Several of the photos below are scans of photos published in different magazines. Others are digital copies of photos I own. If you want to use one of the latter on your own web site, please contact me first (email@example.com).
June, 2002: I have embarked on research for a biography of Dame Eva Turner and would be delighted to hear from anyone who knew her or who has information or documents relating to her life.
I majored in music at Brandeis University, then went to graduate school in musicology for two years (SUNY Stony Brook). Opera didn't interest me much then, other than the great Mozart operas, though a grad school class on Verdi's Simon Boccanegra made me a fan of that rarely-heard work. And I didn't have a stereo system of my own between 1982 and 1992. (I still have a lot of vinyl, including around 90 complete opera sets acquired for nothing or next to nothing in the last couple of years.)
In 1994, I ventured into the world of historical recordings when I bought a Nimbus CD called Great Singers in Mozart, featuring recordings made from 1904 to the late 1930s. Not long after that, I bought my then-housemate a Nimbus compilation called Divas. On this CD was a performance of "Ritorna vincitor!" (from Verdi's Aida) by a soprano I'd never heard of, Eva Turner.
Every time either D. or I played this CD, I'd come running from wherever I was in the house to hear that aria. Eventually, it dawned on me that perhaps the singer had made some other recordings. I duly sent away for an embarassing number of Nimbus CDs, some of them recital disks by an individual singer, some of them assemblages of singers from a particular era or location. I began haunting the opera bins at Tower Records, looking through the historical recordings. A few more cuts by Turner materialized, on Nimbus and on Pearl, and I began to consult the reference books to find out more about this mystery singer.
First order of business: was she still alive? Her recordings were old, from the late 1920s. The Nimbus sets, purchased in early 1995, had her date of birth as 1892, but they didn't say when she had died.
Second order of business: were there any complete opera sets? It was evident from the liner notes and recordings that she had been a prominent Turandot and a fine Verdi soprano.
A helpful friend quickly disabused me of the idea that there might be complete operas starring her. "She sang before there were complete recordings," he said. (This turned out to be an oversimplification; the first complete opera sets were made around 1910, and Turner's heyday was the 1920s and 30s.) More to the point, English sopranos active primarily in Italy and England didn't find their way onto too many complete sets at that time.
I finally found the answer to my first question, too: the New Grove Dictionary of Opera said that the singer had died in 1990, age 98.
I was then able to turn to obituaries for Turner, where I found out that she had graduated from the Royal Academy of Music, London, in 1916, and had then joined the Carl Rosa Opera, a famed touring opera company that had traversed Great Britain for decades performing all manner of repertory in English. There, Turner started in the chorus before graduating to assorted pages and walk-ons. The Zauberfloete First Lady followed, and other small parts. Eventually, she became the Carl Rosa's leading dramatic soprano, taking on a whole range of roles in Italian and German opera, from Butterfly and Tosca to Aida to Eva, Elisabeth, and Elsa to Leonore.
She was appearing with the Carl Rosa in London, in 1924, when the great conductor Ettore Panizza heard her. He insisted that she go to Italy and audition for Arturo Toscanini at La Scala. He wrote her a letter of recommendation, and with that in hand, she went to Italy and sang for the Maestro. He hired her on the spot, for Freia and Sieglinde in upcoming Ring performances. (It is something of a puzzle why Turner appeared so rarely after this at La Scala, returning for some Turandot performances and very little else.)
I eventually found that EMI had released two Turner CDs in 1988. One featured her aria and song recordings, the other, excerpts from two live Covent Garden performances of Turandot, from 1937. Both (groan!) were out of print. Some time later, I heard them thanks to a kind member of rec.music.opera, and eventually I located a new copy of one - in England - and a used copy of the other.
More to come - this is still a work in progress!
My friend Bob Rideout has compiled a number of short singer biographies, based on studying opera house archives, some of which have appeared in that fine periodical The Record Collector. In the spring of 2000, he wrote a biographical sketch of Eva Turner. Click here to read Bob's bios.
Turner grew up in Bristol, a lovely city in the British southwest, about an hour from Bath. She attended St Anne's Infants' School from 1903 to 1906, and a plaque at the school now commemorates that. You can see the plaque at the St Anne's Web site. Just scroll down and click Dame Eva Turner.
Some photos of Eva Turner, in various roles:
Thumbnail; Eva Turner as Turandot, either at Chicago or Covent Garden. Click to see the whole photo.
Thumbnail; her first assumption of Turandot, Brescia, 1927. Click to see the whole photo.
Thumbnail; as Turandot, again, probably one of the late Covent Garden appearances, in 1947 or 1948. Click to see the whole photo.
Eva Turner as Turandot. I bought this photo in October, 1999. Like the photo above, it's from the Brescia production of 1926 or 1927. My favorite shot of her, bar none; after all, a proper Turandot should be both beautiful and scary. There are photos of sopranos Rosa Raisa, Gianini Arangi-Lombardi, and Anne Roselle wearing this very headdress - though probably their own personal copies - from the 1920s. Someday I hope to have copies of those, too. (This photo appeared in the August, 2000, issue of the magazine of The Washington Opera.)
The Siegfried Bruennhilde, date unknown. I have another photo from the same photo shoot. (I've been asked if this photo might not be Sieglinde. The other photo, in which she is posed with a radiant smile, arms uplifted, is signed by Dame Eva, who included 'Bruennhilde (Siegfried)' in the inscription. And the pose sure looks like "Heil dir, Sonne!" to me.)
My thanks to Hugh-Nigel Sheehan, who studied with Dame Eva at the RAM, and who was kind enough to provide the .jpgs that follow.
Un ballo in maschera, with Arthur Fear as Rentao. Covent Garden in the 1930s.
Outside Buckingham Palace, London, with brother Norman and companion/secretary Anne Ridyard following her creation as an DBE.
Bruennhilde in Die Walkuere, Turin.
The Nozze Countess and Antonia in Les Contes d'Hoffman.
Santuzza (Cavalleria Rusticana and Nozze Countess.
Ever the good sport: in cowgirl garb, with a horse, sometime during the 1950s, her years at Oklahoma University, in Norman, OK.
Dame Eva in the 1960s.
You can see a nearly-complete Turner discography at Scott Smith's web page.In early 2000, Pearl issued a 3-CD collection of all of Eva Turner's recordings. This set includes all of Turner's Milan and London studio recordings, made in 1926, 1928, and 1933, Turner's excerpts from the 1937 Covent Garden Turandot performances, "God Save the King" sung live before a Covent Garden performance of Aida that year in which Turner did not sing, excerpts from a BBC radio concert with tenor Dino Borgioli, and the first recording of Ralph Vaughn Williams's Serenade to Music.
Go back to Lisa Hirsch's Home Page or to the Extract Guide.