Bernadette Greevy: Vibrant-voiced mezzo-soprano admired for her interpretations of the songs of Mahler
Saturday 11 October 2008
The mezzo-soprano Bernadette Greevy was admired above all as an interpreter of Mahler's songs, especially those with orchestral accompaniment. She had a warm, vibrant, expressive voice and a handsome presence, which should have made her a very fine opera singer, but for a lack of acting ability. However, in roles where not much action was required, such as those in Handel's operas, she could be equally magnificent on stage as on the concert platform.
Greevy was born in Clontarf, Dublin, in 1940. Educated at a convent school, she studied singing with Jean Nolan in Dublin and at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London with Helen Isepp. She made her operatic début in 1958 in Dublin as Siebel in Gounod's Faust. She sang another trouser role at the Wexford Festival in 1962, Beppe in Mascagni's Amico Fritz.
This was the start of a long and fruitful association with Wexford, during which she sang Duchess Federica (causing a sensation with two huge Irish wolfhounds) in Verdi's Luisa Miller (1970); the title role of Massenet's Herodias (1977) which, vocally at least, was one of her finest roles; a magnificent Medoro in Handel's Orlando (1980); Costanza in Haydn's Isola disabitata (1982), in which her character spends 13 years on a desert island; and finally the title role of Ariodante (1985), another excellent Handel performance.
Greevy's other operatic appearances included Anna, the sister of Dido in Berlioz' The Trojans for Scottish Opera (1969); Maddalena in Verdi's Rigoletto for Welsh National Opera (1972); Laura in the Weber/Mahler Die drei Pintos at the Edinburgh Festival (1976); and two roles that she sang with the Dublin Grand Opera Society, Charlotte in Massenet's Werther (1977) and Dalila in Saint-Saëns' Sansom et Dalila. She made her Covent Garden début in 1982 as Geneviève in Debussy's Pelléas et Mélisande and sang the title role of Britten's The Rape of Lucretia at Barcelona in 1990. Greevy's repertory also included Gluck's Orfeo, Purcell's Dido and two Verdi roles, Azucena in Il trovatore and Princess Eboli in Don Carlos.
Meanwhile she led a very active concert and recital life. As well as Elgar's Dream of Gerontius and Handel's Messiah, Greevy sang Brahms's Four Serious Songs and the Mahler orchestral song-cycles for which she was renowned. In 1966 she sang Kindertotenlieder in London, where she used to sing Das Lied von der Erde ("The Song of the Earth") during performances of Kenneth MacMillan's ballet at Covent Garden. In the 1990s she visited Buenos Aires four times to sing all of Mahler's vocal works with orchestra at the Teatro Colon. She recorded Kindertotenlieder and the Ruckert Songs with the National Symphony Orchestra of Ireland.
Greevy was the founder and artistic director of the Anna Livia Dublin International Opera Festival, which aims to promote opera among young people. She gave master classes at home and abroad. She received many honours, including an honorary doctorate of music from Trinity College, Dublin and a Jacob's Award – the Irish broadcasting awards – in 1978 for her performance of Mahler on radio.
Bernadette Greevy, concert and opera singer: born Dublin 3 July 1940; married Peter Tattan (died 1983; one son); died Dublin 26 September 2008.
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