Margaret Curphey, Soprano

The soprano, Margaret Curphey was born in 1938 on the Isle of Man. She is perhaps best known for her performances in Sir Reginald Goodall’s famous English language version of Wagner’s Ring Cycle, in which she sang over a period of years the roles of Sieglinde, Gutrune and Brunnhilde. Goodall’s performances with the English National Opera cast, chorus and orchestra are still the only recordings available of the complete work to be sung in English. They are now available under the Chandos label.

Her Early Career

Margaret Curphey grew up on the Isle of Man, and worked for many years with local singing teacher Douglas Buxton. After winning, in the same year, the coveted Manx Music Festival Cleveland Gold Medal and the Blackpool Rose Bowl she went on to study at the Birmingham School of Music with John Carol Case and David Galliver, under the guidance of the institute principal, Gordon Clinton.

Her studies at Birmingham were interrupted by an offer to join the English Arts Council’s Opera for All tour of 1963 to sing several major roles. Margaret accepted the offer and she enjoyed great success as well as gaining very valuable experience of the life of an up and coming opera singer. In 1964-65 she joined the Glyndebourne chorus during which time she also understudied the then famous Montserrat Caballe. After her second season with Glyndebourne Margaret learned that her audition to become a principal artist at Sadlers Wells Opera had been successful and she was contracted for her first season in 1965. Her first role with the Company was Michaela in Carmen followed shortly after by the Countess in Marriage of Figaro. Margaret Curphey was a principal artist for Sadlers Wells Opera (which later changed its name to the English National Opera) for the next thirteen years.

Notable roles for the Sadlers Wells Opera Company and English National Opera included:

  • Ellen Orford in Peter Grimes
  • Mimi & Musetta in La Bohème
  • Ninnetta in The Thieving Magpie
  • Pamina in The Magic Flute
  • Violetta in La Traviata
  • Leonora in Il Trovatore
  • Elizabeth in Don Carlos
  • The title role in Euryanthe
  • The title role in Mary Stuart

In 1970, Margaret was sponsored by the English National Opera to take part in the International Young Opera Singers competition in Sofia, Bulgaria. She was awarded the Bronze medal for her performance as Violetta in La Traviata. Her success led to her being invited to sing the role of Maddalena in Andre Chenier at Valencia Opera in Spain.

The Wagner Roles

Margaret Curphey’s association with Wagner began when she played Eva in The Mastersingers, conducted by Sir Reginald Goodall at Sadlers Wells Opera in 1968. She sang the role of Elsa in Lohengrin shortly afterwards with the newly formed English National Opera at the London Coliseum.

During the early 1970s the concept of producing an “English Ring Cycle” was being progressed under the musical direction of Sir Reginald Goodall and Margaret Curphey played a significant part in its initial success singing Sieglinde in The Valkyrie, as well as Gutrune in Gotterdamerung. Both these performances are available from Chandos as part of the famous Goodall live recordings.

Encouraged by Sir Reginald Goodall, Margaret Curphey added Brunnhilde to her repertoire of Wagner roles. She sang a complete Ring Cycle in London, before being invited to repeat the role in Seattle in 1978. She also sang the Walkyrie Brunnhilde in Santiago di Chile and the Siegfried Brunnhilde in Gothenberg Sweden.

Margaret Curphey also sang many concerts including the Wagner repertoire including in the Republic of Ireland with the RTE Orchestra, in Aix le Bains with the Leon Symphony Orchestra, and on tour with the Halle Orchestra.

The 1980s and beyond

At around this time, Margaret took a short break from singing, in order to have surgery to correct her hip, which had suffered a childhood injury. Upon her return to the operatic stage, she sang three roles for Opera North; Yaroslavna in Prince Igor; Agathe in Der Frischutz; and a concert version of Oberon, which was broadcast by the BBC, and in which she sang Reiza.

In the 1980s Margaret sang several performances of Verdi’s Requiem, including ones at Coventry Cathedral, the Albert Hall and the Festival Hall. She also travelled extensively, with concerts in Singapore and Reykjavik. In Geneva, she sang the role of Miss Jessel in Roderick Brydon’s version of The Turn of the Screw.

Margaret retired from singing in 1994, and currently lives in the Isle of Man with her husband, the baritone, Philip Summerscales. They have one daughter, Helen, and 2 grandchildren, Harvey and Sophia. Margaret Curphey remains a highly respected and active member of the island’s musical scene and is Patron of the Mannin International Opera Festival, based at the Port Erin Arts Centre on the Isle of Man.