Singers and Musical Personalities ~ Joan Cross (1900 - 1993)

1.  Cross

Joan Cross (1900 - 1993)

1.   Joan Cross (1900 - 93) in the title role of the opera Gloriana.  This opera was first performed at Covent Garden, in 1953, with Cross in the title role

Date 1953
Photographer Unknown.  Published in Tempo magazine, New Series, No. 28 (Summer, 1953).


Sadler’s Wells Theatre reopened on 7 June 1945 with the premiere of Britten’s Peter Grimes in which Cross created the role of Ellen Orford.

Rifts had appeared within the Sadler’s Wells Company which resulted in Cross leaving to join what was to become the English Opera Group. With this group Cross premiered several leading roles which Britten had written with her in mind; the Female Chorus in The Rape of Lucretia at Glyndebourne in 1946, Lady Billows in Albert Herring at Glyndebourne in 1947 and Mrs Grose in The Turn of the Screw in Venice in 1954. Cross also performed the title role in Britten’s Gloriana premiered at Covent Garden on 8 June 1953. She sang, however, relatively little in the post-war years and retired from singing in 1955.

Cross was also an active director and teacher. She began directing opera in 1946 with Der Rosenkavalier at Covent Garden and in 1950 she staged La Traviata for Sadler’s Wells.  Cross produced further operas for companies in London and abroad, primarily in Holland and with the Norwegian National Opera. She founded the Opera School (later the National School of Opera, then London Opera Centre) with Anne Wood in 1948 where she taught movement and interpretation. She died in Aldeburgh in December 1993.

[This text draws on a biography published by the Britten Pears Foundation and other sources in the public domain.]

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2.  Cross

2.   Joan Cross (1900 - 93) strikes a tragic pose.

Date Unknown
Photographer: ©Gordon Anthony

Joan Cross will always be remembered for the fact that she created roles in five Britten operas which were tailored to her particular voice. During the war, she became director of the Sadler's Wells company, and later established the Opera School, which played a vital role in the training of young singers.

At Trinity College of Music, she studied violin and voice. In 1924 she was recruited by Lilian Baylis to join the chorus of her opera company based at the Old Vic. By the time that Vic-Wells organisation divided, with the drama company staying at the Old Vic and the opera company moving to Sadler's Wells in 1931, she was a leading soprano, remaining a principal until 1946. Her early solo roles included First Lady and Cherubino, but her voice developed into a securely schooled lyric soprano, singing Countess Almaviva, Donna Anna, the Marschallin, Elisabeth, Elsa, Sieglinde, Butterfly and Marguerite. She also appeared in the first British productions of Tsar Saltan and The Snow Maiden

Between 1941 and 1945 she was director of the Sadler's Wells company. For most of this period the organisation was on tour in the provinces, but she was still in charge when they returned to their home theatre at the end of the war. She then joined the English Opera Group. In 1948 she began teaching as director of the Opera School, which developed into the London Opera Centre.

She created the role of Lady Macbeth in Lawrance Collingwood's Macbeth (1934), and the parts Britten wrote for her were Ellen Orford (Peter Grimes 1945), Female Chorus (The Rape of Lucretia 1946), Lady Billows (Albert Herring 1947), Queen Elizabeth (Gloriana 1953), and Mrs Grose (The Turn of the Screw 1954). She retired from singing in 1955.

She was director of Phoenix Opera for a number of years, and also directed productions at Sadler's Wells, the Royal Opera House, English Opera Group, Netherlands Opera, Toronto Opera and Norwegian Opera, as well as Scottish Opera.

[This text draws on material published by the OperaScotland and other sources in the public domain.]

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Joan Cross Anecdotes, photographs and recordings

Top ~ Post War Career ~ Glyndebourne and Mansfield Park ~ Albert Herring


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