Adèle Leigh

Covent Garden soprano turned star of the Vienna Volksoper
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The Independent Online

Marjorie Eileen Doris Courtenay-Latimer, museum curator: born East London, South Africa 24 February 1907; Curator, then Director, East London Museum, Cape Province 1931-73; died East London 10 May 2004.

The London-born lyric soprano Adèle Leigh was a member of the newly formed Covent Garden Opera Company for a decade from 1948.

Marjorie Eileen Doris Courtenay-Latimer, museum curator: born East London, South Africa 24 February 1907; Curator, then Director, East London Museum, Cape Province 1931-73; died East London 10 May 2004.

The London-born lyric soprano Adèle Leigh was a member of the newly formed Covent Garden Opera Company for a decade from 1948.

She was very pretty and had a charming voice, so she was highly successful in roles such as Oscar in A Masked Ball, Micaela in Carmen, Massenet's Manon, and Sophie in Der Rosenkavalier. Then, in the 1960s, she moved to Vienna and became a star of the Volksoper, singing a repertory mainly, though not exclusively, of operetta. She retired after her second marriage, to Kurt Enderl, a diplomat who became Austrian ambassador in London.

Leigh's original ambition was to be an actress, and she studied for a while at Rada, before deciding to become a singer instead. She attended the Juilliard School in New York, where her teacher was Julius Gutmann, and also studied with Dame Maggie Teyte. In 1948 she joined the Covent Garden Opera Company (as it then was), making her début as Xenia in Boris Godunov. For the first year she sang small roles - then in 1949 she scored her first great success, as Cherubino in The Marriage of Figaro.

During the next few seasons Leigh sang a variety of interesting roles. She took over as Madeleine in Arthur Bliss's The Olympians, which had had its premiere in 1949. She sang Pamina in The Magic Flute, Susanna in The Marriage of Figaro and Sophie in Der Rosenkavalier, all parts to which she was well suited, vocally and dramatically. She was a delightful Oscar in A Masked Ball, an excellent Marzelline in Fidelio and a spirited Micaela in Carmen, while her Annchen in Weber's Der Freischütz was found enchanting by everyone. In 1953 she took part, as Amor, in the two performances of Gluck's Orpheus and Eurydice that marked the tragic end of Kathleen Ferrier's short career.

In February 1955 Leigh created Bella in Michael Tippett's The Midsummer Marriage, a role that fitted her voice and personality like the proverbial glove. Massenet's Manon, another very congenial role, followed the same year, as well as a mellifluous Woodbird in Siegfried. At one of the two performances, the Wanderer was sung by the American bass- baritone James Pease, who was Leigh's first husband. Leigh brought the house down as Esmeralda, the circus artiste in The Bartered Bride, but Liù in Turandot was slightly beyond her vocal strength. However, the following season she had a triumph in another Puccini opera, as Musetta in La Bohème.

Musetta was the role of her American début at Boston in 1959; the following year she sang Sophie in Massenet's Werther at the New York City Opera, where she also took on Octavian in Der Rosenkavalier for the first time, with her husband James Pease as Baron Ochs.

In 1961 Leigh returned to Covent Garden to sing Octavian, both on tour and in London. Though she was convincing in the part and looked gorgeous, especially in the Presentation of the Silver Rose, she was not as moving as she had been earlier in her career as Sophie. Then in 1963 she moved to Vienna and found her true métier at the Volksoper.

Among the roles that Leigh sang at the Volksoper was Hanna Glawari, the title role of Lehár's The Merry Widow; that was a pretty brave thing to do in the home of Viennese operetta, and she was greatly applauded for her courage. She also sang the title role of Countess Maritza by Emmerich Kalman, and Lisa in Lehár's The Land of Smiles. At one performance of The Land of Smiles, in 1967, the famous Danish tenor Helge Roswaenge, who sang Sou-Chong, was celebrating his 70th birthday, and was made to repeat "You are my heart's delight" six times.

Leigh retired in 1971, but she made a return to the operetta stage in 1974, when she sang Metella in Offenbach's La Vie parisienne with Phoenix Opera at the Brighton Festival, and later in London at Sadler's Wells Theatre. This was a careful and plucky attempt at a difficult role for which she no longer had the voice nor the dramatic presence.

In 1987 she appeared in a London production of Stephen Sondheim's Follies.

<>bElizabeth Forbes



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