Dame Janet Baker, CH, DBE, FRSA (born 21 August 1933) is an English mezzo-soprano. From the 1950s to the 1980s she was one of the best known classical music singers in opera, concert, and lieder. She sang a lot of Baroque music including early Italian opera as well as works by modern composers, especially those of Benjamin Britten.
Her life[change | change source]
Janet Baker was born in Hatfield, South Yorkshire in the north of England. Her father was an engineer who sang in a male voice choir. She went to York College for Girls and then Wintringham Girls' Grammar School in Grimsby. In her early years she worked in a bank. She went to London in 1953 where she had singing lessons from Meriel St Clair and Helene Isepp, whose son Martin became her regular accompanist. She was knocked down by a bus in 1956 and had concussion and a back injury which often gave her pain. That same year, she came second in the Kathleen Ferrier Memorial Competition at the Wigmore Hall, which started to make her famous.
Debut[change | change source]
In 1956, she sang in opera for the first time with the Oxford University Opera Club as Miss Róza in Smetana's The Secret. That year, she also sing at Glyndebourne. In 1959, she sang Eduige in the Handel Opera Society's Rodelinda; other Handel roles included Ariodante (1964), of which she later made an excellent recording with Raymond Leppard, and Orlando (1966), which she sang at the Barber Institute, Birmingham.
Opera[change | change source]
With the English Opera Group at Aldeburgh, Baker sang Purcell's Dido and Aeneas in 1962, Polly (Benjamin Britten's version of The Beggar's Opera) and Lucretia (in Britten's The Rape of Lucretia). At Glyndebourne she appeared again as Dido (1966) and as Diana/Jupiter in Francesco Cavalli's La Calisto, and Penelope in Monteverdi's Il ritorno d'Ulisse in Patria. For Scottish Opera she sang Dorabella in Mozart's Così fan tutte, Dido, Octavian in Richard Strauss's Der Rosenkavalier, the Composer in Ariadne auf Naxos and the role of Orfeo in Gluck's Orfeo ed Euridice. She sang that role everywhere and she is often associated with it.
In 1966, Baker made her first appearance as Hermia at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, and went on to sing Berlioz's Dido, Kate in Britten's Owen Wingrave, Mozart's Vitellia and Idamantes, Cressida in William Walton's Troilus and Cressida and the title role in Gluck's Alceste (1981) there. For the English National Opera, she sang the title role in Monteverdi's L'incoronazione di Poppea (1971), Charlotte in Massenet's Werther, and the title roles in Donizetti's Maria Stuarda and Handel's Giulio Cesare.
Oratorio and song[change | change source]
As well as opera, Janet Baker often sang oratorio roles and gave solo recitals. Among her best recordings are her singing of the Angel in Elgar's The Dream of Gerontius, made with Sir John Barbirolli in December 1964 and Sir Simon Rattle over twenty years later; her 1965 performances of Elgar's Sea Pictures and Mahler's Rückert-Lieder, also recorded with Barbirolli; and, also from 1965, the first commercial recording of Ralph Vaughan Williams's Christmas oratorio Hodie under Sir David Willcocks. In 1976 she gave the first performance of Britten’s the solo cantata Phaedra which had been written for her.
Retirement[change | change source]
Dame Janet Baker's last operatic appearance was as Orfeo in Gluck's Orfeo ed Euridice, on 17 July 1982, at Glyndebourne. She published a memoir, Full Circle, in 1982. In 1991, Baker was elected Chancellor of the University of York, a position she kept until 2004.
Honours and awards[change | change source]
She married in 1957.
References[change | change source]
- Blyth, Alan, "Baker, Dame Janet (Abbott)" in Sadie, Stanley, ed.; John Tyrell; exec. ed. (2001). New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, 2nd ed. London: Macmillan. ISBN 9781561592395 (hardcover). OCLC 419285866 (eBook).
- ArkivMusic.com. Retrieved 30 November 2009.