Nancy Maureen Herbison Argenta is one of Canada's most famous and important singers. She has won international acclaim, and is considered by many as the leading Handel soprano of her time.
She was born in Nelson, a small city in eastern British Columbia, in the scenic Kootenay Mountain region. The closest large cities are Calgary, Alberta, and Spokane, WA (U.S.).
At the age of 11 she started formal voice lessons with Dr. Amy Ferguson of Nelson, and sang with one of the school choirs at L.V. Rogers High School in Nelson. By that time, she was frequently making the rather long trip to Vancouver, British Columbia, so she could hear musical events and have additional singing lessons. After graduation from high school in 1975, she attended the Vancouver Community College, then completed her degree at the University of Western Ontario in 1980. A grant from the Canada Council enabled her to go to Europe for private lessons in Düsseldorf (with Gérard Souzay) and in London with Vera Rozsa and Sir Peter Pears.
Her soprano voice is light, clear, and flexible, with a sound that is ideal for classical-era and earlier music. Her professional operatic debut was in two roles in Rameau's Hippolyte et Aricie at the 1983 Aix-en-Provence Festival. In 1990 she received the Virginia P. Moore Prize, an annual award from the Canada Council for development of the career of a young Canadian classical musician.
Even before then, she was in demand to perform with period instrument organizations. These have included the Academy of Ancient Music and The English Concert, and such prominent conductors in the movement as Trevor Pinnock, Christopher Hogwood, John Eliot Gardiner, and Roger Norrington. She is particularly noted for her performances of the vocal music of the two leading figures in English music during the Baroque era: George Frideric Handel and Henry Purcell. When she returned to the Aix-en-Provence Festival in 1990, it was to sing in the latter's The Fairy Queen. She has performed most of the major Handel operas and oratorios. She also sings all the large-scale Bach choral/vocal works (B Minor Mass, the Passions, the Christmas Oratorio, and several of the cantatas).
In the classical era she is noted for performances of Haydn masses (some of which she has recorded with Pinnock and Richard Hickox), Haydn's Creation, the role of Zerlina in Don Giovanni and Despina in Così fan tutte. However, she sings music of all eras. She has recorded Schubert for the Virgin Classics label, and has sung in performances of music by Mahler and Schoenberg.
She performs at the world's major music festivals (Mostly Mozart, Schleswig-Holstein, and the BBC Promenade Concerts, for instance), and has sung with leading orchestras of England, the U.S., Canada, and Australia. She is a leading recitalist, and gives chamber performances as well as appearing in full-scale symphony concerts.
She makes her home and bases her career in England.