Dame Eva Turner

Dame Eva Turner


• 1892 1990


A dramatic soprano with a voice of mammoth proportions, Eva Turner, though scarcely neglected in her native country, enjoyed many of her greatest successes abroad. Most closely identified with the title role in Turandot (which she first sang in Brescia only a month after its premiere), she brought to all of her roles a voice of both enormous size and great cutting power, topped with an unflagging ease in the highest register. While not always an illuminating actress, she approached all of her work with seriousness of purpose, thorough integrity and no small measure of excitement.

Having studied with Dan Rootham (teacher of the legendary contralto Dame Clara Butt) at London's Royal Academy of Music and, subsequently, with Albert Richards Broad (under whose tutelage her voice grew considerably in size), Turner made her debut in 1916 with the Carl Rosa Company as the Shepherd in Tannhäuser. She remained with the company until 1924, quickly graduating to the spinto and dramatic soprano repertory, and winning positive reviews as Brünnhilde, Fidelio, Aida and Tosca. In 1924, her Butterfly and Leonore were heard by conductor Ettore Panizza, who urged her to travel to Italy to audition for Toscanini at La Scala.

Having sung only in English up to that point, Turner knew only one aria in Italian. Nonetheless, she gave a strong audition. Given a contract for the following season, Turner spent four months coaching the roles -- Freia to be sung under Vittorio Gui (who soon became a close friend) and Sieglinde with Panizza himself. The signal successes she enjoyed in both roles led almost immediately to numerous offers from other Italian houses and many in Germany (there, ironically, for roles in the Italian repertory). After her first Turandot in 1926, Franco Alfano's comment that he considered her ideal for the title role only accelerated the speed with which offers materialized. Later, Turner sang both Sieglinde and Leonore at the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino.

An engagement in Buenos Aires precluded Turner's accepting the London premiere of Turandot in 1927, but the company of singers with which she sailed to Argentina afforded her several long-lasting friendships, Claudia Muzio becoming as especially close colleague. Minnie in Fanciulla del west proved another congenial part, added to Turner's repertory in Lisbon. When she was able to offer London her Turandot in 1928, she also sang as Santuzza and Aida. Her June 5 Covent Garden debut as Turandot brought superlatives (as did Santuzza in which she was deemed "equal to the best Italians"). In 1928, she recorded her astonishing "In Questa Reggia," still the standard by which all other Turandots are judged. Turner's Sieglinde in 1930 won high praise despite a sound considered too grand for such a put-upon character.

Turner made an auspicious American debut as Aida with the Chicago Opera in 1928. Amelia and Sieglinde were her other roles during that first Chicago season, the latter part in a cast including Frida Leider, Maria Olszewska, and Alexander Kipnis (as Wotan). The following year, she sang Elisabeth to Leider's Venus. In 1938, she gave Chicago a triumphant Turandot.

The onset of WWII prevented Turner from singing more than a very few Isoldes, a role she loved deeply. Upon retirement, she taught voice, first in America, later in at the Royal Academy in London. She was made a Dame of the British Empire in 1962.