Joyce Blackham

Opera singer

Born January 1 1934. Died June 4 2018.

Joyce Blackham, who has died aged 84, was a mezzo-soprano who was renowned for her singing of the fiery cigarette girl in Bizet’s Carmen. At the beginning of her career she sang it with Sadler’s Wells Opera (SWO) and joined another young singer, Placido Domingo, in regional opera houses in America and at the New York City Opera. Domingo, of course, would later give a seminal account of the tenor role at the 1977 Edinburgh Festival. Blackham had a strong, vibrant voice that had a fine musical style but retained a sense of sensuality and daring that gave it an extra dimension. She was an outstanding mezzo with both SWO and Welsh National Opera for many years. The conductor Sir Charles Mackerras recalled her as a “sexy creature’’.

Joyce Elizabeth Blackham was born in Rotherham the daughter of a steelworker. She attended the local school and studied the piano. She won some local singing competitions and in 1951 the local community raised money for her to study at the Guildhall School of Music where she won praise as Dorabella in a student production of Cosi fan tutte. She joined SWO in 1955 and was heard in a variety of roles – including the world premiere of The Mines of Sulphur (1965) by Richard Rodney Bennet.

Blackham was also noted for her vivacious singing of French operetta at the SWO and it was with them that she was heard often in Scotland on the company’s annual tour. In 1958 she sang Cherubino in Marriage of Figaro (conducted by Alexander Gibson), then came her lively Hanna in The Merry Widow and Helen in La Belle Helene. Most memorable was her Carmen in 1964 and 1965, when The Herald wrote, “Blackham was in fierily dramatic form.” In 1965 she sang in The Mines of Sulphur conducted by Colin Davis. She only sang with Scottish Opera once - in Toby Robertson’s 1972 production of Benjamin Britten’s Midsummer Night’s Dream. Blackham sang Hermia.

She spent four years with Welsh National Opera at the beginning of the Sixties. Again she delivered a thrilling account of Carmen but was also hailed for her Amneris (Aida) and Rosina (Barber of Seville).

She was known for her acting ability as well as her powerful singing. So it was no surprise when in1967 Blackham was cast in The Four Musketeers a major west end musical starring Harry Secombe. The rehearsal period had not been easy with hasty recasting as actors left. Blackman fell out with the director, Peter Coe, and walked out on the day of the dress rehearsal, vowing never to touch a musical again.

By the early 1980s Blackham was slowing down her opera appearances – she became a popular with audiences on BBCTV’s The Good Old Days singing up-tempo folk ballads. She retired to Spain before returning to live in Devon and much enjoyed taking holidays on cruise ships.

In 1955 she married the baritone Peter Glossop – one of the early stars of Scottish Opera – whom she had met when both were members of SWO. The marriage was dissolved in 1977 as was her second marriage to Burt Kyle. Her third husband Tony Deacon, predeceased her. Blackham returned to look after Glossop in the years before his death in 2008.

Alasdair Steven