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Hilary Summers (Contralto)

Born: South Wales, UK

The Welsh contralto, Hilary Summers, studied music at Reading University before continuing her vocal studies at the Royal Academy of Music and the National Opera Studio in London.

A true contralto with a wide vocal range, Hilary Summers has excited the attention of many contemporary composers. In 1999 she created the role of Stella in Elliot Carterís opera What Next? for the Berlin Staatsoper, conducted by Daniel Barenboim with further performances at Carnegie Hall and in Chicago with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. She has also performed this work with the Netherlands Chamber Orchestra and the Royal Flanders Philharmonic Orchestra both under Péter Eötvös, the London Sinfonietta under Oliver Knussen, and the Ensemble Intercontemporain under Kent Nagano. She created the role of Irma in Péter Eötvösís opera Le Balcon at the 2002 Aix en Provence Festival and toured with the production in Europe in 2003-2004. Since 2002 she has performed Pierre Boulez Le Marteau sans Maître throughout Europe with the Ensemble Intercontemporain under the direction of Pierre Boulez himself as well as with several other ensembles and conductors. She recorded the work with Pierre Boulez on Deutsche Grammophon to much critical acclaim. The recording won a Grammy Award. As part of the celebrations of the composerís 80th birthday she performed Le visage nuptial under his direction with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in Chicago.

In Britain Hilary Summers has forged a special relationship with the composer Michael Nyman and has recorded his film scores on the soundtracks of The Diary of Anne Frank, The Claim, The Libertine as well as performing in his operas Noises, Sounds and Sweet Airs and Facing Goya the lead role of which was written for her. She has toured the world with the Michael Nyman Band performing such works as his Six Celan Songs, Prosperoís Books and Cycle of Disquietude. She works frequently with the composer Joby Talbot and sings on his soundtrack to the film Hitchhikerís Guide to the Galaxy and the television series The League of Gentlemen.

Hilary Summers has made a considerable name for herself as a fine interpreter of the Baroque repertoire and sings regularly with many of Europeís leading early instrument orchestras. These have included Christopher Hogwood and The Academy of Ancient Music, Paul McCreesh and the Gabrieli Consort, Christophe Rousset and Les Talens Lyriques, Thomas Hengelbrock and the Balthasar-Neumann-Ensemble and The English Concert directed by Andrew Manze. A warm association with William Christie and Les Arts Florissants led to a recording of George Frideric Handelís Orlando with Erato, in the role of Medoro, and most recently as the Sorceress in Deborah Warnerís production of Purcellís Dido and Aeneas in Vienna followed by performances throughout the world. She works often with Robert King and The Kingís Consort and performed wityh them Michael Haydnís Requiem Mass and Missa in honorem Sanctae Ursulae at the BBC Proms in 2006. She performs regularly with Christian Curnyn and the Early Opera Company and has recorded the role of Rosmira in G.F. Handelís Partenope, Juno/Ino in Semele and Venus in Ecclesí Judgement of Paris also for Chandos. Hilary took part in the first performance in Russia of G.F. Handelís Messiah on period instruments.

Operatically, Hilary Summers is destined to play statuesque Handelian heroes such as Giulio Cesare or the god Mars (Legrenziís Il divisione del mondo ) but occasionally has fun with such roles as the dominatrix Mescalina (Ligetiís Le grande macabre) or the amazon Hippolyta (Benjamin Brittenís A Midsummer Nightís Dream) or even the bearded Baba the Turk (Igor Stravinskyís The Rakeís Progress). More mature females include the earth mother Gaea in Straussí Daphne and Mrs Sedley in B. Brittenís Peter Grimes (for Glyndebourne Festival Opera). She has played the role of the Washerwoman in Rob Zuidhamís Rages díamour at the Nederlandse Opera in Amsterdam and sang Hippolyta for the Teatro Real, Madrid. In 2006 she sang in the first performances of George Benjaminís new opera Into the Little Hill in Paris and has since performed it in New York, Amsterdam, Frankfurt, Liverpool and Lucerne. She made her début for the Opera de Paris in Mother Goose in 2008 and as Countess Geschwitz in Lulu for Kokkola Opera in 2009. Hilary has a great love of the works of Edward Elgar and has been fortunate enough to perform The Dream of Gerontius several times under the baton of the late Vernon Handley with whom she also sang Sea Pictures.

Recent projects have included the acclaimed Wiener Festwochen production of Purcellís Dido and Aeneas (Sorceress) with William Christie, a recording of Rossiniís Petite Messe Solennelle with The Kingís Consort, A Midsummer Nightís Dream (Hippolyta) for the Teatro Real, Madrid, performances of Le Marteau sans maître with Pierre Boulez at the Lucerne Festival, and performances of George Benjaminís new opera, Into the Little Hill, in the USA and Europe.

Future projects include further European performances of Into the Little Hill, a revival of the Dido and Aeneas production at the Vienna Festival, her début with the Opera de Paris (Mother Goose), and concerts with the Orchestre de Paris, Ensemble InterContemporain, and The Kingís Consort; concerts with the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra, at the Aldeburgh Festival and performances Pelléas et Mélisande (Geneviève) at the Teatro Real Madrid and the Liceu in Barcelona.

Hilary Summersí many other recordings include G.F. Handelís Messiah with King's College Choir Cambridge, G.F. Handelís Lotario (Idelberto) with Alan Curtis and Il Complesso Barocco; Antonio Vivaldiís La Senna Festeggiante and two discs of A. Vivaldiís sacred music with Robert King and The Kingís Consort; A Midsummer Nightís Dream (Hippolyta) with the London Symphony Orchestra and Sir Colin Davis, Rossiniís Petite Messe Solonelle with The Kingís Consort and Six Celan Songs by Michael Nyman. Her most recent release is G.F. Handelís Semele (Juno & Ino) with Christian Curnyn and the Early Opera Company for Chan.

ď...The Welsh contralto Hilary Summers throws herself heart, body and soul into an interpretation of the Sorceress that can only be compared to that of the Dame in pantomime...a wonderful performance, which Summers herself clearly thoroughly enjoyed, made all the more riveting by her complete vocal command of the is exactly this kind of interpretation which makes a production stand out from the ordinary.Ē - Dido and Aeneas at Wiener Festwochen - Vienna Review (June 2009)

Source: Ingpen & Williams Website; Carnegie Hall Website (January 2008)
Contributed by
Aryeh Oron (September 2010)

Recordings of Bach Cantatas & Other Vocal Works




John Eliot Gardiner


BCP: BWV 139, BWV 163

Links to other Sites

Hilary Summers (Ingpen & Williams)
Making Music: Pierre Boulez: Meets the Artists (Carnegie Hall)

Hilary Summers (Wikipedia)

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Explanation | Acronyms | Missing Biographies | The Sad Corner


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