The Rising of the Moon by Nicholas Maw in 1970.

Outside the UK, she appeared at the Wexford Festival and with Dublin Grand Opera. She also sang at the Holland and Liége Festivals.

She played a valuable role, over several seasons, in running a medium-scale company called Phoenix Opera. They toured widely round England, performing in towns otherwise untouched by performances with chorus and orchestra. The style of production was undoubtedly traditional, as was the choice of repertoire, but standards were generally high, created with minimal subsidy, and eventually the company failed when even that was withdrawn by the Arts Council. She did sing with them when an appropriate role was available, including Marcellina and Florence. The repertoire included Don Pasquale, The Barber of Seville and The Marriage of Figaro, of course, but also Albert Herring, and, in 1973 Martha (in which Peters sang Nancy). She played the Duchess in Henze's adaptation of Paisiello's Don Quixote, staged in 1979. In 1983 she played Margarita in the (to date) most recent British production of Wolf-Ferrari's School for Fathers.

There are few recordings, sadly. The series drawn from the historic archives at Glyndebourne now includes the 1962 revival of Le nozze di Figaro. The composer's own souvenir of Albert Herring is essential, and the Peters interpretation of Florence Pike still without equal. Nearer the end of her career, in 1982, she appeared in the Warner Video Gilbert and Sullivan series, playing Dame Hannah in Ruddigore. All three show her wonderfully clear diction.

As a teacher, she started at the Birmingham School of Music. From 1979, in London, at the Guildhall School of Music, she was first the Head of Opera, and later Head of Vocal Studies.

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