MARY JARRED possessed an ample, rich-toned contralto voice of a kind that is now virtually extinct. Magnificent in Bach's St Matthew Passion and in his cantatas, a frequent performer in the Three Choirs and other Festivals, she also sang certain operatic roles, in particular Erda in Wagner's Der Ring des Nibelungen, with great effect, and was noted for her ability to interpret 20th-century music.
Born in Brotton, Yorkshire, in 1899, Jarred studied at the Royal College of Music. In 1929 she sang minor roles in the Grand Opera Season at Covent Garden. The same year she was engaged at the Stadtische Oper in Hamburg, where she remained for three seasons, singing a variety of roles, including the Nurse in Die Frau ohne Schatten in the Hamburg premiere of Strauss's opera. Back in London in 1933 she sang Orpheus in Gluck's Orpheus and Eurydice for Sadler's Wells Opera, receiving great praise for her stylish performance.
At Covent Garden she sang in the Grand Opera Season every year from 1933 until 1939, when the theatre closed owing to the outbreak of war. The first year Jarred took part in two Ring cycles, singing Erda in Rheingold and Siegfried in the first, and Fricka in Die Walkure in the second. Later she sang the Queen in Schwanda the Bagpiper (a role she had previously sung in Hamburg) and Mary in Der fliegende Hollander, but Erda remained her most admired role. In 1934 she sang Margret in Wozzeck for the BBC, in the first British broadcast performance of Berg's opera, conducted by Sir Adrian Boult. In 1938 she took part in the first performance of Vaughan Williams's Serenade to Music, a setting for 16 specially chosen solo voices of Lorenzo's speech 'How sweet the moonlight sleeps upon this bank]' from The Merchant of Venice. Dedicated to Sir Henry Wood and conducted by him at his Jubilee Concert on 5 October, this superb performance of a ravishing piece of music, sung by the artists who had most frequently collaborated with the conductor, exists in a fine recording.
During and immediately after the Second World War Jarred pursued her career in recital and in concert with notable success. She returned to opera in 1953, when she sang Mother Goose, the brothel keeper, in the British stage premiere of Stravinsky's The Rake's Progress presented by Glyndebourne at the Edinburgh Festival. Her splendidly sung and strongly acted performance of this role, unsurpassed by any British singer in the 40 years since then, was repeated at Glyndebourne in 1954 and 1955. After her retirement she taught, at first privately, then as a professor at the Royal Academy of Music, in London.