Tuesday, 3 July 2012

Bliss Sopranos - then and now


Coventry Cathedral is looking forward to welcoming the delightful voice and personality that is Elizabeth Watts on 22nd September as The Beatitudes comes home, finally.

“…stunning… Watts does full justice to Bach’s long-lined vocal writing with sensitive phrasing and she consistently sings with plush, luscious tone… Watts also possesses a rare and enviable ability to communicate emotion through the sound of her voice alone, a gift that makes her highly recommended for lovers of Bach and beautiful singing.”

Wrote Derek Greten-Harrison, Opera News, June 2011 of Elizabeth’s performance in Bach Cantatas and Arias, The English Concert, Harmonia Mundi recording.

Elizabeth Watts was a chorister at Norwich Cathedral and studied Archaeology at Sheffield University before studying singing at the Royal College of Music with Lillian Watson.

She graduated in 2005 with distinction and the Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother Rose Bowl, awarded annually for outstanding achievement. From 2005 to 2007, she was a member of the Young Singers’ Programme at the ENO.

In the 2010/11 season she was Pamina in Die Zauberflöte for the Welsh National Opera and Marzelline in Fidelio for the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden.

Elizabeth won the Rosenblatt Recital Song Prize at the BBC Cardiff Singer of the World competition in 2007. In the same year she was awarded the Outstanding Young Artist Award at the Cannes MIDEM Classique Awards and the previous year the Kathleen Ferrier Award.

Recent past and future plans include Marzelline Fidelio and Zerlina Don Giovanni for the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, Susanna Le Nozze di Figaro, Fiordiligi Così fan tutte and Pamina Die Zauberflöte for Welsh National Opera, as well as concerts with RIAS Kammerchor Berlin, Ensemble Orchestral de Paris, Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra, a concert of Mozart arias at the Concertgebouw, Amsterdam, appearances with the London Symphony, Philharmonia, London Philharmonic and Scottish Chamber Orchestras, the English Concert and Academy of Ancient Music. 

As a recitalist Elizabeth Watts has performed at the UK’s leading venues including Wigmore Hall and the Purcell Room in London, Bridgewater Hall in Manchester and at the Aldeburgh and Cheltenham Festivals.

and THEN

On 25th May 1962 it was the voice of Jennifer Vyvyan that Sir Arthur Bliss chose to premier his Beatitudes, written for the consecration of Coventry Cathedral - but never performed there ... until now:

Jennifer Vyvyan (13 March 1925 - 5 April 1974) was a British classical soprano who had an active international career in operas, concerts, and recitals from 1948 up until her death in 1974 at the age of just 49.

She possessed a beautifully clear, steady voice with considerable flexibility in florid music and was praised for her subtle phrasing and her dramatic gifts enabled her to create vivid individual portrayals.

Although she sang a broad repertoire, she is particularly remembered for her association with the works of Benjamin Britten; notably singing roles created for her in the world premieres of several of his operas with the English Opera Group.

Although not everyone remembers Jennifer Vyvyan, those who do will recall that she was one of the leading British singers of her time. A member of the English Opera Group from its earliest days, she became one of Benjamin Britten's favourite voices and soprano of choice.

For her he wrote the Governess in Turn of the Screw, Tytania in Midsummer Night's Dream, Lady Rich in Gloriana, and Mrs Julian in Owen Wingrave.

But she also played an important role in the music of other mid-20th composers, from Poulenc and Milhaud to Malcolm Williamson and Lennox Berkeley. And beyond that she was a leading figure in the revival of baroque repertory: a celebrated interpreter of Purcell, Bach and Handel who starred in landmark reappraisals of the Handel operas.

Her relationship with Britten was consolidated by performances not only of the operas but of the Spring Symphony, Les Illuminations and other music in the Aldeburgh Festival – including a memorable starring role in Poulenc’s crazy celebration of cross-gendered comedy Les Mammelles de Tiresias.

In 1960 she sang Tytania in the world premiere production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream at Aldeburgh, staying with the role as it travelled to other venues. In 1961 she took part in the UK premiere of Cantata Academica. 1963 saw her in Britten’s 50th birthday concert at the Festival Hall.

Otherwise, the ‘60s were noticeable for her commitment to Scandinavia, with concerts in Oslo, Bergen, Copenhagen, Gothenberg and other Nordic cities.

There was a similar commitment to new choral works, with successive performances of Peter Racine Fricker’s oratorio The Vision of Judgement which she premiered and championed, as well as the premiere of Arthur Bliss’s The Beatitudes which opened the 1962 festival to mark the consecration of Coventry Cathedral.

Jenifer's joy at being invited by Bliss to sing Soprano at the premier of The Beatitudes was obvious.

Just married, she cut her honeymoon short to return to England for rehearsals and her performance… :

For more information read on...

(Short code to Coventry Cathedral website)

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