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Janet Baker

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Biography

Dame Janet Baker (born August 21, 1933) is an English mezzo-soprano best known as an opera, concert, and lieder singer. She was particularly closely associated with baroque and early Italian opera and the works of Benjamin Britten. During her career, which spanned from the 1950s to the 1980s, she was considered an outstanding singing actress and widely admired for her dramatic intensity, perhaps best represented in her famous portrayal as Dido, the tragic heroine of Hector Berlioz’s magnum opus ‘Les Troyens’. As a concert performer, Baker was noted for her interpretations of Gustav Mahler and Edgar Elgar.

Early life:
Baker was born in Hatfield, South Yorkshire. Her father was an engineer who sang in a male voice choir. Her brother Peter died when she was ten. She attended York College for Girls and then Wintringham Girls’ Grammar School in Grimsby. In her early years she worked in a bank, transferring to London in 1953 where she trained with Meriel St Clair and Helene Isepp.

Debut:
In 1956, she made her stage debut with the Oxford University Opera Club as Miss Róza in Smetana’s The Secret. That year, she also made her debut at Glyndebourne. In 1959, she sang Eduige in the Handel Opera Society’s Rodelinda; other Handel roles included Ariodante (1964), of which she later made an outstanding recording with Raymond Leppard, and Orlando (1966), which she sang at the Barber Institute, Birmingham.

Opera:
With the English Opera Group at Aldeburgh, Baker sang Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas in 1962, Polly (Benjamin Britten’s version of The Beggar’s Opera) and Lucretia (in Britten’s The Rape of Lucretia).

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