Sheila Armstrong (31 October)
This much-loved artist’s career encompassed opera, oratorio and the concert platform, all widely represented by a comprehensive discography. Indeed, during the 1970s and 1980s, it seemed that there was scarcely an EMI recording of a core-repertoire choral work with soloists on which she didn’t feature. She is the solo soprano on – among many others - Carlo Maria Giulini’s recording of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, Daniel Barenboim’s of the Mozart Requiem, Sir Adrian Boult’s of Vaughan Williams’ Dona nobis pacem and André Previn’s of Britten’s A Spring Symphony and Rachmaninov’s The Bells.
Born in Northumberland, she was educated at the Royal Academy of music, where she was taught by Flora Nielsen, and where, in 1965, she won the Kathleen Ferrier Memorial Scholarship. Her operatic debut, as Despina at Sadlers Wells, followed later that year. She was a frequent visitor to Glyndebourne from 1966 and to the Royal Opera House from 1973. Although much admired for her Mozart, Rossini and Donizetti, she was equally at home in leading roles in Fidelio and Dido and Aeneas. Her 1960s recording on Saga of lieder by Strauss, Brahms and Wolf and one (MWM Records) with fellow Tynesider Sir Thomas Allen, ‘Songs from Northumbria’, are still prized by collectors.
Since retiring from performing in 1993, she has divided her time between serving as a trustee of the Kathleen Ferrier award Fund, collecting antique keys (‘I love their suggestion of a story, of the mystery of their lives’), flower arranging for festivals and weddings – and looking after her three-acre garden, part of which she has cultivated for wildlife (‘it’s visited by twenty-five species of bird, there’s a grass snake, and at the moment the pond has four baby newts and many tadpoles…’).