Obituary: Victoria Sladen

THE BRITISH soprano Victoria Sladen, who sang with Sadler's Wells Opera (now English National Opera) and Covent Garden Opera (now the Royal Opera) in the 1940s and 1950s, excelled in roles such as Tosca, in which her outstanding good looks as well as her fine voice were displayed to best advantage.

She studied in London at Trinity College of Music, and in Berlin. A comparative latecomer to opera, owing to the outbreak of the Second World War which closed many theatres in its early stages, she made her debut aged 32 as Giulietta in The Tales of Hoffmann at the Strand Theatre in 1942. The Hoffmann was the tenor Henry Wendon, in alternation with Peter Pears, who was also making his operatic debut.

The following year Sladen joined the Sadler's Wells Opera. Most of the company's time was spent in touring, with occasional visits to the New Theatre in London, until they were able to return to Sadler's Wells in 1945. During the four years Sladen was a member of the company, she sang Felicia in Wolf-Ferrari's School for Fathers, Marenka in Smetana's Bartered Bride, and several Puccini heroines, Lauretta in Gianni Schicchi, Giorgetta in Il tabarro, Mimi, Butterfly and Tosca. Her performance of Marenka, high-spirited and charming, was particularly enjoyable, while among the Puccini ladies I remember Giorgetta with special pleasure. In 1945 she visited Dublin and Belfast, to sing Marguerite in Faust.

In 1947 Sladen joined the newly formed Covent Garden Company, making her debut as Pamina in The Magic Flute. Next she appeared as Octavian in Der Rosenkavalier, Eva in The Mastersingers of Nuremberg (with Hans Hotter singing Hans Sachs, in English) and Micaela in Carmen. Of these roles, Eva probably suited her best. She also sang one performance of Butterfly, being called upon at very short notice when Elisabeth Schwarzkopf was taken ill, and added to her gallery of Puccini roles with Musetta in La Boheme.

During this period Sladen took part in several Promenade Concerts, singing in Mendelssohn's Elijah and the Verdi Requiem. She sang in the British premiere of Frank Martin's oratorio, Le Vin herbe, in concert at the Central Hall, Westminster (1948) and the world premiere of Roberto Gerhard's opera The Duenna on BBC Radio (1949). Other broadcasts she made included Lisa in Tchaikovsky's Queen of Spades.

Sladen returned to Sadler's Wells as a guest, singing Amelia in Verdi's Simon Boccanegra and Donna Anna in Don Giovanni (1949), both of them congenial roles. She also gave 14 performances of Tosca (1950-52), which she sang at Covent Garden as well during that period.

A new departure was the title role of Gilbert and Sullivan's Princess Ida, which she sang with the D'Oyly Carte company at the Savoy Theatre in 1954. The following year she took part in the BBC Radio performance (the British premiere) of Wolf- Ferrari's opera Sly. She sang Helmwige in Die Walkure for Covent Garden on tour in 1956, after which she retired into private life.

Victoria May Schlageter (Victoria Sladen), soprano: born London 24 May 1910; married Lawrence Richmond; died 13 September 1999.

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