Soprano who sang Lucia di Lammermoor for Scottish Opera in a wheelchair

Born: June 4, 1967;

Died: November 26, 2018

SALLY Silver, who has died aged 51, was a soprano with a distinguished career in opera and on the concert platform. She had a commanding range and her coloratura voice suited the bel canto repertory of Bellini and Donizetti. She was also heard regularly in the concert hall as recitalist and with many leading orchestras.

Silver had a firm, musical voice that phrased and enunciated the words with great clarity even at the top of the range in the most harrowing roles. As a performer she skilfully captured the psychological instability of a character while preserving a firm and elegant vocal line.

She gave three memorable performances with Scottish Opera, but it was for her 2007 performance in the title role of Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor for which she will be particularly remembered in Scotland. It was certainly a memorable debut with the company.

During the first act Silver damaged a calf muscle but in the best traditions of theatre she carried on … in a wheelchair. “I had to literally stop the show just as I was about to meet my lover, Edgardo,” Silver recalled. The resourceful Alex Reedijk, Scottish Opera's chief executive, commandeered a wheelchair from a startled member of the audience (who was safely installed in her seat) and the performance went on with Silver being chauffeured around the stage on four wheels.

Silver said of the incident: “I remember thinking. Oh my gosh, how can I sing in this position? But we got through it." The audience in Glasgow’s Theatre Royal heard Silver in top form. She gave a note-perfect account of the fiendishly difficult mad scene and the glories of the third act duet and was cheered to the rafters.

She once admitted she liked “living on the edge”. She spent much of the ensuing run of Lucia when the show visited Edinburgh and Aberdeen moving with some difficulty or in a wheelchair. The Daily Telegraph commented that she gave “a spirited and touching account of one of the greatest mad scenes in opera.”

She returned in 2009 for a concert performance of another challenging opera – Bellini’s I Puritani. The Herald critic wrote, “Yesterday’s thrilling performance of I Puritani, with extraordinary singing by soprano Sally Silver in the role of Elvira, was more than a musical triumph for the company: it was a vital moment for Scottish Opera.”

In 2011 Silver sang in an updated production of Handel’s Orlando with Scottish Opera. It was given a rapturous reception. Silver sang an exuberant account of the title role in a production which was set in the UK during the Second World War with many singers in RAF uniforms.

She also joined Scottish Opera for a production of Mark Anthony Turnage’s turbulent Greek which was a co-production with Music Theatre Wales in 2011.

Sally Silver was born in South Africa and after studying music at college she had a burgeoning career in various opera houses. In 1968 she came to England and sang with, amongst others, English National Opera (Der Freischütz), Metz Opera (The Tales of Hoffmann) and many seasons at the Loughborough Festival.

Recently she has sung Leonora in Il trovatore with Chelsea Opera Group, in the European production Thomas Adès’s Powder Her Face and in the Russian premiere of Orango by Shostakovich in Moscow conducted by Esa-Pekka Salonen.

She formed a close recording relationship with the conductor/pianist Richard Bonynge – the widower of Joan Sutherland - and the two made some memorable discs, including Arthur Sullivan’s On Shore and Sea & Kenilworth, the songs by the Irish composer William Vincent Wallace and songs by Jules Massenet to be released in April.

The distinguished Scottish soprano Marie McLaughlin coached Silver for some years. She spoke fondly of her pupil to The Herald, “Sally was wonderful. She was not only an artist who possessed an exceptional voice but was also a terrific human being. She was a force of nature and a joy to teach.

“Sally had an indefatigable spirit and despite the onslaught of her illness she remained positive and focused on her singing: her life and career were inspirational and an incredible testament to her strength. She loved her family passionately and often brought her husband Jeremy to play for her lessons. I valued her friendship, kindness and courage.”

She met Jeremy when he was on the music staff of the ENO. Silver was diagnosed with cancer in April but continued to support the National Opera Studio, where her husband is the assistant head of music. She is survived by her husband and their daughter Charlotte.