Wednesday, 21 August 2013
Dame Janet Baker, whose 80th birthday we mark today, was never an operatic diva known for camp histrionics.
Widely regarded as one of the most accomplished British mezzo singers of the 20th century (apart, of course, from the exalted Kathleen Ferrier, whose early death and subsequent memorial prize competition - although she didn't actually win it - launched the young Janet's career), the elegant Dame reserved her talents (especially in latter years) largely for melodious recitals of Britten, Mahler and Brahms and oratorios by Elgar, Handel and Gluck rather than the outré melodrama of Wagner or Puccini stage-pieces.
If truth be told, she didn't need to; her popularity among opera-goers is legend, even if she did leave the queeny classical music world weeping into its collective silk hankies when she made the decision in 1989, at the height of her powers, to retire - for good - from the stage and from singing altogether.
One thing she always knew was how to wring every bit of tragedy out of a role - as demonstrated succinctly in this classic rarity, with a sumptuously costumed Dame Janet as Queen Dido, dying magnificently in Berloz's Dido and Anaeas:
Dame Janet Baker, CH, DBE, FRSA (born 21st August 1933)