Soprano Jennifer Vyvyan honoured with plaque
The singer, a major figure in mid-century British music, is to be remembered with a plaque at her North London home
The leading British soprano Jennifer Vyvyan (1925-1974) is to be honoured with a plaque in her memory, near her North London home.
Vyvyan was closely associated with the composer Benjamin Britten – who wrote major roles for her in his operas The Turn of the Screw, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Gloriana and Owen Wingrave. She was also a charismatic champion of mid-20th-century music, and an influential figure in the modern stage revival of baroque operas.
The plaque, at 59 Fitzjohn’s Avenue in Hampstead where Vyvyan lived latterly, will be unveiled on Thursday 8 December by the countertenor James Bowman, who worked with the singer.
Though she died young, aged just 49, Vyvyan made a distinguished contribution to the world of English concert and opera singing. For example, she ranked among the chief interpreters of the music of Benjamin Britten, who composed some of his most prominent female roles for her: the Governess in Turn of the Screw, Tytania in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Lady Rich in Gloriana and Mrs Julian in Owen Wingrave.
We've reviewed a disc of Jennifer Vyvyan singing choral works by Britten.
Elsewhere, Vyvyan played a key part in the modern stage revival of baroque opera, starring in performances of works by Handel and Purcell for the Handel Opera Society, Covent Garden, Sadler's Wells and Aldeburgh Festival.
She was also much loved by general audiences throughout the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, thanks to hundreds of radio and TV appearances, regular invitations to the Proms and a large catalogue of commercial recordings.
Interestingly, Vyvyan was chosen by Sir Arthur Bliss, Master of the Queen’s Music, to play a leading role in Anglo-Soviet cultural diplomacy. In 1956, at the height of the Cold War, with East/West relations at an all-time low, Bliss took a handful of prominent musicians to Russia, aiming to bring British music to Soviet audiences. Vyvyan was among that select band.
The music critic Michael White has compiled a website about Jennifer Vyvyan, her life and times: you can find it at www.jennifervyvyan.org
Steve has been an avid listener of classical music since childhood, and now contributes a variety of features to BBC Music’s magazine and website. He started writing about music as Arts Editor of an Oxford University student newspaper and has continued ever since, serving as Arts Editor on various magazines.