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Submitted by Matthew Barker
May 13th, 2002
Genuine and versatile contralto
13 May 2002
Monica Sinclair was that increasingly rare bird, a genuine contralto. She sang with the recently formed Covent Garden Opera Company (later the Royal Opera) during the 1950s and 1960s, taking on an amazing variety of roles in different styles, from Mozart to Verdi, from Wagner to Britten. At Glyndebourne she demonstrated equal versatility; her repertory ranging from Rossini via Bellini to Richard Strauss. She sang frequently with Joan
Sutherland, scoring many of her finest triumphs - and one disaster - under the aegis of the famous soprano.
Sinclair was born in Evercreech, Somerset, and studied at the Royal Academy of Music. She made her operatic début in 1948, singing Suzuki in Madama Butterfly with the Carl Rosa Opera. The following year she joined Covent Garden, making her début as the Second Boy in The Magic Flute. During her first season she also sang Maddalena in Rigoletto, Mrs Sedley in Peter Grimes, Feodor in Boris Godunov, Suzuki and Rosette in Manon, Flosshilde in Das Rheingold and Siegrune in Die Walküre.
In 1950/51, she added Azucena in Il trovatore and Pauline in The Queen of Spades, one of her best early roles, in which she accompanied herself on the harpsichord. She also took part in the first of several first performances, as a Heavenly Body in The Pilgrim's Progress (1951) by Vaughan Williams. In 1952 she sang Margret in the British stage premiere of Berg's Wozzeck and appeared in two travesty roles, as Cherubino in The Marriage of Figaro and and as Herodias' Page in Salome.
Sinclair sang the Countess of Essex in the first performance of Britten's Gloriana in 1953; she sang Evadne in the world premiere of William Walton's Troilus and Cressida in 1954, and a Voice in the first performance of Michael Tippett's The Midsummer Marriage in 1955. Later she sang Sosostris in that opera as well. Other new roles during those years included Mercedes in Carmen and the Voice of Antonia's Mother in The Tales of Hoffmann. She also recorded several of the contralto roles in Gilbert and Sullivan. She made her début at Glyndebourne in 1954 as Ragonde in Rossini's Le Comte Ory, a comic role that suited her particularly well. Other parts that she sang at Glyndebourne included Berta in Il barbiere di Siviglia and Marcellina in Le nozze di Figaro (the same character in Beaumarchais' originals) in 1955, Dryade in Ariadne auf Naxos in 1957 and Queen Henrietta in Bellini's I Puritani, with Joan Sutherland as Elvira, in 1960.
Returning to Covent Garden in the 1959/60 season, Sinclair found several congenial new roles. The first was Annina in Der Rosenkavalier, in a revival conducted by Georg Solti, making his Covent Garden début, with Elisabeth Schwarzkopf and Sena Jurinac. Then came Bradamante in Handel's Alcina, directed and designed by Franco Zeffirelli, with Sutherland in the title role. Sinclair was an excellent Handel singer, as she had shown in 1959 as Juno in Semele for the Handel Opera Society, at Sadler's Wells Theatre. Further roles at Covent Garden included Theodosia, the housekeeper in Die Schweigsame Frau, the Old Prioress in Poulenc's Dialogue des Carmélites, Marfa in Mussorgsky's Khovanshchina, Emilia in Otello and, best of all, the Marquise de Birkenfeld, with Sutherland as Marie, and a youthful Luciano Pavarotti as Tonie.
Sinclair accompanied Sutherland on a tour of Australia in 1965. Arsace in Rossini's Semiramide at Florence in 1968 with Sutherland in the title role was a mistake, one of the few in Sinclair's career.
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