Born: July 23, 1931; Died: February 22, 2013.
Ava June, who has died aged 81, was one of Britain's busiest, most resourceful sopranos of the 1960s and 1970s, when Sadler's Wells Opera was transforming itself into English National Opera and she seized her opportunities to sing for both of them.
Whether at home in London or (as used to be said) on provincial tour, when she enabled country cousins to sample Puccini's Madama Butterfly or Verdi's Violetta at a time when such experiences were harder to come by than they are now, she showed she could rise to every occasion, imprinting her portrayals upon all who heard them.
Her repertoire, as a stalwart member of the London company, was copious. Nothing seemed too gentle or too stridently histrionic for her. In Mozart, especially when singing the Countess in Charles Mackerras's revelatory performances of The Marriage of Figaro in 1965 – complete with the historically informed decorations that were a complete novelty in those days – she showed how she could shine with the help of a great conductor. But Wagner was equally accessible to her, as she proved when she sang Sieglinde in Die Walkure for Reginald Goodall. Between these extremes, her Katya Kabanova (Mackerras again) seethed with full Janacek passion, though her Lisa in Tchaikovsky's Queen of Spades with Alexander Gibson as guest conductor was never a resounding hit.
Yet her loyalty to London, which eventually resulted in her portrayal of Gutrune in Gotterdammerung under Sir Georg Solti at Covent Garden, meant her freelance appearances elsewhere were fewer than they might have been. Scottish Opera failed to tempt her frequently to Glasgow. Indeed my only recollection of her appearing with the fledgling Scottish company was as an ample but unremarkable Donna Elvira in a revamped version of its vanguard Don Giovanni in 1965. On that occasion, it must be said, she did not shine.
Singing Britten on home ground, on the other hand, was a different matter. Even Queen Elizabeth in Gloriana – not initially one of Britten's more successful operas – lay comfortably within her grasp, and her Mary Queen of Scots, opposite Janet Baker's Elizabeth in Donizetti's Maria Stuarda, was an event to remember.
Born in Poplar, east London, she had a father in the whisky trade and a mother who was a seamstress. As a teenager, she herself was a theatrical dressmaker, before studying singing under Joan Cross and Dame Eva Turner.
After her retirement in the 1980s, she held positions in various music colleges, with Rosalind Plowright and Susan Bullock among her pupils.
She was married to David Cooper, an architectural engineer, who died in 1982.
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