14 May 2009

Opera singer Dame Heather Begg dies

12:14 pm on 14 May 2009

Opera singer Dame Heather Begg has died at the age of 76.

The Nelson-born singer, who had been suffering from leukemia, died on Tuesday in Sydney, where she made her home.

The singer was best known in Europe for her performance as Bizet's Carmen and as the "Queen of the Fairies" in Gilbert and Sullivan's Iolanthe.

Dame Heather also sang with tenors Jose Carreras and Placido Domingo.

She won the Sydney Sun Aria contest in 1955 and went to London two years later to the National School of Opera on a music bursary awarded by the Government.

She became a professional singer at the age of 21, eventually becoming principal resident mezzo with the Royal Opera at Covent Garden where she stayed for 10 years and sang with Domingo and Carreras.

Heather Begg was awarded the OBE in 1978 and in 2000 became a Distinguished Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to opera.

She married Johnnie King, a Canadian, in 1964. He died suddenly in 1979. They had no children.

She was made a Dame last month.


Dame Malvina Major says Dame Heather was a captivating mezzo-soprano who sustained world class performances through four different decades.

A close friend, Dorothy Hitch, says Dame Heather's performance as Carmen is regarded as one of the best.