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Elizabeth Fretwell (OBE)Elizabeth Fretwell

(13 August 1920 - 5 June 2006)

Click here for recordings and performances by Elizabeth Fretwell.


Elizabeth Fretwell was an Australian soprano who arrived in London in her mid- thirties and then went on to become the reigning prima donna of the Sadler's Wells Opera (now English National Opera) for the next fourteen years.

She had a large, lustrous voice, backed by a solid technique and fine musicianship and she was an excellent actress.

She debuted with Sadler's Wells in 1955 playing the First Lady in The Magic Flute, and then went on to enjoy a tremendous success as Violetta in La Traviata.

Elizabeth Fretwell started life as a dancer but grew too tall so she took singing lessons instead.

After becoming a finalist in the Sun Aria contest in 1947, she joined the opera school in Melbourne and between 1950 and 1954 she sang a variety of roles, including Donna Anna in Don Giovanni, Fiordiligi in Così Fan Tutte, Elsa in Lohengrin and the title role of Tosca.

After success in Ireland singing Aida and Musetta in La Bohème she joined Sadler's Wells.

After the enormously successful Violetta came Madama Butterfly, which by all accounts she sang very movingly, but her tall stature was an impediment to credibility. She was much more believable as Leonora in the Fidelio that followed.

In 1957 she created Blanche Stroeve in John Gardner's opera The Moon and Sixpence, based on Somerset Maugham's novel.

Her next roles for Sadler's Wells included Senta in Wagner's The Flying Dutchman and Tatyana in Tchaikovsky's Eugene Onegin then a production with Charles Craig in Land of Smiles- which was recorded.

She excelled as Ariadne in Richard Strauss's Ariadne auf Naxos, and made a wonderful Minnie in Puccini's Girl of the Golden West.

Miss Jessel in Brittens The Turn of the Screw was another highly successful role for Ms Fretwell which she performed in London and in Edinburgh with the English National Opera.

In 1960 she returned to Australia to sing with the Elizabethan Trust before touring West Germany before returning to Sadlers Wells to perform a much acclaimed Ellen in Peter Grimes.

She also sang Donna Anna for the Scottish Opera. Her debut at Covent Garden followed in the role of Aida but greater success was to follow in Il Tabarro as Giorgetta and Suor Angelica.

Elizabeth Fretwell sang Sieglinde in Die Walküre as part of a Ring cycle and the next year Freia in Das Rheingold for the Scottish Opera.

Her last role at Sadler's Wells was Queen Elizabeth I in Gloriana by Benjamin Britten in 1967 and her last role in the UK was at the Colliseum as Musetta before she returned to Australia for good.

Joining the Elizabethan Trust- later to become the Australian Opera her roles until her retirement included Alice Ford in Verdi's Falstaff and Marina in Musorgsky's Boris Godunov, Leonora in Verdi's La Forza del Destino, Giorgetta, Tosca, Aida and the Kostelnicka in Janácek's Jenufa and Katya Kabanova.

Elizabeth Fretwell passed away in 2006, and has earned her place as one of Australias greatest and most accomplished singers.

She is pictured here with fellow Australian and legendary tenor, Donald Smith in Tosca. (Clearly the costume designer must have been busy on another production at the time).

Click here for recordings and performances by Elizabeth Fretwell.

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