The legendary 'Ring' Cycle in English was started in 1970 at Sadler's Wells in London and before it's completion in 1973, thousands of opera lovers from around the world had come to judge the results for themselves. Led by Britain's Reginald Goodall, the complete English 'Ring' created a furore, and among it's splendors, public and critics acclaimed a new star, Rita Hunter.
It was an audience some 5,000 miles away from London that witnessed one of the greatest vocal achievements since the beginning of this century when, in San Francisco, on the 11th October 1975, Rita Hunter made her debut in the title role of Bellini's 'Norma'. Miss Hunter then became the first truly legitimate Brunnhilde since Lillie Lehman (1848-1929) to sing the roles of Brunnhilde and Norma in the same season. There were infact only 6 days between the last Norma's in New York and the first Brunnhilde's in London. The Debut was a triumph and described by one critic as, "A Stunningly Brilliant Norma."
After three performances of 'Norma' in San Francisco, Miss Hunter went to New York for five further performances with the Metropolitan Opera. She was the first English soprano to sing the role at the MET and only their eighth Norma of all time. One New York critic wrote: "Once in a while, a soprano comes close. Rosa Ponselle, Maria Callas, Joan Sutherland and now Rita Hunter."
It had been at the MET that, in the spring of 1975, an audience heard for the first time, one of the most marvelous vocal combinations of recent years: Rita Hunter as Brunnhilde and Birgit Nilsson as Sieglinde in one of the MET's most spectacular 'Die Walkure' performances.
The New York Post, saluting the occasion, wrote, "It is dangerous to predict history, but future opera lovers will no doubt hear to their envy of Saturday night's vocal confrontation between Hunter and Nilsson: The heroic naming of Siegfried and a stupefying 'O Hehrstes Wunder'. Here was gold in a world of dross." Miss Hunter appeared in Berlin under the baton of Lorin Maazel,at the Strasbourg Festival under Alain Lombard and also in France at the St.Cere Festival. At the Edinburgh Festival she sang Verdi's 'Requiem' under Carlo Maria Guilini. She also gave concerts in many Europe's major cities. Miss Hunter's repertoire was extensive and covered roles such as Donna Anna (Don Giovanni), Elettra (Idomeneo) and Santuzza (Cavalleria Rusticana). In addition to the roles of Leonora (Il Trovatore), the title roles in Aida, Norma and Brunnhilde.
Miss Hunter studied in Liverpool with Edwin Francis, a great friend of Eva Turner. Some years later Miss Hunter won the Countess Of Munster Prize which allowed her to study with Eva Turner herself.
She was born in Wallasey, Cheshire, a north country industrial port on the River Mersey. Her first appearance in opera was as Buttercup in 'HMS Pinafore' at the age of fourteen and from then on she wanted to be a singer.
She joined Sadler's Wells as a chorister, then in 1957 she moved to the famed Carl Rosa, an old established touring company. Basilica Opera signed her as Leonora for five performances of 'Il Trovatore' after which she returned to her home company, Sadler's Wells (Now the English National Opera) for her appearances in Wagner's 'Ring'.
In the summer of 1978 she sang Lady Macbeth for a BBC Promenade Concert, which has now been released on the Opera Rara label, and in October 1978 she made her debut as Abigaile in 'Nabucco' in New Orleans and flew from there to join the Australian Opera Company to sing the same role in Melbourne and Adelaide.
In 1978 she received an Honorary Doctorate of Letters from Warwick University and also an Honorary RAM from the Royal Academy of Music, London. Miss Hunter was made a Commander of the British Empire by her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II during 1980, for her services to opera and music.
In 1979 Miss Hunter made her debut in the title role of Turandot with the Welsh National Opera and she sang her first Leonora (Il Trovatore) in Italian for them in 1980.
She returned to Australia in January 1980 to sing Abigaile (Nabucco) again, this time in Sydney. In that year she also made her debut at the Pacific Northwest Festival in Seattle as Brunnhilde in the Ring, which, like the legendary Ring Cycle with The English National Opera, was also performed in English where they used Andrew Porter's translation.
In August 1981 she returned to Australia yet again, this time to debut as Lady Macbeth and for concert performances of Die Walkure and Gotterdammerung. It was at this time that the Australian Opera offered her a three year contract in order to mount a production of Wagner's Ring Cycle, and also to sing performances of Norma, Santuzza, Donna Anna, Leonora and Aida and concert performances of Siegfried.
In August 1983 she sang her first Isolde's in Sydney and Melbourne, singing along side her long time friend and singing companion, Alberto Remedios, after which, she flew direct from there to Brisbane to sing Leonora in Il Trovatore with the Lyric Opera of Queensland, after the final performance she flew to Seattle to sing a further five performances of the same role. On her return, she was in Sydney for just three days before flying to New Zealand for her recital debut and for a performance of Aida in Christchurch and Wellington. After the final performance she flew direct to Melbourne for her debut with the Victoria State Opera as Aida.
In 1985 Miss Hunter made her debut in the title role of Elektra in Melbourne and Sydney with the respective symphony orchestra's in conjunction with the ABC, which was broadcast on ABC Radio statewide. In the midst of these performances, Miss Hunter sold her home in the UK and bought a house in Sydney.
Her autobiography Wait 'Till The Sun Shines, Nellie (Nellie being her middle name) was published in London by Hamish Hamilton on June 12th, 1986. During this time Miss Hunter toured the UK singing recitals and orchestral concerts and appearing on many TV shows.
She returned to the USA in May 1988 and sang the 'Gurre-Lieder' with the Pacific Symphony Orchestra and in November 1988 she also sang a series of Wagner concerts in California and New Jersey. In addition to singing Brunnhilde in these concerts she also sang Sieglinde for the first time.
In August 1989 she recorded a Mozart, Puccini, Beethoven compact disc with the Tasmania Symphony Orchestra which is on sale in Australia and was be released worldwide in March 1992. She also sang Verdi's Requiem that month in Newcastle, New South Wales. In November 1989 she sang 'Turandot' in Sydney and in December 1989 a series of recitals in Melbourne.
In March 1990 she went to London for Wagner concerts with Simon Rattle and the London Symphony Orchestra. She also toured the UK at that time with recitals and orchestral concerts.
In April/May 1990 she sang Aida in Adelaide, Australia. She returned to the USA for Wagner concerts in November 1990 with the Stamford Symphony Orchestra.
In October 1991 Miss Hunter made her debut with the Fresno Philharmonic, performing Puccini's Turandot for them. These performances were greatly acclaimed by the public and press. "She displayed the essential qualities of a great soprano; powerful projection and vocal control in all registers of the voice. She has a vocal presence that commands respect and dominates the stage. Her vocal quality is as transparent as ice and as warm as fire" - (The Fresno Bee Monday October 7th 1991).
In August 1992 Miss Hunter returned to the UK to sing in a Royal Gala in Liverpool to celebrate the return of the Tall Ships, in the presence of HRH The Duke of York ,and King Juan Carlos and Queen Sophia of Spain.
Later in October 1993 she sang Sieglinde in Birmingham with Simon Rattle. She then completed her UK tour with Recitals in Wales. She then flew to California for two highly triumphant Verdi/Wagner concerts.
She then flew to Singapore to make her Debut there with Maestro Choo Hoey and the Singapore Symphony to much public and critical acclaim.
In May 1994, Rita's beloved husband passed away suddenly, but four months later, she returned to the UK and sang Tove in The Gurre Lieder with Simon Rattle and The City Of Birmingham Orchestra. She did return a few times to make television appearances, one of which was with John Barrymore, but these performances of Tove were her last in the United Kingdom, and her last on any concert platform.
In March and October 1997, Miss Hunter released two CD's of her early live recordings. This collection now consists of other recordings (some 50+ performances), in addition to four volumes of her live recordings.
When her husband died suddenly in May 1994, she took over the teaching and running of his Singing Academy in Sydney Australia, and with the help of her daughter, Mairwyn, inaugurated and ran the John Darnley-Thomas Singing Scholarship, providing funds for young singers to cover lesson fees.
Miss Hunter passed away suddenly in her home on 29 April 2001. For a short time after Miss Hunter's death, her daughter Mairwyn taught the technique that was taught her by her parents. Mairwyn continued to teach one of Miss Hunter's last students, Mr Adrian Day, who is now in Los Angeles furthering his studies and career. However, her path lies in a different direction and teaching is not the main part of her life anymore. Mairwyn is now a proud Mother to her son Dylan, but Mairwyn will always hold that torch for everything that her parents stood for.