Margreta Elkins: Operatic mezzo noted for her work with Joan Sutherland both on stage and on record

The Australian operatic mezzo Margreta Elkins was tall and slender, with a beautiful warm-toned voice. She spent nearly 20 years in Britain during her long career, singing at Covent Garden and with other companies. A great friend of Joan Sutherland, whom she first met in 1949 at the Mobil Quest singing competition, Elkins appeared with the soprano many times, in London, America and Australia. They also made a number of fine opera recordings together. Their voices blended superbly, for instance in the two great duets for Norma and Adalgisa in Bellini's Norma, while Elkins's height (5ft 10in) was much appreciated by Sutherland when the mezzo played a man, as in Handel's Giulio Cesare, where Elkins took the title role to Sutherland's Cleopatra, or in his Alcina, where she sang Ruggiero to the soprano's Alcina.

Born Margaret Geater in Brisbane in 1930, she obtained a scholarship from Queensland Conservatory to study singing and drama. In 1949 she married Henry Elkins and Margreta Elkins became her professional name. After touring Queensland as Azucena in Verdi's Il trovatore, in 1952 she joined the National Opera Company of Australia, making her debut in Brisbane as Carmen in Bizet's opera. The company toured the eastern side of Australia and New Zealand; Elkins also sang Suzuki in Madame Butterfly and Siebel in Faust.

In 1955 she came second in the Mobil Quest competition and the prize money enabled her to travel to Britain. Engaged by the Dublin Grand Opera Society, she sang Carmen again, and Dorabella in Così fan tutte. She then joined the Carl Rosa Opera Company, with whom she toured as Rosina in The Barber of Seville, Nicklausse in The Tales of Hoffmann and Ascanio, another trouser role, in Berlioz's Benvenuto Cellini. This last opera was performed in London at Sadler's Wells Theatre and Elkins was highly praised.

Elkins made her Covent Garden debut in October 1958 as Waltraute in Die Walküre, during a cycle of Wagner's Ring, in which, incidentally, Sutherland sang a Rhine Maiden and the Woodbird. During her first season Elkins also sang Ulrica in Verdi's A Masked Ball and, on tour, Amneris in Aida, which was to become one of her finest interpretations.

She also sang the small role of Alisa, the heroine's companion in Lucia di Lammermoor, and this was perhaps her most important apearance of all; on 17 February 1959, the opening night of Franco Zeffirelli's new production of Donizetti's opera, Sutherland's staggering, magnificent performance as Lucia took the theatre by storm and anyone on stage was bathed in the glow of her success. Amid the torrents of praise lavished on the diva, Elkins received her due share.

Elkins spent three busy seasons at Covent Garden, where her roles included Ruggiero in Alcina, with Sutherland in the title role and, another of her favourite parts, Octavian in Der Rosenkavalier. Sent specially to Vienna to study the role with the baritone Alfred Jerger, the original Mandryka in Arabella and a great Richard Strauss specialist, she sounded echt Viennese and looked magnificent in her white and silver uniform in the second act. She also took part in the premiere of Michael Tippett's King Priam, as Helen of Troy.

In 1965 Elkins returned to Australia with the Sutherland-Williamson Opera Company, which toured for several months. She had been re-studying to become a soprano, and one of the roles she sang successfully on the tour was Tatiana in Tchaikovsky's Eugene Onegin. Earlier that year she made her American debut as Ruggiero, to Sutherland's Alcina, in the American Opera Society's concert performance of Handel's opera at Carnegie Hall, New York, receiving excellent reviews.

Back in London, her next major role was Adalgisa in Norma. She gave one performance, with Sutherland as Norma, at Covent Garden in December 1967; then they both sang the opera in Philadelphia in March 1968 and finally Elkins sang Adalgisa in New Orleans in May. Australia would not hear Elkins and Sutherland in Norma until 1979.

Elkins sang a greatly admired performance of The Composer in Strauss' Ariadne auf Naxos at the London Coliseum in 1969. As Donna Elvira in Don Giovanni the following year she was less successful. After Amneris for Welsh National Opera in 1971, Eduige in Rodelinda (with Sutherland) at the Holland Festival in 1973 and a superbly sung, but dramatically rather mild performance of the title role of Mayr's Medea in Corinto at the 1974 Wexford Festival, Elkins returned home.

She joined Australian Opera in 1976, and was Maffio Orsini in Donizetti's Lucrezia Borgia with Sutherland, in which both singers were on top form; Ruggiero in a new production of Alcina by Robert Helpmann and a voluptuous Dalila in Saint-Saëns' Samson et Dalila. In 1983 Elkins, perhaps unwisely, sang Sieglinde in Die Walküre; she herself adored the role. After a quick trip to London in June 1985 for an amazing Amneris for ENO, she sang the same role in Brisbane with equal success.

Some 40 years since her first Azucena in Brisbane, she sang the Gypsy there in 1990 for Queensland Lyric Opera and made a final appearance as Mamma Lucia in Cavalleria rusticana in 2002. Meanwhile she had been teaching at Queensland Lyric Opera in Brisbane for many years.

Elizabeth Forbes

Margaret Ann Enid Geater (Margreta Elkins), operatic singer: born Brisbane 15 October 1930; married 1949 Henry Elkins (one daughter); died Brisbane 1 April 2009.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Office and Customer Services Manager

£18000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This small but very busy (and f...

Recruitment Genius: Portfolio Administrator

£14000 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company has become known a...

Recruitment Genius: Mechanical and Electrical Engineer - Midlands

£35000 - £38000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This leading provider of refrig...

Recruitment Genius: Sales / Account Manager

£22000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales / Account Manager is re...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable
Living with Alzheimer's: What is it really like to be diagnosed with early-onset dementia?

What is it like to live with Alzheimer's?

Depicting early-onset Alzheimer's, the film 'Still Alice' had a profound effect on Joy Watson, who lives with the illness. She tells Kate Hilpern how she's coped with the diagnosis
The Internet of Things: Meet the British salesman who gave real-world items a virtual life

Setting in motion the Internet of Things

British salesman Kevin Ashton gave real-world items a virtual life
Election 2015: Latest polling reveals Tories and Labour on course to win the same number of seats - with the SNP holding the balance of power

Election 2015: A dead heat between Mr Bean and Dick Dastardly!

Lord Ashcroft reveals latest polling – and which character voters associate with each leader
Audiences queue up for 'true stories told live' as cult competition The Moth goes global

Cult competition The Moth goes global

The non-profit 'slam storytelling' competition was founded in 1997 by the novelist George Dawes Green and has seen Malcolm Gladwell, Salman Rushdie and Molly Ringwald all take their turn at the mic
Pakistani women come out fighting: A hard-hitting play focuses on female Muslim boxers

Pakistani women come out fighting

Hard-hitting new play 'No Guts, No Heart, No Glory' focuses on female Muslim boxers
Leonora Carrington transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star

Surreal deal: Leonora Carrington

The artist transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star
LGBT History Month: Pupils discuss topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage

Education: LGBT History Month

Pupils have been discussing topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage
11 best gel eyeliners

Go bold this season: 11 best gel eyeliners

Use an ink pot eyeliner to go bold on the eyes with this season's feline flicked winged liner
Cricket World Cup 2015: Tournament runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

Cricket World Cup runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

The tournament has reached its halfway mark and scores of 300 and amazing catches abound. One thing never changes, though – everyone loves beating England
Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Heptathlete ready to jump at first major title

Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Ready to jump at first major title

After her 2014 was ruined by injury, 21-year-old Briton is leading pentathlete going into this week’s European Indoors. Now she intends to turn form into gold
Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot