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Eva Turner; British Opera Grande Dame

June 18, 1990|BURT A. FOLKART | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Eva Turner, a grande dame of British music for more than three decades and heralded by many as the definitive "Turandot" of Giacomo Puccini's final opera, has died at age 98.

Miss Turner, who had suffered a broken hip three months ago, died Saturday at Devonshire Hospital in London, said Katherine Morgan, a family spokeswoman.

Arturo Toscanini, who discovered Miss Turner and arranged her international debut at La Scala in Milan in 1924, was believed the first to pronounce her the world's reigning "Turandot."

As recently as last year, when a long vanished 1937 live recording of her "Turandot" was remastered and released on two compact discs, she was referred to as "the complete" interpreter of the ruthless Eastern princess who slays those suitors who seek her love.

Ronald Crichton, reviewing the recording for the Financial Times, praised the "glorious security and thrust" of Miss Turner's singing. Raymond Monelle, in The Independent, said the old recordings testified to her "shattering power."

Born in Oldham, Lancashire, she joined the Royal Carl Rosa Opera Company in London in 1916. She made her debut a year later as a page in Wagner's "Tannhauser."

Miss Turner's La Scala debut was as Freia in Wagner's "Das Rheingold." She toured with an Italian company in Germany in 1925.

In those years, Anglo-Saxon vocalists often felt obliged to change their names into something more acceptable abroad. It was suggested in 1925 that she would have more success as Eva Adamo. Eva Turner, however, remained Eva Turner.

Katherine Wilkinson, a spokeswoman for the Royal Opera Company, said: "It was extremely rare for a British soprano to go abroad like that, and her becoming acknowledged on the continent really paved the way for some people in the next generation."

Ettore Panizza, assistant to the great Toscanini, heard Miss Turner in a 1924 production of "Madama Butterfly" and arranged an audition.

The maestro was enchanted.

He called her powerful dramatic soprano voice with its extraordinary range \o7 "bella voce,\f7 " her linguistic skills \o7 "bella pronuncia," \f7 and her countenance and stature \o7 "bella figura."

\f7 Her unfaltering stamina, Italianate warmth and a voice that ranged from G to top D also made her memorable as "Tosca," "Aida" and "Butterfly."

In Brescia, Northern Italy, in 1926, she made her first appearance in the then new "Turandot." She did not create the role but Franco Alfano, the composer who completed "Turandot" after Puccini's death, said he considered her the ideal singer for the part.

She later appeared throughout Europe, the United States and South America with the Chicago National Opera and performed often at London's Covent Garden.

In 1936, she was chosen to sing the national anthem at the coronation of King George VI.

In 1950, at age 58, she retired from the stage and came to the United States as a professor of voice at Oklahoma University.

She said facetiously that she was welcomed warmly at the university because of a misprint in a local newspaper that heralded her arrival as "professor of vice."

In 1959, she returned to London and taught at the Royal Academy of Music until 1966. She continued to coach singers until recently.

In 1982, Miss Turner was honored at a 90th birthday celebration at Covent Garden, where a packed house gave her a 10-minute standing ovation. She was also made an honorary citizen of Oklahoma that year.

She had been made a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 1962, and held honorary doctorate of music degrees from Manchester and Oxford universities.

In 1984, she came to Los Angeles to coach Gwyneth Jones in her performances of "Turandot" at the Royal Opera's impressively successful visit to the Music Center.

Tickets changed hands for up to $500 each for "Turandot" at the company's final performance here.

In an interview, Dame Eva looked back at one of the lengthiest careers in the opera world and ascribed her longevity and success to the drive of always "having a carrot to your nose."

"I always wanted to be heard," she said simply.

Miss Turner never married and there are no known immediate survivors.

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