Hilary Summers

Hilary Summers was born in Newport, South Wales (Australia), and gained a BA in music from Reading University before continuing her vocal studies at the Royal Academy of Music and the National Opera Studio in London. Since her professional debut as a Valkyrie on stilts for Scottish Opera in 1992 she has enjoyed a rich and varied career encompassing repertoire from the 12th to the 21st century.

A true contralto with a wide vocal range, she has excited the attention of many contemporary composers. In 1999 she created the role of Stella in Elliot Carter’s opera What Next for the Berlin Staatsoper conducted by Daniel Barenboim with further performances at Carnegie Hall and in Chicago with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. She has also performed this work with the Netherlands Chamber Orchestra and the Royal Flanders Philharmonic Orchestra both under Peter Eötvös, the London Sinfonietta under Oliver Knussen, and the Ensemble Intercontemporain under Kent Nagano. She created the role of Irma in Eötvös’s opera Le Balcon at the 2002 Aix en Provence Festival and toured with the production in Europe in 2003/4. Since 2002 she has performed Boulez Le Marteau sans Maître throughout Europe with the Ensemble Intercontemporain under the direction of Boulez himself. This was released on Deutsche Grammaphon to much critical acclaim and recently won a Grammy Award for the best Small Ensemble Performance. As part of the celebrations of the composer’s 80th birthday she performed Le visage nuptial under his direction with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in Chicago.

In Britain she has forged a special relationship with the composer Michael Nyman and has recorded the soundtrack to his film scores of The Diary of Anne Frank, The Claim, The Libertine as well as his opera Noises Sounds and Sweet Airs. She has toured the world with the Michael Nyman Band, performing such works as his Six Celan Songs, Prospero’s Books and Cycle of Disquietude. Nyman wrote the lead role in his opera Facing Goya for her which was premiered and performed throughout Spain.

She works frequently with the composer Joby Talbot and sings on his soundtrack to the film Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and on the television series The League of Gentlemen.

Hilary works extensively in the Baroque repertoire and sings regularly with many of Europe’s finest early instrument orchestras. These have included Christopher Hogwood and the Academy of Ancient Music, Paul McCreesh and the Gabrieli Consort, Christophe Rousset and Les Talens Lyriques, Thomas Hengelbrock and the Balthasar Neumann Ensemble and The English Concert directed by Andrew Manze. A warm association with William Christie and Les Arts Florissants led to a recording of Handel’s Orlando with Erato, in the role of Medoro, and she has had a great success recently joining Les Arts Florissants as the Sorceress for Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas in Vienna which will be revived in 2008/9 for further performances in Paris, London and Vienna. She works extensively with The King’s Consort and has recorded two CDs with them in the Hyperion Series of Vivaldi’s sacred music and the Vivaldi serenata La Senna Festeggiante. Also with The King’s Consort she performed Michael Haydn’s Requiem Mass and Missa in honorem Sanctae Ursulae at the BBC Proms in 2006. She performs regularly with Christian Curnyn and the Early Opera Company, and has recorded the role of Rosmira in Handel’s Partenope, and Juno/Ino in Semele both for Chandos.

Operatically Hilary is destined to play statuesque Handelian heroes such as Giulio Cesare or the god Mars (Legrenzi’s Il divisione del mondo ) but occasionally has fun with such roles as the dominatrix Mescalina (Ligeti’s Le grande macabre) or the amazon Hippolyta (Britten’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream) or even the bearded Baba the Turk (Stravinsky’s The Rake’s Progress). More mature females include the earth mother Gaea in Strauss’ Daphne and Mrs Sedley in Britten’s Peter Grimes (for Glyndebourne Festival Opera). She has played the role of the Washerwoman in Rob Zuidham’s Rages d’amour at the Nederlandse Opera in Amsterdam and sang Hippolyta for the Teatro Real, Madrid. In 2006 she sang in the first performances of George Benjamin’s new opera Into the Little Hill in Paris, has since performed it in New York, Amsterdam and Frankfurt, Liverpool and Lucerne. There are future performances in Vienna and Italy. This season she made her début for the Opera de Paris in Mother Goose. Future engagements include Genevieve in Pélleas et Mélisande for New York City Opera and Countess Geschwitz / Lulu for Kokkola Opera.

Like any true contralto, Hilary has a great love of the works of Elgar and has been fortunate enough to perform The Dream of Gerontius several times under the baton of Vernon Handley with whom she has also sung Sea Pictures.