Opera Scotland

Joan Cross Suggest updates

Born London, 7 September 1900.

Died Aldeburgh, 12 December 1993.

English soprano, director, administrator and teacher.

Joan Cross will always be remembered for the fact that she created roles in five Britten operas which were tailored to her particular voice. During the war, she became director of the Sadler's Wells company, and later established the Opera School, which played a vital role in the training of young singers.

She was educated at St Paul's Girls' School in London, where the music teacher was Gustav Holst. At Trinity College of Music, she studied violin and voice. In 1924 she was recruited by Lilian Baylis to join the chorus of her opera company based at the Old Vic. By the time that Vic-Wells organisation divided, with the drama company staying at the Old Vic and the opera company moving to Sadler's Wells in 1931, she was a leading soprano, remaining a principal until 1946. Her early solo roles included First Lady and Cherubino, but her voice developed into a securely schooled lyric soprano, singing Countess Almaviva, Donna Anna, the Marschallin, Elisabeth, Elsa, Sieglinde, Butterfly and Marguerite. She also appeared in the first British productions of Tsar Saltan and The Snow Maiden.

Between 1941 and 1945 Cross was director of the Sadler's Wells company. For most of this period the organisation was on tour in the provinces, but she was still in charge when they returned to their home theatre at the end of the war. She then joined the English Opera Group. In 1948 she began teaching as director of the Opera School, which developed into the London Opera Centre.

She created the role of Lady Macbeth in Lawrance Collingwood's Macbeth (1934), and the parts Britten wrote for her were Ellen Orford (Peter Grimes 1945), Female Chorus (The Rape of Lucretia 1946), Lady Billows (Albert Herring 1947), Queen Elizabeth (Gloriana 1953), and Mrs Grose (The Turn of the Screw 1954). Cross retired from singing in 1955.

Cross was director of Phoenix Opera for a number of years, and also directed productions at Sadler's Wells, the Royal Opera House, English Opera Group, Netherlands Opera, Toronto Opera and Norwegian Opera, as well as Scottish Opera.

Revised 14 April 2012.

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