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Obituary: Joyce Blackham – ‘star British mezzo-soprano’

Joyce Blackham was a star British mezzo-soprano famed for her sensual and seductive appearances as Bizet’s Carmen with Sadler’s Wells Opera and around the world.

Born in Rotherham, the daughter of a steelworker father, she won a singing competition at the Butlins holiday camp in Skegness aged 15, before training at the Guildhall School of Music, where she was spotted and invited to join Sadler’s Wells Opera in 1955 as its then youngest-ever female principal.

She made her debut with the company that year as Lola (Mascagni’s Cavalleria Rusticana) and, notably, as Olga in Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin, remaining with the company until 1974, by which time it had taken up residency in the London Coliseum in advance of metamorphosing into English National Opera.

When her voice changed to the soprano register, she revealed it as Lehar’s vivacious The Merry Widow in 1958, making her debut with the Royal Opera company the same year as Esmeralda in Smetana’s The Bartered Bride.

Carmen became a staple of her time with Sadler’s Wells, a role she also sang in leading international houses to considerable acclaim, twice opposite Placido Domingo’s Don Jose in the US. Equally secure in lighter fare – appearing in Carousel at Dublin’s Gaiety Theatre (1961) – she created the role of Rosalind in Richard Rodney Bennett’s The Mines of Sulphur in 1965.

A fledgling musical theatre career was curtailed when she left the 1967 musical adaptation of The Four Musketeers at Theatre Royal Drury Lane after a dispute with its director.

She returned to Covent Garden on several occasions (notably as Maddalena in a 1973 revival of Verdi’s Rigoletto) and also sang with Welsh National Opera and Scottish Opera.

From 1955-77, she was married to the baritone Peter Glossop, with whom she became involved in the late 1970s with the International Theatre Studio in Marbella on Spain’s Costa del Sol, often directing shows for the company of expat amateurs.

Joyce Elizabeth Blackham was born on January 1, 1934, and died on June 4, aged 84.

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