Kathleen Ferrier and the Idea of Opera              <Back

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, except Orfeo. I think I’ll have a rest in May. Am seeing Ben and Peter tomorrow and will let you know if any persuasions corrupt me!" (LDKF, 159)

Evidently she remained uncorrupted by any opera proposals from Britten or Peter Pears. 

There is an explanation for her limited interest in opera. Both Orfeo and Lucretia are fairly static, and not much movement is required of the performers. These operas come close to resembling a recital, Kathleen’s preferred kind of performance. The point is made by Christopher Fifield:

Opera, as she herself readily admitted, was not a medium in which she felt instinctively comfortable […] because she felt intimidated by its conventions. Somehow, being compelled to stand still on a stage for a song recital galvanised all the vocal emotion and facial expression she required to bond with her audience. She had no need of the operatic necessities. (LDKF, 11) 

As she wrote of performing Orfeo:

[Opera] is a lot of play-acting, [whereas] I live and love and die in a song.  (LDKF, 173)

Kathleen found particularly difficult the confession to Tarquinius, and her suicide – “See how my wanton blood / Washes my shame away!” 

She appealed to Joan Cross for help in acting,and Cross later told Ferrier’s biographer: 'She didn’t know what to do with them [her arms], or her feet. My advice was simple. "Why don’t you leave them alone? Your voice expresses all you need" '. Cross added: "If you confine acting to movement on stage then she was not brilliant, but if you define it as the ability to convey great depths of emotion, then  she was a fine actress". (Leonard, 87)

In July 1947 Kathleen wrote to Ibbs and Tillett, the company that organized her performances, to turn down a performance at the BBC on 5 August because "shall be sunbathing (ever hopeful) in Devonshire!" (LDKF, 55) The visit to Ronald Duncan and his family lasted from 29 July to (probably) 12 August.

The Diary shows her leaving Waterloo for Braunton in north Devon on 29 July. A drive in Duncan’s car through Barnstaple and Bideford would have brought her to the Duncans’ farms near Welcombe. The image below is a photograph taken of Ferrier at Mead farm, Devon.

RESIZED FerrierFIX1940s Lucretia

Kathleen Ferrier with the horse Lucretia in August 1947. This Arab filly 'foaled during the première of the opera', wrote Duncan. Noticing her touch on the horse’s neck: "This same tenderness was in her voice too". (724)

Author: Dr Alan Munton

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