On May 16th, 1970, Annon Lee Silver, the soprano from Glace Bay, Nova Scotia, sang her first Sophie in Der Rosenkavalier at Oper Frankfurt. This was an exceptional début as indeed was reported by the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung:
“The new Sophie, Annon Lee Silver, lovely to look at and listen to…. restrained, eager, with a voice that reminds one a little of the young Clara Ebers.” And it was the same newspaper that referred glowingly to her Sophie when it reported Annon Lee’s tragic death at the age of 32 on July 28th, 1971. We now mark the 50th anniversary of that passing.
Annon Lee Silver was a graduate of Mount Allison University in New Brunswick (1958) and went to London on both a Canada Council grant and a Lord Beaverbrook Arts Scholarship to study at the Royal College of Music. She then worked with voice specialists Frederick Husler and Yvonne Rodd-Marling in Switzerland and Dartington, England.
Annon Lee made her début in 1963 at Glyndebourne as Amor in the Gunther Rennert production of the then relatively little known L’incoronazione di Poppea by Claudio Monteverdi. Further roles at Glyndebourne included Sophie in Werther, Atlanta in the premiere of Nicholas Maw‘s The Rising of the Moon, as well as Blonde and Pamina for Glyndebourne Touring Company in its first years. She also sang Norina for Phoenix Opera and a memorable Gilda for Welsh National Opera, happily preserved on a BBC recording.
During her time in Frankfurt, where she was a full company from 1969, Annon Lee’s voice developed from singing roles such as Zerlina and Blonde (which she also sang in Munich) to taking on rather heavier parts such as the main role in Milko Kelemen‘s 1970 opera, Der Belagerungszustand (The Plague), Pamina again quite wonderfully, and the Fidelio Marzelline with Anja Silja in Frankfurt and Catarina Ligendza in Geneva.
Of the Geneva Fidelio, Opera magazine wrote: “That her voice (Ligendza’s) was somewhat less powerful and that of Annon Lee Silver as Marzelline somewhat stronger than we generally hear in these roles made for an uncommonly good blend.” Regarding her Pamina it is worth recalling the Glyndebourne conductor Myer Fredman‘s simple observation to her: “you are Pamina.” At Frankfurt, though the voice was becoming more powerful, Annon Lee continued to sing Gretel, Olympia, Adèle and Zerlina, as well as Ilia (Idomeneo) in Vervier and Southampton.
At the time of her passing, the Nova Scotia soprano was undoubtedly at the start of a major international career.
Annon Lee Silver was also an exceptional concert and recital artist with a range spanning Bach and Mozart through Schubert, Schumann, Wolf, Strauss, Berg and Dallapiccola, to a considerable amount of contemporary repertoire including premieres of works by Alexander Goehr, Jonathan Harvey and Hugh Wood.
In its obituary, The Times singled out Annon Lee Silver’s “voice of unmistakable, individual quality and…her particular vivacious charm and endearing personality” whilst The Musical Times observed that “her bright, clear voice and her vivacious, charming personality made her justly popular.”
Nicholas Payne, Director of Opera Europa and former Director of Opera North, English National Opera and the Royal Opera House has been eloquent in his memories of Annon Lee Silver’s singing. “Her performance on television of “Ruhe sanft” from Mozart’s Zaide stays in my mind as the most beautiful I have ever heard; its limpid purity all the more poignant given her fate….Annon Lee’s singing is sublime in its serenity and sincerity. Just listen again to the way she gently leads into the reprise.”
Her televised performance of the Zaide aria with the Amadeus Quartet took place on April 4th 1971, almost her last appearance. The BBC rebroadcast this beautiful moment on August 29th as a tribute to an exceptional artist and personality.
Annon Lee Silver (November 18, 1938 – July 28, 1971)
Nicholas Snowman co-founded two celebrated contemporary music ensembles: the London Sinfonietta and Ensemble Intercontemporain in Paris. He was Artistic Director of IRCAM, the music department of the Pompidou Centre; Chief Executive of the Southbank Centre in London and General Director of two opera companies: Glyndebourne Festival and l’Opéra National du Rhin in Strasbourg.
At present he is Chairman of the London jeweller, Wartski, and a trustee of the V&A Foundation, Aurora Orchestra, Ensemble Intercontemporain (Vice-chairman), Hampstead Theatre development board, Music Restored, New Berlioz Edition and Honorary Trustee of the Royal Academy of Music.