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Rita Hunter, the soprano who started her professional life as a dancer in Liverpool clubs and ended it as one of the most phenomenal Wagnerian and Italian opera singers this country has produced, has died, aged 67.
Rita Hunter shone in the Wagnerian role of the goddess Brunnhilde, and was often compared with the famous Brunnhilde Birgit Nilsson. But Wagner was not Ms Hunter’s only speciality. She was triumphant in several Verdi roles, including Leonora in Il Trovatore, Elisabeth in Con Carlos and Amelia in A Masked Ball. She also took the New York Met by storm in the challenging title role in Bellini’s Norma.
Rita Hunter was larger than life. Not only was her voice huge, but her physique also presented several challenges as far as performances were concerned. Singing at Chichester Cathedral in 1993, she decided to have a dress made from Union flags – but it proved impossible to find enough of them. At the Henley Festival, which takes place on the riverside site of the famous Henley Regatta, organisers had to procure a tractor to transport Ms Hunter in all her sequined glory through the fields to the festival’s “floating stage”.
In fact her size was a problem in the earlier years of her career – often preventing companies from casting her in more romantic roles and confining her to character roles.
Born at Wallasey, in Cheshire, on August 15th 1933, Rita Hunter made her first stage appearance at the age of eight and sang Goldilocks in pantomime aged 15. She was then engaged as a dancer to play the tough Liverpool clubs, where she was often asked to sing. After undertaking singing lessons, she began performing in operettas, and her professional career was launched in London when she joined the Sadler’s Wells Chorus on her 21st birthday.
Rita Hunter’s work is preserved in many recordings, including the English National Opera’s complete recording of Wagner’s Ring, which is about to be reissued.
Tue May 1 2001 (11:24:23 AM)