Letters and Diaries of Kathleen Ferrier by Christopher Fifield (ed) - review by Patrick O'Connor

Patrick O'Connor

The Contrary Contralto

Letters and Diaries of Kathleen Ferrier


The Boydell Press 333pp £25 order from our bookshop

KATHLEEN FERRIER GAVE what was to be her final performance in February 1953, singing the title role in Gluck's Orpheus at Covent Garden, conducted by Sir John Barbirolli. During the second act, members of the audience heard a crack on stage: Ferrier's left thigh had fractured. She continued to sing, leaning against a plllar, and finished the opera. Afterwards, she talked to admirers in her dressing-room, smiling and laughing with friends. Once they had gone, she turned to her sister and said, 'Send for a stretcher, love'. Eight months later, she died of the cancer that had been diagnosed just over two years before. Ferrier's voice and her ~ersonalitvs eem to have affected everyone she worked with or met. She was the first British singer to gain an international reputation after the Second World War, yet she had been singing professionally for only a few years, and her repertory - Handel oratorios, Enghsh folksongs and ballads, German Lieder (nearly always the more serious side) and modern music bv Britten. Berkelev and others - was hardlv designed to appeal to the masses. 'Too highbrow nowadays', she commented about herself, after one lukewarm reception t a provincial concert. Ferrier was Lancastrian, brought

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