The daughter of a Merseyside boilermaker, Rita Hunter rose to become one of the great Brünnhildes of the post-war era, most memorably in the famous ENO Ring conducted by Sir Reginald Goodall. After studies with Edwin Francis, she joined the chorus of Sadler’s Wells Opera and during the 1950s sang with both the Wells and the Carl Rosa company in roles which included the Mother in Hansel and Gretel, the Screech Owl/Forester’s Wife in the British premiere of The cunning little vixen (1961), Marcellina in The marriage of Figaro, and Senta in Dennis Arundell’s famous production of The flying Dutchman.

Then followed the legendary Ring, played out against Ralph Koltai’s futuristic landscape of gleaming metal rods and fractured globes, a landmark in British operatic history. Hunter, memorably abetted by Alberto Remedios’s ardent Siegfried and Norman Bailey’s authoritative Wotan, led a dream team of singers, notable for the lyricism with which they delivered Andrew Porter’s crisp new English translation. Far from being a handicap, Hunter’s ample girth brought to her interpretation an emotional as well as physical weight: it was a reading of tremendous dignity, alert to the cycle’s tragic, cosmic dimensions, and her bright, effusively cantabile tone was given full scope to blossom by Goodall’s spacious tempos. Fearlessly delivered and well equal to Wagner’s superhuman demands, her rendition could be touchingly vulnerable when occasion demanded.

Yet for all its power, her voice proved equally adept in such roles as Norma, Donna Anna, and Verdi’s Leonora and Amelia. Her debut at the Met in 1972 in Die Walküre led to many more offers from across America. In 1981, however, she moved to Sydney where she became a popular member of Australian Opera. Thereafter, her appearances in England were rare. In 1986 she published a book of memoirs, Wait till the sun shines, Nellie.

Rita Hunter, CBE: born in Wallasey, Merseyside, 15 August 1933; died Sydney, 29 April 2001.


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