Una Hale

Warm-toned soprano

Una Hale, opera singer: born Adelaide, South Australia 18 November 1922; married 1960 Martin Carr (two sons); died Bath, Somerset 4 March 2005.

The Australian soprano Una Hale was a member of the Covent Garden Opera Company (as the Royal Opera was then called) for seven seasons from 1954/55. During that time she sang some 15 major roles, and many minor ones. The singers were worked hard in those days, and in her second season Hale gave 56 performances.

Her strong, warm-toned voice and winning personality meant that she excelled in strong, warm-hearted characters such as Micaela in Carmen, Elisabeth in Tannhäuser, and Ellen Orford in Peter Grimes, but she was also good as frailer heroines like Mimi in La Bohème, Antonia in The Tales of Hoffmann and Liù in Turandot. Perhaps her finest role at Covent Garden was the Marschallin in Der Rosenkavalier.

Una Hale was born in Adelaide in 1922, the daughter of a clergyman. She studied singing with Hilda Gill at the Elder Conservatorium at Adelaide University. In 1946 she won the South Australia ABC Concerto and Vocal Competition in Adelaide. The family moved to London, and Hale was awarded a two-year scholarship at the Royal College of Music. She joined the Carl Rosa Opera Company and was soon singing leading roles.

She made her Covent Garden début during the 1953/54 season as a guest, singing Micaela, and became a member of the company the following season, in proliferating roles. In her second season she sang Elisabeth in Tannhäuser and added two of her most congenial roles to her Covent Garden repertory, the slave girl Liù in Turandot and the Countess Almaviva in The Marriage of Figaro. Hale had studied the Countess with the great German soprano Tiana Lemnitz in Berlin, and her performance was much admired. Over the next two seasons, Hale was a bewitching Eva in Die Meistersinger, and a quietly authoritative Madame Lidoine, the Second Prioress, in Poulenc's Dialogues des Carmélites. She also sang a sympathetic Ellen Orford in Peter Grimes, one of the characters that best suited her own temperament.

In the 1958/59 season Hale took on her biggest challenge, the Marschallin in Der Rosenkavalier. The music of Richard Strauss suited her voice perfectly, and she now had enough experience to act the great lady with complete naturalness. She repeated the role during her last season (1960/61) at Covent Garden.

Hale married Martin Carr, stage director of the Royal Ballet, in 1960. He, together with their young son, accompanied her to Australia in 1962, the first time she had returned there. Hale appeared with the Australian Elizabethan Trust Opera in Melbourne, singing the title role of Ariadne auf Naxos. Once more Strauss provided her with a vocal line that fitted her voice like a glove.

Returning to the UK, Hale sang Ellen Orford in a new production of Peter Grimes directed by Basil Coleman for Sadler's Wells Opera (now English National Opera). The production opened in April 1963 in Oxford, arriving at Sadler's Wells Theatre on 16 October. It was a memorable night in the theatre where the opera had been premiered 18 years before. Britten was in the audience, Ronald Dowd, who sang Grimes, and Una Hale were in magnificent form. The audience cheered and cheered.

Elizabeth Forbes

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