Dame Sarah Connolly (1 November)
Photo: Christopher Pledger
Born in Co. Durham and educated at the Queen Margaret’s School in York and Clarendon College in Nottingham, Dame Sarah Connolly went on to London’s Royal College of Music where she studied piano with Patricia Carroll and singing with Margaret Kingsley, who was an essential influence ‘in helping me in my fear of facing an audience’. Another mentor was the College’s principal Sir David Willcocks, who smoothed the ‘difficult transition’ between being a pianist and singer. Vocal confidence was consolidated over the following five years as a member of the BBC Singers.
Her operatic career began in 1994 as Anina in Strauss’s Der Rosenkavalier, although her breakthrough role came in the title role of Handel’s Xerxes in the 1998 English National Opera production directed by Nicholas Hytner. Since then, as one of Britain’s most renowned and versatile mezzo-sopranos, Dame Sarah has graced operatic stages and recital platforms all over the world. Her range of repertoire, from baroque to contemporary, is immense: Mark Anthony Turnage wrote the role of Susie for her in his opera for ENO, The Silver Tassie, and her singing of the Elgar’s three prominent ‘roles’ for mezzo (Sea Pictures, The Music Makers and the Angel in The Dream of Gerontius) is rightly admired. ‘Sir Mark Elder encourages me to think of the Angel as male’, she writes. She is also a Prom favourite, having sung at the 2009 Last Night, and at the 2021 season in Berlioz’s Les nuits d’été.
Dame Sarah, a prominent opposer of Brexit, lives in Gloucestershire with her husband and daughter.