In Memoriam Elizabeth Connell (1946-2012)

In Memoriam Elizabeth Connell (1946-2012)

It has been announced that at the relatively early age of 65 South African-born opera singer Elizabeth Connell, who won international success in roles by Wagner, Strauss, Beethoven and others, has died after a short illness believed to be cancer.

She was born in Port Elizabeth in 1946, moved to London in 1970 and made her debut at Ireland’s Wexford Festival in 1972. She had a long association with both Opera Australia and the English National Opera, and performed at the world’s major concert halls and notably its opera houses, including the Bayreuth Festival, La Scala in Milan and New York’s Metropolitan Opera, where she performed 12 times between 1985 and 1991. Notoriously she was singing Lady Macbeth in Verdi’s opera Macbeth there in January 1988, when a member of the audience leapt to his death from a balcony during the second interval and cut short not only a life but also a live radio broadcast of the performance.

Elizabeth Connell’s career lasted almost 40 years and she began as a mezzo-soprano, with notable Wagnerian roles including Ortrud (Lohengrin) and Brangäne (Tristan und Isolde). After becoming a dramatic soprano, she sang roles such as Fiordiligi in (Così fan tutte), and two of her signature roles were Leonore in (Fidelio) and Ariadne in (Ariadne auf Naxos). I first saw at the London Coliseum in 1979 singing Sieglinde opposite Alberto Remedios (in the Ring Cycle where he sang Siegmund and both Siegfrieds) and then later the same season Amneris (Aida): I saw her subsequently in many of her famous roles.

In 2008, she was praised for her performance in the title role of Puccini’s Turandot at the Royal Opera House; the Guardian‘s George Hall wrote about the 62-year-old performer ‘cutting through the dense orchestral textures like a scythe through porridge.’ It was a role she came to late in her illustrious career and I wrote how she showed us ‘her character’s cruelty, petulance, fear and ultimately her melting love and burgeoning humanity very well indeed using the thing that matters most – her singing. Yes, she did take a little time to find her best voice in “In questa reggia” and her chest voice does not have the support that it once did, but her top voice was warm, musically accurate and wobble-free. Every nuance of her words mattered and all her pronouncements were offered with imperious effect. This was a well-deserved opportunity for South African born Ms Connell to sing this role in the city she calls her home town.’ She went on to perform the role in Sydney, Hamburg and Prague.
Elizabeth Connell’s last performance was at a concert in the English town of Hastings on 27 November 2011. Poignantly her finale was a song by Ernest Charles that begins: ‘When I have sung my songs to you, I’ll sing no more.’ She is survived by several siblings and a memorial service is due to be held this Saturday (25) near her home in Richmond, southwest London.

As a further tribute to her I suggest you might like to read my 2008 interview with her when she talked about doing the job she loved … singing –

Jim Pritchard