Norma Procter papers

Scope and Content

Procter’s papers cover all aspects of her successful singing career and contain a variety of materials including programmes, photographs, diaries, correspondence, certificates, address book, press cuttings, annotated scores, books with dedications and other papers. Also vinyl records and reel-to-reel tapes.

Administrative / Biographical History

Norma Procter (1928 -2017) was an English contralto.

Born in Cleethorpes, Procter showed a gift for singing at an early age winning numerous competitive festivals in Lincolnshire. She drew inspiration from the American contralto Marian Anderson and especially from Kathleen Ferrier.

Procter idolised Ferrier. As a teenager, Procter heard Ferrier sing Handel’s Messiah with the Grimsby Philharmonic and asked for her autograph in her own copy of the work, a gift from her mother. At another Grimsby Central Hall concert, Procter asked about singing lessons and Ferrier wrote the name and address of her own teacher, Roy Henderson, on the back of the envelope containing her fee. Procter wrote to teacher Roy Henderson in January 1947 requesting an audition and so her vocal training and professional career began. Procter later studied German Lieder with Hans Oppenheim, and then Paul Hamburger with whom she made many recordings for BBC Radio 3. She also studied with Alec Redshaw.

After her first year training with Henderson, Procter sang in the Glyndebourne Chorus for the 1948 and 1949 Edinburgh Festivals. She already knew in Edinburgh that opera would never be her first love but she found the work a good experience. Procter did however briefly return to opera finding two contralto roles that she loved. She sang Lucretia in Britten’s The Rape of Lucretia with the English Opera Group at the 1959 and 1960 Aldeburgh Festivals. She then made her London debut at the Royal Opera House in January 1961 as Gluck’s Orpheus. It had been 8 years since Covent Garden’s last production of the opera in which Ferrier gave her final performance - Procter followed in her footsteps. Procter even wore the same costume that Ferrier had worn.

Procter did indeed make her reputation mainly in the concert hall, with her oratorio and recital work, singing 27 times at the Albert Hall Promenade concerts. She made her London singing debut in Southwark Cathedral in October 1948 with Handel’s Messiah. Soon she established herself as an outstanding concert singer. She performed at major British music festivals, various European festivals, and gave numerous concerts, recitals throughout Europe and frequent broadcasts in Britain, Holland and Germany. Throughout the 1950s Procter toured Europe, Israel and South America. She worked with, amongst many others, singers Jennifer Vyvyan, Heather Harper and Joan Sutherland, and conductors Bruno Walter, Jascha Horenstein, Josef Krips, John Barbirolli, Rafael Kubelik, Malcolm Sargent and Arthur Bliss.

Procter was Britten and Pears’s contralto of choice after Ferrier’s death in October 1953. Procter gave many concerts and recitals with them, particularly in the late 1950s and early 60s when they toured in the UK and abroad. They often performed Messiah and Britten’s Spring Symphony and Canticle II Abraham and Issac – works which had been written for and premiered by Ferrier - as well as Britten’s arrangements of folk songs. Procter gave the first performance of Britten’s arrangement of Soldier, won’t you marry me? with Pears, and Britten at piano, in Dusseldorf in March 1958.

After Ferrier’s death Norma was chosen to do several recordings which has been planned for Ferrier – Messiah with Adrian Boult and Britten’s Canticle II with Pears, recorded in February 1957, but not released until 2001. She also sang with Vyvyan and Pears for the 1960 Decca recording of Spring Symphony with Britten conducting. Amongst her many recordings, she was particularly known and praised for those of Mahler including the first complete version of Das Klagende Lied. Procter is well known for having worked with and made many recordings with Decca, BBC, DGG and many other companies. Others of her many recordings include George Frideric Handel's Alcina with Joan Sutherland, several J.S. Bach cantatas, Felix Mendelssohn's Elijah, L.v. Beethoven's Symphony No. 9 and G. Mahler's Symphony No. 3.

Two important roles Norma Procter had during her lifetime were President of the Grimsby Philharmonic Society in 1964 and an honorary member of the Royal Academy of Music in 1974.

Procter’s short autobiography can be read under item ref no. PCR/5/1.

See also https://brittenpears.org/2019/07/new-collection-norma-procter-1928-2017/

Access Information

This material is made available under the standard conditions of the Britten-Pears Foundation. Readers will be required to produce proof of identity and to sign a Reader’s Undertaking form.

Archivist's Note

Compiled from Norma Procter's autobiography for the Lincolnshire Women book.