Byline: Ava June
The soprano Ava June enjoyed an extensive career throughout Britain and abroad in the 1960s and 1970s. Her strong musical voice had a versatility that was ideal for many of the great soprano roles of Wagner and Verdi. But by careful husbanding of her voice she ensured that her career also embraced the operas of Mozart and Benjamin Britten. For much of her career she was a principal with Sadler's Wells Opera (now English National Opera) singing memorably a wide variety of roles and an exceptional Sieglinde in the famous Reginald Goodall Ring Cycle of the 1970s.
When she retired June became a voice coach and had a considerable influence giving master classes at the ENO Studio and guiding the early careers of Rosalind Plowright, Susan Bullock and Janice Kelly.
Ava June was born in Poplar, East London, in 1931. Her father worked for Johnnie Walker whisky while her mother was a tailor. She left school at 14 and for a while worked as a theatre dressmaker in the West End. At 16 she had voice lessons initially with Kate Opperman and then studied at the London Opera Centre. June was also coached by Joan Cross (the first Ellen Orford in Britten's Peter Grimes) and Dame Eva Turner. She won first prize in the Sofia competition in 1963.
Her professional career began in the chorus of the Sadler's Wells Company in 1953 as a mezzo. She started taking on minor solo soprano roles and by 1957 had been promoted to principal soprano. An early success was in Verdi's La traviata in which she sang a fine Violetta and gave the character a youthful dash. A production of Bizet's The Pearl Fishers with the tenor Charles Craig followed in 1960. In 1961 June was Countess Vronskaya in the world premiere of Iain Hamilton's Anna Karenina. There followed many appearances throughout the 1960s under Colin Davis in Mozart (a delightful Pamina and a fiery Donna Anna) and a memorable Countess in 1965 under Charles Mackerras. June was a most dignified Marschallin in Der Rosenkavalier and Queen Elizabeth in Donizetti's Mary Stuart opposite the memorable Queen Mary of Janet Baker.
June became internationally recognised for her interpretations of Wagner. In 1970 she sang Sieglinde under Reginald Goodall in the historic (the first Ring Cycle sung in English) production and June was also heard on the recording. The demanding conclusion to act one of The Valkyrie posed no problems for June's rich and commanding voice -- opposite Alberto Remedios's Siegmund the pair were in imperious form. Later she sang Gutrune in Gotterdammerung and Eva in The Mastersingers of Nuremberg with the company.
In 1977 June was a strident Katy in the thrilling production of Janacek's Katya Kabanova, again under Mackerras.
Also in that year she was in ENO's world premiere of David Blake's Toussaint at the Coliseum in a celebrated production by David Pountney and designed by Maria Bjornson.
At Covent Garden she made her debut as the Heavenly Voice in Visconti's production of Don Carlos in 1958, conducted by Carlo Maria Giulini and returned that year as First Lady in Die Zauberflote. In the 1970s June sang Freia and Gerhilde in The Ring Cycle memorably conducted by Georg Solti, Marzelline in Fidelio and in 1970 Frau Schomberg in the world premiere of Richard Rodney Bennett's Victory.
She made two memorable appearances at the Proms. Under Solti June appeared in a concert performance of Das Rheingold in 1970 and in 1973 under Mackerras she sang Queen Elizabeth in Britten's Gloriana. Other Britten productions included Mrs Grosse in The Turn of the Screw for ENO and Ellen Orford for ENO and Opera North.
She retired from singing in 1984, teaching in many institutions in Britain and abroad, including the Royal College of Music and the Royal Northern College of Music.
June married David Cooper, an architectural engineer who died in 1982. She was a much respected colleague and is fondly remembered for her impressive vocal qualities, clarity of diction and commanding stage presence.
Ava June, soprano, was born on July 23, 1931. She died on February 22, 2013, aged 81
June as Elizabeth I in Benjamin Britten's Gloriana at the English National Opera; Photographer: ENO / AVA JUNE ESTATE