Opera lovers pay their last respects to leading British diva

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The Independent Online

More than 1,000 friends, family and music lovers gathered at Wells Cathedral in Somerset yesterday for the funeral of the opera singer Susan Chilcott, who died this month of breast cancer, aged 40.

David Sigall, her husband and agent, described his wife as an "extraordinary" person who "exuded presence and charisma". He told mourners: "She was genuine, trusting, funny ... and utterly lovable,"

Hughie Chilcott, the soprano's four-year-old son from another relationship, attended the service accompanied by his godfather and guardian-to-be Iain Burnside, the radio presenter and pianist. Mourners - who included her close friend Jonathan Dimbleby, the television presenter - were told that the boy was the "light of her life". The service was followed by a private cremation.

Ms Chilcott received glowing reviews on her Royal Opera House debut last June as Lisa in Tchaikovsky's Queen of Spades opposite Placido Domingo. Critics hailed her performance as "glorious", "radiant" and "outstanding". After making her operatic debut with Scottish Opera, she appeared at Glyndebourne and sang with the English National Opera, the Welsh National Opera and Opera North. Her first foreign appearance was at the Theatre Royal de la Monnaie in Brussels in 1994, and she went on to perform all over Europe.

She made headlines when a candle set her dress alight during a performance and she calmly carried on singing after staff had put out the flames.

Ms Chilcott was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2000 and underwent surgery followed by chemotherapy. In the midst of her treatment she sang with the BBC Symphony Orchestra at the Barbican, describing the performance as "probably the most important in my career".

She was booked to appear at the Royal Opera House next year and with the Welsh National Opera in 2005.

Her final public appearance was at a Shakespeare evening in Brussels three months ago with the actress Fiona Shaw.