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Sylvia Fisher

Biography

Born: April 18, 1910; Melbourne, Australia   Died: August 25, 1996  
Sylvia Fisher was the ereigning dramatic soprano at London's Royal Opera House during the 1950s. She studied initially in her native Melbourne, making her operatic debut in a production of Lully's Cadmus et Hermione in 1932. Strangely, she made no more stage appearances for 15 years, concentrating instead on recitals and oratorio and the occasional radio performance of such operas as Don Giovanni and Aida. After moving to England in 1947, she Read more made her Royal Opera House debut the following year as Leonore in Beethoven's Fidelio. Following Fidelio, she appeared as the Countess in The Marriage of Figaro and in 1949 sang her first Wagnerian role, the Third Norn in Die Götterdämmerung.

Her warm and vibrant voice was slightly less heroic in size than those of Kirsten Flagstad or Astrid Varnay, but was ample and beautiful enough to win high praise from critics and public alike. Her impulsive musicianship reminded many of Lotte Lehmann's and, indeed, she came quickly to excel in three of her predecessor's best roles: the title role in Fidelio, Sieglinde in Wagner's Die Walküre, and the Marschallin in Strauss' Der Rosenkavalier.

When she undertook Isolde in 1953, there were predictions that it would prove too stressful for her, but she surmounted its imposing demands, not stinting on the score's several high Cs. Dramatically, hers was a passionate, womanly interpretation, one which had listeners comparing her to the best of her predecessors. Fisher's career outside of England was limited, although she sang several Wagnerian roles in Italy, where she met her husband, language coach Ubaldo Gardini.

She enjoyed greatest success in those roles presenting positive, decisive characters. Her rather matronly figure worked against her in roles of a more passive nature. In 1956, she sang the demanding title role in Puccini's Turandot and gained yet another round of acclaim. However, the stress of the role, undertaken during a period of questionable health, robbed her permanently of the ease in the top register she had formerly commanded.

In the late 1950s, she increasingly pursued roles sometimes taken by dramatic mezzos, such as the implacable Kostelnieka in Leos Janacek's Jenufa. She triumphed as a singing actress in that role both in London and in Chicago. In 1966, she portrayed Elizabeth I in Benjamin Britten's Gloriana. Her imperial, yet vulnerable performance contributed significantly to a reevaluation of the work, poorly received in its Coronation Year premiere 13 years before. When the same English National Opera production traveled to Vienna, Fisher was awarded one of the most tumultuous receptions of her career.

Live performances and a 1964 Decca recording of Britten's Albert Herring under the composer's direction demonstrated a notable talent for comedy. As the imperious Lady Billows, Fisher brought to the chamber opera a still impressive voice (if now with a rather strident top register) and a faultless gift for delivery of deadpan humor.

Appearances as Lady Billows at the Stratford Festival, Ontario in 1967 confirmed that her stage presence was every bit as effective as her vocal one.

Fisher continued to sing well into her sixties, appearing as the unyielding Aunt in Britten's television opera, Owen Wingrave -- a role composed specifically for her. Read less
Browse 1-8 of 8 Available Recordings
  • 1.
    Britten: Albert Herring / Pears, Brannigan, Noble, Fisher, Britten, English Chamber Orchestra
    Label: Decca   Catalog: 001820402 Release Date: 04/09/2013   Number of Discs: 2
    Composer:  Benjamin Britten
    Performer:  Sylvia Fisher,  Johanna Peters,  April Cantelo,  John Noble  ... 
    Conductor:  Benjamin Britten
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  English Chamber Orchestra
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  • 2.
    Peter Pears - An Anniversary Tribute
    Label: Decca   Catalog: 001437802 Release Date: 06/22/2010   Number of Discs: 6
    Composer:  John Ireland,  Richard Rodney Bennett,  Frank Bridge,  Alan Bush  ... 
    Performer:  Benjamin Britten,  Peter Pears,  Joan Dickson,  Viola Tunnard  ... 
    Conductor:  Witold Lutoslawski,  Sir Colin Davis,  Benjamin Britten,  Eugen Jochum  ... 
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  Zorian Quartet,  London Sinfonietta,  Goldsborough Orchestra  ... 
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  • 3.
    Wagner: Der Ring Des Nibelungen / Kempe, Hotter, Nilsson, Windgassen, Vinay
    Label: Testament   Catalog: 1426 Release Date: 08/12/2008   Number of Discs: 13
    Composer:  Richard Wagner
    Performer:  Birgit Nilsson,  Hans Hotter,  Wolfgang Windgassen,  Peter Klein  ... 
    Conductor:  Rudolf Kempe
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  Royal Opera House Covent Garden Chorus,  Royal Opera House Covent Garden Orchestra
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    On sale! $137.98
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  • 4.
    Beethoven: Symphony No 9 / Beecham, Fisher, Et Al
    Label: Bbc Legends   Catalog: 4209 Release Date: 07/31/2007   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Ludwig van Beethoven
    Performer:  Sylvia Fisher,  Nan Merriman,  Richard Lewis,  Kim Borg
    Conductor:  Sir Thomas Beecham
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
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  • 5.
    Britten Conducts Britten Operas Vol 1
    Label: Decca   Catalog: 000321302 Release Date: 10/12/2004   Number of Discs: 8
    Composer:  Benjamin Britten
    Performer:  James Pease,  Raymond Nilsson,  David [bass baritone] Kelly,  Lauris Elms  ... 
    Conductor:  Benjamin Britten
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  Royal Opera House Covent Garden Chorus,  Royal Opera House Covent Garden Orchestra,  London Symphony Orchestra  ... 
    On sale! $63.98
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  • 6.
    Nielsen: Saul And David / Horenstein, Christoff, Et Al
    Label: Opera D'oro   Catalog: 1233 Release Date: 03/14/2000   Number of Discs: 2
    Composer:  Carl Nielsen
    Performer:  Elisabeth Söderström,  Boris Christoff,  Willy Hartmann,  Bodil Gobel  ... 
    Conductor:  Jascha Horenstein
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  Danish Radio Symphony Orchestra,  John Alldis Choir,  Danish Radio Chorus
    On sale! $18.98
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  • 7.
    Britten: Owen Wingrave / Britten, Pears, Luxon, Baker, Et Al
    Label: Decca   Catalog: 433200 Release Date: 08/10/1993   Number of Discs: 2
    Composer:  Benjamin Britten
    Performer:  Benjamin Luxon,  Nigel Douglas,  Heather Harper,  Dame Janet Baker  ... 
    Conductor:  Benjamin Britten
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  English Chamber Orchestra,  Wandsworth School Boys' Choir
    On sale! $31.98
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  • 8.
    Britten: Albert Herring / Pears, Fisher, Brannigan
    Label: Decca   Catalog: 421849 Release Date: 04/04/1989   Number of Discs: 2
    Composer:  Benjamin Britten
    Performer:  Sylvia Fisher,  Johanna Peters,  April Cantelo,  John Noble  ... 
    Conductor:  Benjamin Britten
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  English Chamber Orchestra
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