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Submitted by Matthew Barker
Opera singer with formidable presence and a gift for comedy
Alan Blyth: The Guardian
May 15h, 2002
Monica Sinclair, who has died at the age of 77, was one of the most sought-after of the school of British singers who formed the nucleus of the newly-formed resident company at Covent Garden after the second world war. Under the auspices of administrator David Webster and music director Karl Rankl, she, like her coevals, flourished in an atmosphere that preferred a true ensemble to the glitter of international star performances. With her dark looks and handsome presence, she was in demand in a wide variety of roles after her debut at the Royal Opera House, as Second Boy in The Magic Flute, in 1949.
I recall her, in those early days, as a captivating Cherubino in Mozart's Figaro, and a delightful Pauline in Tchaikovsky's Queen of Spades, in which she accompanied herself on the harpsichord.
Sinclair was also adept in modern scores. She sang Margaret in the legendary British premiere of Berg's Wozzeck in 1952, under the baton of Erich Kleiber, who had conducted the work's Berlin premiere, and she created the Heavenly Body in Vaughan Williams' The Pilgrim's Progress (1951). She also played Lady Essex in Britten's Gloriana (1953), Evadne in Walton's Troilus And Cressida (1954), and The Voice in Tippett's The Midsummer Marriage (1955), all at Covent Garden.
In 1954, Sinclair began a six-year association with Glyndebourne, singing Ragonde in the first British performances of Rossini's Le Comte Ory, and recording the role, both under Vittorio Gui. In 1960, she was Queen Henrietta to Joan Sutherland's Elvira in Bellini's I Puritani.
Her Marcellina in Figaro, also at Glyndebourne, was one of the first occasions on which she disclosed her gift for comedy, which was to stand her in good stead. She also gleefully took the gorgon roles in Gilbert and Sullivan operas on disc, with Sir Malcolm Sargent conducting.
At the 1967 Aldeburgh festival, Sinclair crowned her comedic career by singing Madame Popova in the premiere of Walton's one-act opera The Bear, a performance preserved on disc. She also delighted audiences at Covent Garden and the Metropolitan, New York, as the old Marquise de Birkenfeld in Donizetti's La Fille Du Régiment, with Sutherland in the title part.
At this time, Sinclair made a niche for herself in the trousers' roles, originally taken by castrati, in Handel operas. She appeared in the 1950s with the pioneering Handel Opera Society, singing, at the 1957 St Pancras festival, a brilliant Bradamante to Sutherland's account of the title role in Alcina, which did a world of good to both their careers. Indeed, they repeated their parts when Zeffirelli produced the work, much more lavishly, at Venice in 1960, a staging that later came to Covent Garden.
In increasing demand for her fluent gifts in baroque opera, Sinclair sang the title role in Lully's Armide at Bordeaux in 1955. She could startle her audiences with the flair of her runs and the power in their execution. Later parts at Covent Garden included an impressive Marfa in Mussorgsky's Khovanshchina, and the Old Prioress in Poulenc's The Carmelites, both of which exploited her considerable gifts as singing actor.
Sinclair was born at Evercreech, Somerset, and studied at both the Royal Academy of Music and the Royal College of Music. Just before joining Covent Garden, she made her stage debut as Suzuki in Madama Butterfly, with the Carl Rosa Company in 1948.
She was also successful in a wide variety of repertory on the concert platform. Beecham chose her for his last recording of Messiah, and for his sets of Mozart's Requiem and Delius's A Mass of Life. Her many recording credits include a fearsome Sorceress in the 1961 version of Dido And Aeneas, with Janet Baker as Dido. She also appeared on several occasions at the last night of the Proms, singing the solo in Rule Britannia.
Sinclair had a formidable presence on stage, and seemed born to act tragedy and comedy with equal aplomb. What she may have lacked in vocal smoothness, she made up for with her command of character and technique. She married (and was divorced from) Anthony Tunstall, a former Covent Garden horn player. They had six children, all of whom survive her.
Monica Sinclair, mezzo-soprano, born March 23 1925; died May 7 2002
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