Johanna Peters, opera

singer; born January 3, 1932, died May 27, 2000

OF ALL the figures who helped to make Scottish Opera an entity in its early days, Johanna Peters was one of the busiest. Born in Glasgow, she studied at the National Opera School in London and seemed destined for a career outside Scotland - her first successes were with the Oxford University Opera Club, the Park Lane Group, and as Marcellina in The Marriage of Figaro at Glyndebourne in 1959 - when the newly-founded Scottish company engaged her for a series of character parts.

Though the roles she was offered were seldom large - she was never a star singer in the standard sense - they amounted to an entire portrait gallery - comic, severe, kindly, grotesque, covering several centuries of the operatic repertoire.

The most indelible of these vivid portrayals was Miss Florence Pike, housekeeper to Lady Billows in Anthony Besch's brilliant rethink of Albert Herring in 1966. She sang - as I wrote at the time - like a gaunt and joyless ancestor of Mary Whitehouse's National Viewers and Listeners Association, and the production was such a hit that Scottish Opera toured it for years across Europe and even as far as Iceland.

Though she did not possess the most beautiful of voices, she used her talent with great aplomb, as the First Norm and two of the Valkuries in Scottish Opera's original Ring cycle, Mrs Sedley in Peter Grimes, Martha in Faust, Xenia's Nurse in Boris Godunov, and the Duchess of Plaza-Toro in The Gondoliers - she was a sensational exponent of the G and S operettas.

She repeated, and enhanced, her portrayal of Marcellina in Figaro, and brought her own special relish to Stravinsky's The Rake's Progress at the MacRobert Centre, Stirling University, in which she doubled as the brothel-keeper Mother Goose and the bearded Baba the Turk in David Poutney's 1971 production.

She clearly enjoyed small-scale productions as much as big ones, and she was as naturally attracted to appear with the English Opera Group (Miss Pike again, along with Bianca in The Rape of Lucretia or at the Camden Festival) as with the major opera houses. But there were times where it was two-way traffic. When she sang the Nurse in Boris for Scottish Opera in 1965, she had appeared in the same part the previous year with Boris Christoff at Covent Garden.

Sadly, in the 1980s, Scottish Opera lost touch with her, but by then her interests were extending beyond stage appearances to the running of an opera company. With Anne Wood, founder of Phoenix Opera, she did valuable service touring productions around Britain - which must have been dispiriting in a country which does little to fund such operations. At Aldburgh she was a trustee of the Peter Pears Singing Award and in London she became head of vocal studies at the Guildhall School of Music.