Obituary: Ruth Packer

Dramatic soprano

RUTH PACKER was a dramatic soprano of that generation of singers whose careers suffered from the six-year hiatus of the Second World War. She appeared at Covent Garden in Sir Thomas Beecham's Grand Opera Season in May and June 1939, singing Helmwige in Die Walkure (part of a Ring cycle), and was engaged to sing Gutrune in Gotterdammerung the following season - which of course never took place.

She spent the war years touring first with Sadler's Wells Opera (later the English National Opera) and then the Carl Rosa Opera Company. In the early 1950s she sang with the recently formed Welsh National Opera.

Ruth Packer was born in London in 1910. She studied at the Royal Academy of Music and then in Leipzig with Elena Gerhardt, in whose house she lived for several months. Finally she studied in Vienna. After it became clear that Covent Garden would perform no more opera until the war was over, she joined Sadler's Wells Opera, for whom she sang Rosalinde in Die Fledermaus and the title role of Madame Butterfly. One of the chief singers at Sadler's Wells at that time was the Welsh tenor Tudor Davies, whom Packer married as her first husband. She and Davies both left the company in 1941 and joined the Carl Rosa.

Her roles for the Carl Rosa included Leonora in Il trovatore, Santuzza in Cavalleria rusticana, Elisabeth in Tannhauser and Donna Anna in Don Giovanni, as well as Musetta in La Boheme and the title role of Tosca. A true dramatic soprano, she was especially good in parts like Leonora and Tosca, where her temperament was in tune with the character.

In 1951 a new opera by George Lloyd, John Socman, was produced to celebrate the Festival of Britain. The premiere was on 15 May, and Packer sang Sybil, while Davies played Brother Tom, a comic friar, to riotous effect. The opera was generally well received, but soon slipped out of the Carl Rosa repertory.

Meanwhile the Welsh National Opera was inaugurated in 1946, with Davies singing Canio in Pagliacci and the title role of Faust. In 1952 Packer sang Abigail in a new production of Verdi's Nabucco; the amateur chorus in particular scored a triumph. She sang twice more for WNO, as Violetta in a revival of La traviata in 1953, and as Elena in Verdi's Sicilian Vespers in 1954, another new production that was a great success.

Packer obtained a new and effective role in 1957, when she sang Madame Defarge in the world stage premiere of Arthur Benjamin's Dickens-based opera A Tale of Two Cities, performed by the New Opera Company at Sadler's Wells Theatre in a fine production directed by Anthony Besch.

After she retired from the opera stage, Ruth Packer taught singing, first at the Royal College of Music and then privately. She was an excellent if sometimes eccentric teacher (she liked to begin her lessons at 8.30 in the morning) and her pupils included Gwynneth Jones, Anne Evans, Catherine Wilson, Katherine Pring and Helen Field.

Though Packer made no commercial records, she sang the Overseer in Richard Strauss's Elektra, conducted by Beecham for the BBC in October 1947 and recordings of this performance exist. The mouth-watering cast included Erna Schluter, Ljuba Wellitsch, Elisabeth Hongen and Paul Schoeffler.

She spent the final years of her life in the Algarve.

Ruth Packer, opera singer and teacher: born London 22 October 1910; married first Tudor Davies (died 1958), second Major Ynyr Probert (deceased); died Sao Bras de Alportel, Portugal 12 January 2005.

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