Ronald Duncan and Kathleen Ferrier                                                         <Home

Kathleen Ferrier was (and still is) one of the world’s great singers. Her appeal transcends all ages and every generation, more so perhaps than any other singer. She died over fifty years ago, yet is still remembered and today her voice is still heard and loved by millions around the world. (Kathleen Ferrier Society website.)

Born in 1912 she died in 1953, aged only 41. 2012 is her Centenary year. Duncan's libretto for Britten's The Rape of Lucretia was sung by her in the first production of the opera at Glyndebourne in 1946.

The links below form a commentary on Ronald Duncan's obituary of Kathleen Ferrier published in Opera magazine (December, 1953). The full transcript can be found here (Quotes are in red.) References to letters and diary entries are to Christopher Fifield (ed.), Letters and Diaries of Kathleen Ferrier, revised and enlarged edn. (Boydell Press, 2011). This is abbreviated LDKF.

First Meeting

When I turned round again, she had taken her hat off and loosened her hair. Now she was not pretty, she was beautiful.

Kathleen Ferrier first met Ronald Duncan when she came for an audition at Benjamin Britten’s flat in St John’s Wood in London. Duncan was writing the libretto for Britten’s newest opera The Rape of Lucretia....  more

'My husband bet me a shilling'

"I was still toying with the idea when my husband bet me a shilling I wouldn’t do so" - this is how Kathleen’s career began, discouraged at home from entering the Carlisle Festival singing contest. The centenary of Kathleen Ferrier’s birth fell on 22 April 2012. She was born... more

Kathleen Ferrier and the Idea of Opera

Ferrier sang in only two operas, Lucretia (1946), and Gluck’s Orfeo and Euridice (1762). In 1950 she wrote to Emmie Tillett, who organised her performances and repertoire: "The more I see of opera, the less I want to take part in it ..."   more

Lucretia not written for Kathleen Ferrier

The anonymous reporter from the  Preston Guardian is one of the first journalists to write that the title role of Lucretia was "specially written for her". Ronald Duncan’s description of her being given Britten’s “pencilled scribble of Act II Scene 1 [i.e. 2]”, which "lay on the piano" means that this cannot be true ... more
The Flower Song

Duncan tells the story of how flowers from the garden at Glyndebourne came to be used on stage during the première of Lucretia. Audrey Christie, wife of John Christie owner of the opera house, picked roses and other flowers to replace the “tawdry stage props”. She did not know the theatre superstition ...   more
Kathleen’s search for love

Towards the end of his obituary, Duncan raises the question of Kathleen’s private life. His story of what she said to him near Amsterdam in June or July 1951 mentions her unhappy marriage, not an easy issue to discuss in 1953.  Ferrier had married ...  more

An ending  

Ronald Duncan describes her final ilIness: "it was as if she had been cast for sorrow and rehearsed for sorrow". This emphasis is slightly unusual, since all who knew her remember ...  more

Author: Dr Alan Munton  

Also on this site: a description of Ferrier’s performances and recordings of The Rape of Lucretia, 1946 – 195

A scan of Kathleen Ferrier’s final diary pages can be seen at Fifield’s tribute on the MusicWeb International site – scroll to the end of the essay:


Duncan, Ronald, 'Kathleen Ferrier', Opera 4, December 12, 1953

Duncan, Ronald, The Rape of Lucretia, London and New York. Boosey and Hawkes, 1946

Duncan, Ronald,  The Rape of Lucretia, London: Faber and Faber, 1953

Ronald Duncan Collection, Special Collections, University of Exeter

Campion, Paul,  Ferrier – A Career Recorded, Thames Publishing / Elkin Music, 2005

Fifield, Christopher, ed., Letters and Diaries of Kathleen Ferrier, Woodbridge, Suffolk: Boydell, Revised edition, 2011. Abbreviated LDKF.

Leonard, Maurice, Kathleen: The Life of Kathleen Ferrier 1912-1953, London: Hutchinson, 1988



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