Opera Scotland

Noreen Berry Suggest updates

Born Port Elizabeth, 15 April 1931.

Died Harrow, 7 August 2012.

South African (later British) mezzo-soprano.

Noreen Berry had a long career with British opera organizations, and was perhaps particularly associated with Covent Garden, singing a varied range of parts. She also worked at Glyndebourne and with Sadler's Wells/ENO and with the Welsh National and Scottish Opera companies.

She studied music in Cape Town, initially as a pianist. The quality of her voice became clear to Erik Chisholm, who, having been a vital force in Scottish musical life in the thirties, was now doing something similar in South Africa. He was Professor of Music at the University of Cape Town, and put on operatic performances which toured South Africa and Rhodesia with Berry as a leading member of the company.

She moved to Britain for further training in 1953, and lived in the UK for the rest of her life. Her British stage debut, in 1954, was as Berta at Glyndebourne, This was followed by Dryad in Ariadne. Later that year she was JeĹžibaba in a rare performance of Rusalka in the Royal Festival Hall, conducted by Rafael Kubelik.

Her roles at Covent Garden included Emilia in Otello (a new production conducted by Kubelik), Third Lady, Mrs Sedley in Peter Grimes, Hecuba in The Trojans, Adelaide in Arabella, Hippolyta in A Midsummer Night's Dream, and Filippyevna. She created the Nurse in King Priam (Tippett 1962) at Coventry Cathedral.

Her many parts with Welsh National included, most notably, Countess Geschwitz in the 1972 staging of Lulu - the first time a British company had mounted the work.

She did not appear much in Scotland, coming to the Edinburgh Festival with Glyndebourne, the Royal Opera and finally with Scottish Opera. She returned to Scottish Opera for further performances of Onegin and a revival of Peter Grimes.

Roles in Scotland

Dryad a nymph
Ariadne on Naxos 1954
Hippolyta Queen of the Amazons
Midsummer Night's Dream 1961
Filipyevna nurse to the sisters
Eugene Onegin 1979
Eugene Onegin 1980
Eugene Onegin 1981
Mrs 'Nabob' Sedley widow of an East India Company factor
Peter Grimes 1980

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