Kathleen Ferrier and Ronald Duncan: A Practical Friendship    <Back

First meeting (as described in Duncan's obituary of Ferrier, 1953)   

When I turned round again, she had taken her hat off and loosened her hair. Now she was not pretty, she was beautiful.

That is how Ronald Duncan described his first meeting with Kathleen Ferrier. She had come to audition for The Rape of Lucretia at Benjamin Britten’s flat in St John’s Wood in London. Duncan was writing the libretto for Britten’s new opera.

The date was Thursday 18 April 1946. Ferrier took a taxi there and back. She wrote in her diary: “Taxi to and from Benj Britten 10/-.” [ten shillings] (LDKF 343)

Britten handed her the words and music for The Flower Song, she sang it, and the two men were overwhelmed. Ferrier, according to Duncan, could not believe that they were truly impressed. He later wrote: 

She put the manuscript down, certain that we were disappointed. We tried to reassure her. She was convinced that we were merely being polite. I could see that tears were not far beyond her eyes. (722)

She performed the part of Lucretia for the first time on 12 July, at Glyndebourne,and Duncan reported a similar response:

As soon as the curtain fell, Britten and I hurried into her dressing room to congratulate her. Hers had been the most memorable performance. But now the tears were not behind the eyes. She thought she’d let Britten down; he tried to thank her, but she was still convinced that he was merely being kind. (722-3)

Her performance was in fact an enormous success. The Times wrote that Ferrier was able, "without strain, to present tragedy with a splendid voice and great dignity of bearing". (Leonard, 89)

View the transcript of Ronald Duncan’s full obituary of Kathleen Ferrier here.  

Author: Professor A. Munton




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