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Baker, Dame Janet (Abbott)

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Baker, Dame Janet (Abbott), celebrated English mezzo-soprano; b. Hatfield, Yorkshire, Aug. 21, 1933. Her parents were music-lovers and she grew up in an artistic atmosphere. She was a student of Hélène Isepp and Meriel St. Clair in London. She began her career singing in the Leeds Phil. Choir, with which she made her debut as a soloist in Haydn’s Lord Nelson Mass in 1953. In 1955 she became a member of the Ambrosian Singers. In 1956 she won second prize in the Kathleen Ferrier Competition, making her operatic debut as Roza in Smetana’s The Secret with the Univ. of Oxford Opera Club. In 1959 she was awarded the Queen’s Prize and began to sing major roles with the Handel Opera Soc. From 1962 she also appeared at the Aldeburgh Festival. In 1964 she toured Russia as Lucretia with the English Opera Group. In 1966 she made her debut at London’s Covet Garden as Hermia in Britten’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, her U.S. debut as soloist in Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde with the San Francisco Sym., and her N.Y. recital debut. In 1967 she appeared as Dorabella with Glasgow’s Scottish Opera, returning there as Berlioz’s Dido in 1969, Strauss’s Octavian in 1971 and Composer in 1975, and Gluck’s Orfeo in 1979. In 1970 she sang Diana in La Calisto at Glyndebourne, returning there as Penelope in II ritorno d’Ulisse in patria in 1972. On May 16, 1971, she created the role of Kate in Britten’s Owen Wingrave on BBC-TV, a role she sang again at the work’s premiere staging at Covent Garden in 1973. In 1971 she appeared as Monteverdi’s Poppea with the Sadler’s Wells Opera in London, returning there as Donizetti’s Mary Stuart in 1973 and with its successor, the English National Opera, as Massenet’s Charlotte in 1977. She sang in concert with Abbado and the London Sym. Orch. at the Salzburg Festival in 1973. In 1982 she retired from the operatic stage singing Gluck’s Orfeo at Glyndebourne, although as late as 1989 she appeared in a concert performance of the role in N.Y. From 1983 to 1991 she was president of the Scottish Academy of Music and Drama in Glasgow. She was chancellor of the Univ. of York from 1991. She publ. the autobiographical vol. Full Circle (London, 1982). In 1970 she was made a Commander of the Order of the British Empire. She was made a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 1976. In 1990 she was awarded the Gold Medal of the Royal Phil. Soc. of London, and in 1994 she was made a Companion of Honour. Baker was one of the outstanding singers of her era. In addition to her expansive operatic repertoire, she won great renown as a concert artist in a repertoire of Lieder, English and French songs, and oratorio. She was especially distinguished in her performances of Schubert, Schumann, and Mahler.

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