Monday, May 18, 2009

HEATHER BEGG 1932-2009

Dame Heather Begg died in Sydney on May 17, aged 76, a month after the New Zealand Government redesignated her title from Distinguished Companion of the New Zealand Order Of Merit to Dame Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit.

She was a stalwart, a wonderful constant presence in my operatic life, with those amazing eyes that seemed to find you wherever you were in the audience. She had quite a presence, a creature of the stage without the slighest suggestion of effort. Her warm rich mezzo was instantly recognisable and when required was every bit as commanding as her stature.

Born in Nelson New Zealand in 1932, she started her musical life as a double bass player in the Auckland Junior Symphony Orchestra, passed into the hands of the legendary Dame Sr Mary Leo, through scholarships and the Sun Aria, to become a fine and handsome mezzo in Britain, North America, Europe and their great houses.

Contracted by Richard Bonynge, she would finally settle back in her home corner of the world as a formidable ensemble member of the (then) Australian Opera, where among a vast array of roles, she would accompany her own Lady Jane (Patience) with her own double bass playing. There was no one like her. In a season of considerable Kiwi glamour, 1978, she sang Flora to Kiri te Kanawa's Violetta, in a gorgeous new Copley production, an extra performance needing to be scheduled for the trans Tasman traffic. Sutherland and Carden would follow in later seasons.

Celestial Audio's tribute is here, and the Australian's obituary here. Nothing from Opera Australia yet as far as I can see. I miss her eyes, her smile, her sense of timing and camp, her always-there-ness (she was on stage in 2006 as the grandmother in Jenufa) and of course, her voice, her lovely voice. We have lost so many lately.

Heather Begg Alisa, Beverly Sill Lucia, 1970 Covent Garden.

UPDATE 21 May: The Sydney Morning Herald has this obituary today.

"I enjoy being outrageous, but only on the stage."

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