“Then there was the extraordinary Hilary Summers whose showing as Jocasta negotiated the near-impossible register switches and freakish excitement of her big number with great aplomb and clever musicianship.”
Born in South Wales, contralto Hilary Summers studied at Reading University, the Royal Academy of Music and the National Opera studio. She has recorded over forty CDs spanning works from the early baroque period to the present day and has sung in most of the major concert halls and opera houses of the world.
Her three-octave range has excited the attention of many composers. She has sung in numerous world premières including George Benjamin’s Into the Little Hill at the Bastille, Paris; Elliot Carter’s What Next at the Staatsoper, Berlin; Gerald Barry’s The Importance of Being Earnest with the LA Philharmonic Orchestra in Los Angeles; Peter Eotvos’ Le Balcon at the Aix Festival and Facing Goya and War Work by Michael Nyman.
Recent and future highlights include:
- Gerald Barry White Queen Alice’s Adventures Under Ground – Los Angeles Philharmonic – Thomas Adès and Britten Sinfonia, Barbican
- Ginastera Diana Orsini Bomarzo – Teatro Real Madrid – conducted David Afkham, directed Pierre Audi
- Stravinsky Mother Goose The Rake’s Progress – Festival International d’Art Lyrique et de Musique Aix-en-Provence – Edinburgh Festival – Netherlands Opera, conducted Ivor Bolton
- Pierre Boulez Le visage nuptial – ORF Radio-Symphonieorchester Wien – Cornelius Meister – Wiener Konzerthaus
- Debut appearance at Teatro alla Scala, Milan – Kurtag Fin de Partie (Nell); Netherlands Opera, directed Pierre Audi, conducted Markus Stenz
- Handel Cornelia, Giulio Cesare – Early Opera Company, Christian Curnyn – Kilkenny & London Handel Festival
Hilary worked closely with the iconic composer and conductor Pierre Boulez from 2004. With the Ensemble InterContemporain they recorded his masterwork Le marteau sans maître, for which she won a Grammy, and performed the piece worldwide. She also performed Le visage nuptial, Stravinsky’s Les Noces and Ligeti’s Aventures and Aventures nouvelles under his inspirational baton.
A regular soloist with leading European period instrument ensembles, she has a close rapport with Christian Curnyn and the early opera company with whom she has recorded Handel’s Semele, Partenope, Flavio, Serse, and Il trionfo del tempo. Other past baroque highlights include Handel’s Orlando (Medoro in Robert Carson’s production with William Christie and Les Arts Florissants); Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas (Sorceress in Deborah Warner’s production with Les Arts Florissants) and Handel’s Admeto (Trasimede with Christophe Rousset and Les Talons Lyriques at the Sydney Opera House).
Hilary sings internationally on the concert platform in a variety of repertoire from Bach to Birtwistle and has given over one hundred performances of Handel’s Messiah. Other favourite concert works include Elgar’s Dream of Gerontius, Mendelssohn’s Elijah, Schoenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire and Mahler’s Symphonies 2 and 3.
Operatic roles include Sorceress; Juno; Cornelia; Polinesso; Amadigi; Tisbe (La Cenerentola); Gaea (Daphne); Geneviève (Pelléas); Baba the Turk/Mother Goose; Hippolyta; Mrs Sedley; Bianca; Mescalina (Le Grand Macabre); Tiger Lily/Mrs Darling (Peter Pan); Miss Prism.
Film soundtracks include The Claim and The Libertine by Michael Nyman, The Fellowship of the Ring by Howard Shore and The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Son of Rambo and the BBC TV series The League of Gentlemen by Joby Talbot.
Engagements in 2016/17 and beyond include the roles of Dormouse, White Queen and Cook in the world premiere of Gerald Barry’s Alice’s Adventures Underground with the LA Philharmonic in Los Angeles under Tom Ades, Mother Goose in Stravinsky’s The Rake’s Progress at the Festival d’Aix-en-Provence under Daniel Harding, Diana Orsini in Ginastera’s Bomarzo at the Teatro Real, Madrid, and Boulez’s Le visage nuptial with the ORF Radiosymphonie Orchestra at the Wiener Konzerthaus, as well as her debut appearance at Teatro alla Scala, Milan.