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Open Features: Kathleen Ferrier

Peter Wintersgill tells of the famous opera star Kathleen Ferrier, who began her working life as a switchboard operator.

22 April, 1912, in Higher Walton, Lancashire

William, a school teacher


The family moved to Blackburn when she was one year old for her father to take up the position of headmaster.

She worked as a switchboard operator, also as an accompanist in Northern England competitive festivals. At this time she was set on being a piano teacher.

Adult Life
She entered a singing competition in Carlisle in 1937, winning a rose bowl.

She studied with Thomas Duerdon and JE Hutchinson. When Sit Malcolm Sargent heard her sing, he advised her to go to London and study with Roy Henderson, which she did.

She made her London debut in Messiah in Westminster Abbey in 1943. During World War II she became a leading contralto, especially in Elgar’s Gerontius and Bach’s St Matthew Passion.

She created Britten’s Lucretia in The Rape of Lucretia at Glyndebourne in 1946 and sang Gluck’s Orpheus there in 1947.

At the first Edinburgh Festival she sang in Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde under Bruno Walter. This became one of her best known roles.

As she became better known she toured the USA and Europe.

Her warm voice and personality, together with her phrasing, made her loved and respected throughout the musical world.

On 8th October, 1953, she died in London from cancer, aged only 41. Her early death was mourned by many.


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