Mezzo-soprano Pamela Helen Stephen, who died of cancer at 57, was a popular and admired figure on UK and overseas stages. After her debut as Cathleen in Nicholas Maw’s The Rising of the Moon in Wexford in 1990, she made several appearances with Opera North, Welsh National and Scottish Operas before gaining attention in a series of more prominent roles.
Although not an early music scholar, she was acclaimed for the powerful way she inhabited the character of Penelope in Monteverdi’s ENO production of Ulysses’ Return at Young Vic, London, in 2011. In Benedict Andrews’ staging, her side zoomed in on facial expressions and stage action, allowing the faithful wife to wait for her husband Ulysses to be portrayed by Stephen with almost unbearable pathos.
She also received high praise in Handel’s title role of Giulio Cesare in Opera North (2012), capturing not only Caesar’s self-confidence and arrogance, but a more thoughtful and vulnerable side to the character as well.
However, her innate empathy and dramatic skills were such that she was able to make an impression out of all proportion to the importance of the role she was playing. So, as Cio-Cio-San’s Suzuki maid in Madame Butterfly (ENO, 2012-13), her response to the unfolding tragedy was etched on her expressive face and reflected in the coloring of each sentence. Much like Annina, Violetta’s maid, she held the stage whenever she was in the covers of Richard Eyre’s production of La Traviata at the Royal Opera.
Stephen has also performed frequently in Australia, where she has lived six months a year with her husband since 1995, Richard Hickox, and their two children, Adam and Abigail, following her appointment in 2005 as musical director of Opera Australia. She sang the title role in Carmen in Sydney and Melbourne, as well as Nicklausse / Muse in Offenbach’s Tales of Hoffmann and Sesto in Giulio Cesare. But in a campaign inspired by disgruntled singers and blatantly anti-British sentiment in parts of the community, Hickox has been accused, among other things, of nepotism regarding the choice of his wife in the lead roles. Supported by the board of directors, he rejected the accusation.
Born in Solihull, Pamela was the daughter of Audrey Brown, a teacher who also sang for many years in the Edinburgh Festival Chorus, and William Stephen, Marketing Director. When she was 10, the family moved to Scotland, where they attended Cults Academy in Aberdeen, inspiring fellow students with her bubbly Maria in The Sound of Music. She went on to earn a BA in Musical Performance at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama, then studied opera, lieder and oratorio at the Opera Theater Center in Aspen, Colo. With Herta Glaz, and at the University of Toronto with Patricia Kern. .
The first performances with Opera North included the role of Cynthia in the football opera Playing Away by Benedict Mason, the composer in the Mozartian compilation by Paul Griffiths The Jewel Box, Donna Clara in The Duenna by Roberto Gerhard, where she performed a striking impression in the neo-baroque tune When Sable Night, Each Drooping Plant Restoring, and the transvestite role of peddler Lazuli in L’Étoile de Chabrier, where she was praised for her charisma and success in “combining a magnificent tone with a ripe glaswegian brogue ”.
One role in which she particularly excels is that of Cherubino in Le Nozze di Figaro. As evidenced by her recording on the Archiv label under John Eliot Gardiner, she skillfully captured the spirit of the lover’s teenage confession in Non So Più, while her performance of Voi Che Sapete was fueled by the boy’s embarrassed laughter. page blushing in the opening sentences. .
His extensive discography of more than 30 recordings also includes Strauss’s Dryad by Ariadne auf Naxos under the direction of Richard Armstrong, l’Enfant de L’Enfant et les Sortilèges by Ravel under the direction of Previn and Stabat Mater by Szymanowski under the direction of Edward Gardner. Some of the recordings she has made under Hickox include Haydn’s numbered masses, Kate’s role in Britten’s Owen Wingrave, and music by Percy Grainger. She fully enters the spirit of the latter’s unabashed sentimental Colonial Song, her voice soaring seraphically while uttering timeless vocals such as “La, la, la” and “Da, dee, da”, as suggested. the composer.
Other relatively modest lyrical roles that she performs with aplomb include Hécube in Berlioz’s Les Troyens à Covent Garden (2012), Martha in Gounod’s Faust (ENO, 2010) and Auntie in Peter Grimes, first at Hickox’s St Entellion. Festival in 2008 and then five years later under Vladimir Jurowski with the LPO, on this occasion, looking rather more glamorous in a scarlet dress than the average Boar owner, she imparted a fun vampire quality to the character. At the same time, she brought a welcome freshness and lyricism to a role usually played by more plummer contraltos. She also played the role of Walt Disney’s wife in Philip Glass’s The Perfect American (ENO, 2013). On concert stages around the world, his solo roles include Elgar’s Dream of Gerontius, Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony and Britten’s Spring Symphony.
Well regarded for her contagious laughter and liveliness, she was, both inside and outside the rehearsal room, an unwavering support to her colleagues, especially those with less experience than her. .
Hickox died in 2008. Stephenis is survived by Adam and Abigail and his partner, Stephen Lumsden, Managing Director of Intermusica Artists’ Management.