Janet Baker

English mezzo-soprano

Janet Baker is an English mezzo-soprano and contralto. She has been particularly closely associated with baroque and early Italian opera as well as the works of Benjamin Britten.

Janet Baker was born on the 21st of August, 1933 in Hatfield. She grew up in South Yorkshire, before starting to study music in London under Helene Isepp. She won the 2nd prize in the Kathleen Ferrier Memorial Competition, which allowed her to get a scholarship and to continue her studies at the Mozarteum University in Salzburg. She quickly performed in oratorio contralto roles in several recitals and concerts in England. During the 1960s, she revealed herself to a wider audience in the Handel Opera Society's Rodelinda and singing Purcell's Dido and Aeneas. Benjamin Britten, enchanted by her mezzo-soprano voice, dedicated his Phaedra (cantata) to her. After working with the English Opera Group, she developed an international career performing across Europe. She enjoyed great success in the United States as Hermia in Britten's Midsummer Night's Dream.

Baker was considered one of the most popular singers in the second half of the 20th century. Renowned for the intensity of her voice and her flawless expressiveness, she knew how to stand out on the stage with ease. Janet continually sought to renew her performance by working on a very large repertoire ranging from lieder recitals to opera, also including the oratorio roles and religious music.

Janet Baker has often been associated with baroque, which she has enhanced with the finesse that this kind of repertoire requires. She also worked on the re-enactment of old-style operas such as Cavalli's La Calisto and Monteverdi's The coronation of Poppaea. In order to always serve her art and not to denature music, she made her final appearance at the age of 61 at Glyndebourne, where she used to perform a lot during her career.

Six landmark dates in the life of Janet Baker

1956: won the 2nd prize in the Kathleen Ferrier Competition

1959: performed as Eduige in Handel's Rodelinda

1961: joined the English Opera Group until 1976

1966: made her triumphant debut in the U.S.

1976: was appointed to Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire

1982: said goodbye making her final operatic appearance and later publishes a memoir, Full Circle