Death of a standout British soprano, 88

The death has just been made known of Heather Harper, one of the foremost sopranos of the mid-20th century and one of the best-liked. She was especially esteemed by Benjamin Britten and succeeded in maintaining his friendship amid the often-acrid Aldeburgh atomosphere.

Heather was the archetype Ellen Orford in Peter Grimes, strong of will and principle, vulnerable at heart. She also sang in the first War Requiem after the Soviets stopped Galina Vishnevskaya from leaving the country.

She appeared two seasons at Bayreuth and was always busiest in oratorio season.

Never losing a trace of her Ulster accent, she was rooted in heritage and family. Her brother Ian was principal horn in the Royal Philharmonic and her sister Alison a cellist in the City of Birmingham SO.

She asked me over once for tea and baked what I think was the best English fruit cake I have ever tasted. I remember, too, that she did not have a bitter word for any of her former colleagues. She spent her retirement with her second husband, Eduardo, quietly on a northwest London suburban street.

What an artist.

UPDATE: Heather’s funeral

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  • She would knit during the Ellen Orford aria, something I always found inexplicably touching. Condolences to those who loved her and thank you for posting.

    • Heather was also a very fine singing teacher, and a very good friend to me. She taught me my ‘trade’ as well as help my voice.

  • Very sorry to hear this. Sung on my favorite Mahler 2nd – with Solti/LSO and Mahler 4 with Maazel/Berlin Radio. RIP.

  • I remember her as the soloist in the first orchestral concert I have ever attended in my teens. She sang Britten’s Les Illuminations with the BBC Symphony Orchestra on tour under Gennady Rozhdestvensky. While I have to admit BBC Symphony Orchestra was hardly what I believe it is today, her performance was easily the highlight of the evening.

  • Norman, your comment about the War Requiem premiere and Vishnevskaya not being allowed to leave Russia to sing in it is not quite correct, for she was actually in London singing Aida at Covent Garden at the time. The Russians saw the War Requiem in political terms, hence their decision that she should not be allowed to sing in it. https://www.independent.co.uk/news/obituaries/galina-vishnevskaya-soprano-whose-voice-entranced-britten-and-who-fled-the-soviet-union-8422888.html

    • ==She appeared two seasons at Bayreuth
      Yes indeed, she was Elsa in Lohengrin under Kempe. There’s a wonderful recording of this. RIP

  • I was a pupil of Heather’s over many years. She taught me so much and I owe her a great debt of gratitude. So much insight into the very depth of the music. Thank you, Heather.

  • Do we know the details of her funeral service? I am a nephew of Heather’s first husband, Leonard Buck (died 2017). As a boy and young man, she was my Auntie Heather, and, as music became a passion of mine, I have always regretted losing contact with her. A great singer.

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