Opera Scotland

Heather Harper Suggest updates

Heather Mary Harper.

Born Belfast, 8 May 1930.

Died 22 April 2019.

Irish soprano.

Heather Harper had a long and successful international career in both concert and opera. She was also one of the most successful recording artists of her generation.

She trained in London at Trinity College of Music and privately with Helen Isepp and Frederic Husler. Her operatic debut, in 1954, was with the Oxford University Opera Society, as Lady Macbeth.

She first worked at Glyndebourne spending summer 1955 in the chorus, and returning for First Lady The Magic Flute 1959, Anne Trulove The Rake's Progress in 1963, with a then rare staging of Handel's Jephtha in 1966. With the New Opera Company, based at Sadler's Wells, she created Lucie Manette in Arthur Benjamin's A Tale of Two Cities (1958) and gave the British premiere of Erwartung (1960).

Her long association with Benjamin Britten and the English Opera Group ran from 1956 to the composer's death in 1976. She created the soprano solo in the premiere of the War Requiem at Coventry Cathedral (1962) when the Soviet authorities at short notice refused to let Galina Vishnevskaya travel west. In 1968 she sang Ellen Orford when a prestigious TV production of Peter Grimes was made. This led to her creating a role in his television opera Owen Wingrave in 1971, and she repeated the part of Mrs Coyle in its stage premiere at Covent Garden.

She first appeared with the Royal (Covent Garden) Opera in 1962, continuing regularly for the next couple of decades. Her repertoire there included Bizet (Micaëla); Offenbach (Antonia); Wagner (Elsa, Eva, Gutrune), Strauss (Ariadne, Empress, Arabella), Tippett (Hecuba, Nadia - premiere of The Ice Break) and Britten (Ellen Orford, Helena, Mrs Coyle), She appeared at La Scala Milan when the company included Peter Grimes on the 1976 exchange visit.

Outside the UK, operatic work included Bayreuth (Elsa 1967); Buenos Aires (Vitellia 1969, followed by Marguerite, Arabella); New York Met (Countess Almaviva in 1977, followed by Ellen Orford).

In Scotland, her operatic appearances were infrequent and restricted to the Edinburgh Festival. She never worked with Scottish Opera. Her first visit to Edinburgh came for the 1955 Festival. She was a member of the Glyndebourne Chorus, so sang in the production of Falstaff. The second work in the repertoire, Il barbiere di Siviglia only employs a male chorus, but since the ladies were there, she may have done a walk-on. Her association with Benjamin Britten and the English Opera Group was long and fruitful, though Britten's arrangement of The Beggar's Opera was not entirely typical. In 1973, she began a four-year association with the Festival, and conductor Daniel Barenboim. Two years in Peter Ustinov's staging of Don Giovanni were followed by two in Sir Geraint Evans's production of Le nozze di Figaro. Both were recorded.

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