FOLLOWING the death of opera star Anne Kerr in August, the Times & Speaker presents a look back on the career of a remarkable talent that first developed right here in Motherwell.
Anne, who was better known during her career by her maiden name Sharp, was born on October 24, 1916, the eighth and youngest child in a family of keen amateur musicians.
Her father, William Sharp, was an engineer in Colville’s steelworks, and also a choirmaster and church precentor.
She loved to sing, and her strikingly pure soprano voice was evident from an early age.
Anne attended Glencairn Primary and Dalziel High, but although academically able, left school early after suffering a serious illness in her mid-teens.
She trained as a shorthand typist and worked as a secretary in the electricity department of Motherwell Corporation while continuing with private singing lessons.
In 1941 she began studying at the Scottish National Academy of Music (now the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland), and in 1943 won the Jean Highgate Memorial Scholarship.
During these years she also sang in the choir of Glasgow Cathedral and graduated in 1944 with the Performer’s
Diploma in Solo Singing and went on to gain her LRAM and LTCL diplomas two years later.
In 1946 the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, decided to form a full-time chorus for the first time in its history, and auditions were held in a number of centres across the country.
Anne attended the Glasgow auditions, and was one of seven Scots singers chosen to join the 71-strong chorus.
She appeared in a number of the early post-war Covent Garden productions, including Purcell’s The Fairy Queen, Bizet’s Carmen and Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte.
Early the following year she was app-roached by the famous composer Benjamin Britten, who was then engaged in the formation of a new opera company, and in March 1947 she became a founder member of the English Opera Group.
She created the part of Cis Woodger in Britten’s Albert Herring at its first performance at Glyndebourne, and later sang the part of Emmie Spatchett in the same opera at the inaugural Aldeburgh Festival in June 1948.
Britten wrote the part of Juliet Brook in Let’s Make an Opera for her, with the corresponding part in the first-act play Anne Dougal, named for her, and appropriately played as a Scots girl.
During this period Anne made a number of radio broadcasts, both as part of the English Opera Group, and as a solo recitalist.
She took part in one of the first-ever televised opera performances, of Albert Herring in February 1950, which was broadcast live to camera.
Other performances during this period included the soprano solo parts in Bach’s Mass in B minor, Handel’s Messiah and Brahms’ A German Requiem, and solo recitals including Handel’s Lusinghe piu care and Richard Strauss’s Ständchen.
Operatic roles included the Queen of the Night in Die Zauberflöte and Michaela in a concert performance of Bizet’s Carmen.
She also created the title role in Lawrance Collingwood’s little-known opera The Death of Tintagiles, at its only performance in April 1950.
In December 1950, Anne married the Rev James ‘Hamish’ Lyon Kerr, minister of Overtown Parish Church near Wishaw.
She continued her operatic career with the English Opera Group intermittently in the early years of her marriage, but after the birth of her daughter Morag in 1953 concentrated on concert and oratorio roles in Scotland.
Her performances of the soprano solo roles in Mendelssohn’s Elijah and Haydn’s The Creation were highly praised, but her best-loved role was certainly as the soprano soloist in Handel’s Messiah.
As a minister’s wife for almost 30 years she was an unfailing source of strength and support to her husband, and passed her love of music, singing and opera on to her daughter.
In 1989, after Hamish’s retirement, the couple moved to Wishaw, and Anne continued to live there after his death until she was 90 spending her final few years with her daughter in West Linton, Peeblesshire.
She died in Edinburgh on Thursday, August 25, at the age of 94.