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Heather Begg

Heather Begg (Dame)

(1 December 1932 – 12 May 2009)

Click here for recordings and performances by Heather Begg.

Heather Begg was a New Zealand-born operatic mezzo-soprano.

She spent most of her career between the UK and Australia.


Her roles included Carmen, Amneris in Verdi's Aida and in lighter operas such as The Gondoliers.

During her long career she sang alongside Dame Joan Sutherland, Luciano Pavarotti, Beverly Sills, Dame Kiri Te Kanawa, Plácido Domingo, Montserrat Caballé, Dame Janet Baker, José Carreras, Dame Malvina Major, and Sir Donald McIntyre- to name just a few.

She famously recorded the Flower Duet from Lakme with Glenys Fowles.

As a young singer she studied with Sister Mary Leo, the famous NZ teacher who also coached Malvina Major and Kiri Te Kanawa.

Later she won the Sun Aria competition and was engaged with the National Opera of Australia but left to return to the UK and sing with the Carl Rosa Opera Company, the New Opera Company, the Royal Opera and the English Opera Group in a wide variety of roles.

In 1963 she played the Goddess Juno in Offenbach's Orpheus in the Underworld, where she discovered she had a talent for comic opera.

She returned to New Zealand in 1964 to sing with the New Zealand Opera Company until 1966, while making guest appearances at Bordeaux, Chicago and elsewhere.

In 1969 she became principal resident mezzo-soprano at the Royal Opera, Covent Garden and stayed there for 10 years, singing with fellow New Zealander Kiri Te Kanawa and a host of other notable singers playing roles like Flora in La Traviata, Mary in The Flying Dutchman, Emilia in Otello, Mamma Lucia in Cavalleria Rusticana, Madame Larina in Eugene Onegin, the Grandmother in Jenůfa, Marthe in Faust, Mrs Sedley in Peter Grimes, Teresa in La Sonnambula, Anna in Les Troyens, and Marina Mnishek in Boris Godunov.

In 1975 she played Marcellina in the Chicago Lyric Opera's production of The Marriage of Figaro, and then featured in the same role in Jean-Pierre Ponnelle's film of the work, alongside Mirella Freni as Susanna and Hermann Prey as Figaro.

After accepting an invitation from Richard Bonynge to join the Australian Opera, she returned to Australia where she stayed until she retired playing roles such as Carmen, Amneris, Marina and the Grandmother in Jenufa.

Although wrestling with leukaemia in 2006 she played her final performance still singing with the quality and power she had become famous for.

She died on 12 May 2009 aged 76. A month before her death the NZ Government restored the titled honours list and she was the first "Dame" appointed so that she would recieve it before she passed away.

Her colleagues remember her as a dignified, talented and gracious artist who always delivered quality performances- who was totally devoted to her music and to opera.

Click here for recordings and performances by Heather Begg.

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