Dame Janet Baker, b.21st August, 1933

Nicholas Wroe wrote in The Guardian of 13.7.12:

“Janet Baker: A life in music

‘The music emerges from a place in your gut that is completely your idea of how to serve the composer and the poet so there is no hiding place’

On a warm summer night, 30 years ago this week, Janet Baker made her last appearance in an opera. As she took her curtain calls after singing her final Orfeo in Gluck’s Orfeo ed Euridice at Glyndebourne, a member of the chorus stepped forward and presented her with Orfeo’s lyre, the instrument that had protected the character in the underworld by charming the furies, and now, it was hoped, would look after Dame Janet on her own journey into the unknown world of retirement…

It might have taken Baker some time to enjoy the fruits of her own career, but for everyone else she has long been regarded as one of the greatest ever British singers. Emerging in the mid-1950s she was seen as the natural heir to the great contralto Kathleen Ferrier who had died aged just 41 in 1953. By the late 50s and early 60s Baker was a leading figure in the baroque revival, singing Handel, Purcell and Monteverdi. In the 60s she became closely associated with Benjamin Britten and went on to have huge success on the opera and recital stages in both the UK and America. The director Peter Hall, with whom she often worked, said when presenting her with the Gramophone award that “she brought true human reality to something that can so easily become artificial”. Bernard Levin was only half joking when he claimed that “no man may call himself fully civilised if he misses an opportunity to hear Janet Baker sing”…”

From: Camera Lucida (La Chambre Claire) (1980) by Roland Barthes:

“…The Photographer’s “second sight” does not consist in “seeing” but in being there. And above all, imitating Orpheus, he must not turn back to look at what he is leadingwhat he is giving to me!”

From: Levels of Life (2013), by Julian Barnes:

“…I had quite underestimated Orfeo, the opera most immaculately targeted at the griefstruck…Of course Orfeo would turn to look at the pleading Euridice – how could he not? Because, while ‘no one in his senses’ would do so, he is quite out of his senses with love and grief and hope. You lose the world for a glance? Of course you do. That is what the world is for: to lose under the right circumstances. How could anyone hold to their vow with Euridice’s voice at their back?”

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