Dame Janet Baker

Essential Albums

  • Elgar: Cello Concerto, Op. 85 & Sea Pictures, Op. 37

About Dame Janet Baker

One of the iconic English voices of the mid/late 20th century, the mezzo Janet Baker set a standard for her time with singing of intensity, integrity, and dedication. Her translucent warmth of tone was unmistakable. And though she barely touched core operatic repertoire—no Verdi or Puccini—she excelled in concert and onstage with other music: mainly modern British and Baroque. Born in 1933 in Yorkshire, Baker was brought up on Northern choral societies and a no-nonsense work ethic that took her straight from school into early life as a bank clerk. But she studied singing privately and, bypassing music college, joined the Glyndebourne Chorus—which she later called “the education I never had.” From the late 1950s/early ’60s her career flourished, singing Handel, Purcell, Monteverdi, and Cavalli, but also Britten (with whose operas she was closely associated), and Berlioz (a celebrated Dido in Les Troyens). Always focused on homeland companies, from Covent Garden to the English Opera Group, her theatre work ended where it began: at Glyndebourne where she bowed out with a signature role, Gluck’s Orfeo, in 1982. On the concert platform her consummate and conscientious artistry brought her fame as a song recitalist and oratorio singer—in Mahler, Britten, and Elgar (whose Dream of Gerontius and Sea Pictures became legendary Baker recordings in the mid-1960s, conducted by John Barbirolli). With a quiet dignity, she announced her retirement from public singing at just 56 in 1982—still in superb voice but determined to stop before any suggestion of decline. Through the rest of that decade, she made infrequent appearances in song recital, and with the conductor Richard Hickox made a few final recordings in 1989-90.

Hatfield, South Yorkshire, England
August 21, 1933

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