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Obituary: Eilene Hannan

Eilene Hannan as the eponymous Rusalka for the English National Opera in 1986

When Sydney Opera House opened in 1973 with a production of Prokofiev’s War and Peace, it made a star of the now iconic building and launched the international career of the 25-year-old soprano Eilene Hannan, who sang the role of Natasha.

The daughter of a Liberal party senator, Hannan had made her debut just two years previously with Australian Opera as Barbarina in The Marriage of Figaro. By the end of the decade, she had left her native Melbourne and had begun to make her mark in the UK. Drawing deserved attention were her 1977 debuts at Ireland’s Wexford Festival (Salome in Massenet’s Herodiade) and with Glyndebourne Opera as Janacek’s Cunning Little Vixen.

The following year, Hannan joined English National Opera to sing Lauretta in Weill’s The Seven Deadly Sins, Pamina in The Magic Flute and a much-admired Mimi in La Boheme. Over the next decade and more, she established herself as a leading light during one of the company’s most artistically successful periods with performances that were marked by a becoming balance between strength and sensitivity.

Notable roles at the Coliseum included Melisande in Harry Kupfer’s 1981 production of Debussy’s Pelleas and Melisande, Dvorak’s eponymous Rusalka for David Pountney in 1986, and the Governess in the 1991 revival of Jonathan Miller’s The Turn of the Screw.

With Opera North, she took the female lead in Berlioz’s Beatrice and Benedict (1983) and made her Covent Garden debut in the 1987 British premiere of Salinen’s The King Goes Forth to France.

Returning home to Australia, Hannan enjoyed success as Venus in Tannhauser (1989) and the Marschallin in Der Rosenkavalier (1991), and in later years tutored young, up-and-coming singers.

Eilene Hannan was born on July 24, 1946. She died, aged 67, from cervical cancer on July 11.

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