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Tuesday, 1 May, 2001, 11:12 GMT 12:12 UK
English opera star dies
Sydney Australia
Hunter moved permanently to Australia in 1985
The English soprano Rita Hunter has died aged 67 at her home in Sydney, Australia.

Hunter is best known for her performance as Brunnhilde in English National Opera's production of Wagner's Ring Cycle in the 1970s.

The work established her as one of the leading interpreters of Wagner in the world.

When the recording was released last year it was described by one critic as "one of the company's greatest achievements".

"She was a lovely person, great fun to be with and strong in her beliefs, reflecting her earthy background," said Nicholas Payne, General Director of the ENO.

"We mourn her loss."

Rita Hunter
Hunter overcame prejudices about her size
She was also well known for her virtuoso performer of Verdi, Elisabeth in Don Carlos as well as Leonora in Trovatore.

Payne said he remembered Hunter "particularly keenly" during the Eno's current performances of Il trovatore as Leonora was the last role she sang at the for the ENO.

Her performance as the icy princess Turandot in Puccini's opera was also acclaimed.

Romantic roles

Hunter was born in Wallasey in Cheshire in 1933.

Her first appearance in opera was a Buttercup in HMS Pinafore at the age of 14.

She joined the Sadler's Wells Chorus on her 21st birthday in 1954 and she went on to become a principal there in 1960.

Her size often discouraged opera companies from casting her in romantic roles and she was often confined to character parts such as Marcelina in Figaro and the Mother in Hansel and Gretel.

But her voice, attention to detail and acting ability won over audiences and opera directors alike.

Sadler's Wells Opera was the precursor of the English National Opera, based at Sadler's Wells Theatre in North London.

It moved to the Coliseum in 1968 and became the ENO in 1974.

She was made a CBE in 1980.

Hunter settled in Australia in 1985 and her performances in Europe have been infrequent since then.

An autobiography called Wait 'Till The Sun Shines, Nellie (Nellie being her middle name) was published in London in 1986.

Her husband, the opera singer John Darnley Thomas, died suddenly in 1994. She is survived by a daughter, Mairwyn.

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