Kathleen Ferrier’s 101st Birthday
The contralto is the lowest female singing voice. They are rare. Contraltos are generally the force of nature and the voice of mother.
Kathleen Ferrier was nobody’s mother, baby. She was a high-spirited woman from Lancashire who took a job as a telephone operator to escape a bad marriage.
Her singing voice was discovered in school but stilled until she had saved enough to make her way to London. By 1943 she was self-supporting as a concert and oratorio singer in the U.K. In 1947 she created the title role in Benjamin Britten’s opera The Rape of Lucretia. High price engagements plus the BBC made her a star.
She became a megastar. Her 1951 recordings of Mahler with Bruno Walter have never been bettered. They insured her place in the history of music making in the 20th century. They didn’t make her a star. Her way with English song and her lovely platform manner made her a star. Her voice was warm with a hint of spice and her look as if something naughty was about to happen made her a star. Tenor Peter Pears recalled Ferrier’s “Rabelaisian sense of humor.”
She had two opera roles: Lucretia and Gluck’s Orpheus. Her true home was the concert stage and her true meter was simple English song. Here’s the first recording in Britain to sell a million copies. Here is the top hit of the BBC to this day.
Kathleen Ferrier died in 1953 at the age of 41-years-old. She soldiered on with a cancer diagnosis for two years before her death. She collapsed during a performance of Orpheus at the Royal Opera in London and died six months later.
It was Bruno Walter who said, “Kathleen should be remembered in a major key.”
Her centennial last year was a big deal in the U.K. Her recordings have never been out of print. She was a gorgeous lady with a gorgeous voice. The real deal.