Death of a standout British soprano, 88

Death of a standout British soprano, 88


norman lebrecht

April 22, 2019

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


  • Ned Keene says:

    A wonderful singer. Thanks for the Ellen Orford link.

  • Pianoronald says:

    Very sad. Heard her in Vienna in Britten’s War Requiem. Beautiful voice.

  • Stuart says:

    A wonderful singer. I heard her Ellen Orford in 1975 at Covent Garden. A great singer in a great role.

  • Alan says:

    Hear hear. What an artist. A great Straussian and a very memorable Ellen Orford.

  • Ken D says:

    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.

  • Simon Hall says:

    Very sad news. She was a lovely lady and wonderful singer.

    • Una says:

      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.

  • Cubs Fan says:

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

  • Mustafa Kandan says:

    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.

  • Heini says:

    Ian was also principal horn at the ROH where they on occasion took part in the same performances.

  • Garry Humphreys says:

    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.

  • Jean Collen says:

    I am very sorry to hear of the death of Heather Harper. It doesn’t seem so long ago when she was in her prime. May she rest in peace.

    • Esther Cavett says:

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

  • Patrick says:

    A beautiful singer. I saw her once: Chicago, March, 1974 singing the US premiere of Tippett’s 3rd symphony.

  • Julia Dewhurst says:

    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.

  • Michael Trott says:

    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.