Heather Harper's papers

  • This material is held at
  • Reference
      GB 1111 HRP
  • Dates of Creation
      circa 1950-1995
  • Physical Description
      15 boxes

Scope and Content

Harper’s published copy of Benjamin Britten's War Requiem, programmes, scrapbook, music manuscript from composition sketch for Britten's Peter Grimes, certificates and awards, correspondence, published and annotated scores, press cuttings and magazines, poster, photographs, and miscellaneous.

Administrative / Biographical History

Belfast-born soprano, 1930-2019.

Harper sang in the 1962 premiere of Benjamin Britten's War Requiem at Coventry Cathedral, stepping in to replace Russian soprano Galina Vishnevskaya with just 10 days’ notice. Harper went on to give first performances of the work in Italy, France and Switzerland as well as performances in Australia.

Harper sang Ellen Orford in the 1969 film version of Britten's Peter Grimes, made by the BBC and filmed in Snape Malting Concert Hall.

She took part in other BBC TV operas throughout her career, notably the lead role as Violetta in BBC TV’s production of La Traviata in 1955 as well as creating the role of Luisita in Arthur Benjamin’s Mañana - BBC TV’s first TV opera commission in 1956.

In 1955 Harper sang Euridice in the first ever performance of Haydn’s Orfeo ed Euridice in the UK - 164 years after it was composed – at the St Pancras Festival.

She had a successful career, singing around the world, both in the concert hall and on the operatic stage, performing with the world's leading orchestras and conductors and in the major houses, including Bayreuth, Sydney, Glyndebourne and Teatro Colon in Buenos Aires.

She made her debut at New York’s Metropolitan Opera in 1977 as Countess Almaviva in Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro conducted by Steuart Bedford.

She also created the role of Nadia in the premiere of Michael Tippett’s The Ice Break at London’s Royal Opera House in 1977 produced by Sam Wanamaker.

Harper gave many performances at the Royal Opera House, throughout the 1970s - singing many a lead role in Strauss operas - and up until 1981 when she gave her farewell performance reviving her role as Ellen Orford.

Harper also sang on many occasions at the BBC Proms from her first in 1956 up until 1994 when she came out of retirement to sing at the Henry Wood Proms 100th anniversary concerts. One notable performance was the premiere of Malcolm Williamson’s Next Year in Jerusalem at the 1985 Proms.

She had a successful recording career receiving awards for Best Mahler Recording from the Gustav Mahler Society two years running (Symphony no. 8 with Georg Solti and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in 1972 and Das Klagende Lied with Bernard Haitink and the Concertgebouw Orchestra Amsterdam in 1973) as well as a 1979 Grammy Award for the Royal Opera House recording of Peter Grimes.

Harper taught at the Britten-Pears School for Advanced Musical Studies at Snape Maltings, Suffolk.

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Related Material

Britten Pears Arts also hold Heather Harper's paintings (acc 9646)