Eva Turner

Dame Eva Turner DBE (10 March, 189216 June,1990) was a dramatic soprano whose well-trained voice was renowned for its clarion power.

Born in Werneth, Oldham, England, her first formal singing lessons were with Dan Rootham, the teacher of Clara Butt. From 1911 to 1914 she studied at the Royal Academy of Music in London.

She began her career as a chorister with the Carl Rosa Opera Company and steadily took on larger roles such as Kate Pinkerton and the title role of Cio Cio San in Madama Butterfly, Micaela in Carmen, Musetta in Puccini's La bohème, Santuzza in Cavalleria rusticana, Elisabeth in Tannhäuser, Freia, Elsa in Lohengrin, Brünnhilde, Leonora in La Forza del destino, Leonora in Fidelio, Eva in Die Meistersinger,, and the title roles in Aida, Tosca and Thais.

In 1924 after an audition for the La Scala Company, she was engaged by Arturo Toscanini as Freia and Sieglinde for the La Scala Ring Cycle of 1924-25.

The role for which she was, and remains, most famous, was the title role in Turandot. She first sang it in December 1926 at the Teatro Grande in Brescia only seven months after its première. In 1928 she performed it at Covent Garden (also playing Aida and Santuzza during the season), and in 1929 she took the part at La Scala.

Recordings of her Turandot recorded live at in 1937 with Giovanni Martinelli as Calaf and John Barbirolli conducting remained unissued at the time but when finally released in the 1980s inspired reviewers to superlatives.

When Vaughan Williams composed his Serenade to Music for sixteen leading singers of the day he included lines for Eva Turner but separated them from those for the other three sopranos, so that her mighty voice rose instead from among the mezzos. The recording, conducted by Sir Henry Wood, made immediately after the première captures Turner’s voice in the soaring lines Vaughan Williams wrote for her. In later recordings artists such as Marie Hayward, Elizabeth Connell and Yvonne Kenny have essayed the Turner part, and as the original is available on Compact Disc it is possible to judge how the younger singers match up.

The solidity, power, and amplitude of the middle register, the surety and smoothness of the top register, and her imposing low register have been judged favourably against such contemporaries and successors as Florence Austral, Rosa Raisa, Birgit Nilsson and Anny Konetzni.

In 1948 she retired from the stage and in 1949 was offered the position of Visiting Professor of Voice at the University of Oklahoma, and a one year contract was extended for nine years. She returned to London in 1959 where she was appointed Professor of Singing at the Royal Academy of Music, a position she held until well into her eighties, her style of teaching being too forthright for some (Rita Hunter found it too demanding) but producing such successful students as Amy Shuard and Roberta Knie.

In retirement she was closely involved with the Wagner Society in the UK and elsewhere.

She was appointed a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire (DBE) in 1962.


  • The Last Prima Donnas, by Lanfranco Rasponi, Alfred A Knopf, 1982. ISBN 0-394-52153-6


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