Josephine Clare Barstow was born in Sheffield, England, on September 27, 1940. Her musical studies were at the University of Birmingham, and then at the London Opera Center. She joined Opera for All in 1964. In 1967 and 1968 she appeared with the Sadler's Wells Opera, singing Cherubino in Mozart's Le nozze di Figaro. Also in 1967 she joined the Yorkshire Opera, a short-lived company, and from there she joined the Welsh National Opera in 1968,Read more beginning again with the part of Cherubino. She went on to sing the part of the Countess in the same opera with that company. She has frequently sung with the Welsh company and, from 1969, also frequently appeared at Covent Garden, beginning at a typically English starting point, as one of the Nieces in Britten's Peter Grimes. She first performed with the Glyndebourne Company in 1972 as Lady Macbeth when that company made a television recording of Verdi's Macbeth; her first actual stage appearance at Glyndebourne was in 1974 as Electra in Mozart's Idomeneo. Her first appearance with the Metropolitan Opera Company in New York was on March 28, 1977, as Musetta in La bohème.
As her voice matured she moved into German repertory with Salome in Strauss's opera (1975) and in 1983 sang the role of Gutrune in Wagner's Die Götterdämmerung in Bayreuth. Meanwhile, she built an admirable reputation in premieres of new operas, and works outside the traditional repertory. She sang the major roles of Denise in the premiere of Tippett's The Knot Garden, Jeanne in the first British production of Penderecki's The Devils of Loudon, and Autonoe in the first British production of Henze's The Bassarids. From these roles she gained a reputation portraying emotionally messed up heroines. Other roles have been Emilia Marty, the 300-year-old heroine of Janácek's Makropulos Case, three of the four leading female roles in Offenbach's The Tales of Hoffmann, and Natasha in Prokofiev's War and Peace. In 1985 she was made a Commander of the Order of the British Empire. She has recorded several of these roles. She has a very expressive, ringing soprano voice of unusual flexibility. Her timbre is quite individual, and her acting, both vocal and visual, is extraordinary for its intensity and commitment. Read less