Soprano Heather Harper died on April 22, 2019 at age 88.
The soprano was born in Belfast on May 8, 1930 to Hugh, a lawyer, and his wife, Mary, who were amateur musicians. She was one of four children and at a young age was encouraged to play the piano.
From there Harper and two of her siblings went on to become professional musicians: her sister, Alison, was a cellist for the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, and her brother, Ian, was principal horn for the Royal Philharmonic, English Chamber orchestras, and the Royal Opera House.
Meanwhile, Harper continued to study piano and won a scholarship to the Trinity School of Music in London, where she also studied violin and viola. While studying at the school she won a scholarship to study voice and went on to become a member of the Ambrosian Singers. She also joined the BBC Chorus and the George Mitchell Singers and would not launch her until she was recommended to perform Verdi’s “Macbeth” for Jack Westrup’s Oxford University Opera Club in 1954.
Those performances of Lady Macbeth led to an invitation to sing Violetta in “La Traviata” in a television production in 1956 followed by Mimì in “La Bohème.” She would appear on TV frequently and in 1960 she made her British staged debut in Schoenberg’s “Erwartung” with the New Opera Company.
That was followed by her Glyndebourne debut in 1957 and she would be a frequent guest, performing numerous roles from operas by Poulenc, Offenbach, Wagner, Bizet, and Britten. But her breakout came in 1962 when she stepped in at 10 days’ notice to replace Galina Vishnevskaya, who had been detained by the Soviet authorities, in the first performance of Britten’s War Requiem alongside Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau and Peter Pears.
From there she would go on to sing at the Metropolitan Opera and would become a favorite at the Teatro Colón in Buenos Aires, as well as at the Aldeburgh festival. She also appeared at the Bayreuth festival as Elsa in “Lohengrin.”
Harper became well-known for her portrayals of Ellen Orford in Britten’s “Peter Grimes” and the Marschallin in “Der Rosenkavalier.”
She went on to record Ravel’s “Shéhérazade” and Strauss’ Four Last Songs as well as other Strauss roles including the Empress in “Die Frau ohne Schatten,” Ariadne in “Ariadne auf Naxos,” Chrysothemis in “Elektra,” and “Arabella.”
She is survived by her husband, the Argentinian scientist and later music critic, Eduardo Benarroch.
Here are her Four Last Songs.