Wednesday September 11 2019

The papers of Gladys Parr (1892-1988) have recently been catalogued and added to the online Integrated Catalogue. This adds another catalogued collection to those already held of significant female singers who worked with Britten and Pears. Parr’s collection of papers is small, but the material covers the entirety of her successful singing career through the first half of the 20th century. The collection comprises a variety of materials including programmes, photographs, correspondence, and press cuttings.

Photograph of Gladys Parr, 1920s-1930s. Photographer unknown.

Photograph of Gladys Parr, 1920s-1930s. Photographer unknown.

After studying at the Royal College of Music, Parr joined the Carl Rosa Company in 1915, and sang a multitude of roles including Suzuki in Madama Butterfly, Mistress Quickly in Falstaff, Siebel in Faust, and Delilah in Samson and Delilah. She continued to perform with the Carl Rosa Opera Company for thirty years of her career, from 1915-1945. She also worked with the Allington Charsley Opera Company in 1918, and the British National Opera Company from 1924-1927. She toured throughout the UK, often performing in Edinburgh, Glasgow, Birmingham and London.

Press cutting photograph of Covent Garden Opera Company, 1930s. Photographer and newspaper unknown.

Press cutting photograph of Covent Garden Opera Company, 1930s. Photographer and newspaper unknown.

From 1930-1937, Parr worked with the Covent Garden Opera Company. In 1931 she had prominent roles in Covent Garden’s season of Opera in English, touring across the UK in productions of Die Fledermaus, Madama Butterfly and Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg. In the 1930’s, Parr worked alongside Joan Cross in productions at Sadler’s Wells, including Die Fledermaus in 1934 and in Verdi’s Falstaff in 1936. Cross was a soprano singer who worked closely with Britten, portraying the first Ellen Orford in Peter Grimes in 1945, and performed alongside Parr as the first Lady Billows in Britten’s Albert Herring in 1947.

Cast List for Verdi’s Falstaff at Sadler’s Wells in 1936. Parr is listed next to Joan Cross.

Cast List for Verdi’s Falstaff at Sadler’s Wells in 1936. Parr is listed next to Joan Cross.

After the war, Parr sang regularly with the English Opera Group from 1947-1958. Parr worked with Britten on multiple occasions, playing the mezzo leads in the first performances of: Albert Herring as Florence (1947), The Beggar’s Opera as Beggar/Mrs Trapes/Dolly Trull (1949), The Little Sweep as Miss Baggott (1949), Noye’s Fludde as Mrs Noye (1958).

Photograph of Benjamin Britten and Gladys Parr, likely taken in Aldeburgh at the Festival in 1957 or 1958. Photographer unknown.

Photograph of Benjamin Britten and Gladys Parr, likely taken in Aldeburgh at the Festival in 1957 or 1958. Photographer unknown.

Parr’s last opera performances took place in the 1950s. Parr worked with the Birmingham Repertory Company as Mrs Heidelberg in Garrick’s The Clandestine Marriage in 1956. Her last roles in the late 1950s were in productions by Britten. In 1957, ten years after the first performance of Albert Herring, Britten asked Parr to take part in the reunion performance of the opera at the 10th Aldeburgh Festival, with members of the original cast.

Letter from Britten to Parr, written in 1957

Letter from Britten to Parr, written in 1957

The following year, Parr returned to the Aldeburgh Festival to play Mrs Noye in the premiere of Noye’s Fludde. In November 1958 after Britten’s 45th birthday, Britten sent Parr a postcard to thank her for her birthday message. He writes to her, ‘They’ll never be a Mrs Noye like the first Mrs Noye’.

Postcard from Britten

Now fully catalogued, Gladys Parr’s papers are available to view online and also available on request to see in the reading room.