on stage … the only member of the cast consistent in using appoggiaturas’. In September 1969 Minton made her spectacular debut as Sesto in Jean-Pierre Ponnelle’s production of La clemenza di Tito under Kertész in Cologne, a role she repeated at Sadler’s Wells, then at Covent Garden.
Minton first came to Berlioz in the minor role of Ascanio in Benvenuto Cellini at Covent Garden as early as 1966, but her association with his operas took flight in the years between 1972 and ’76, with Marguerite in La Damnation de Faust with Boulez at a winter Prom concert, then as Béatrice in Paris with Daniel Barenboim, then as Didon in Les Troyens à Carthage with Colin Davis at Covent Garden.
The year 1966 also brought another important stepping stone—her first Mahler. The Royal Ballet’s choreographer Kenneth MacMillan turned Das Lied von der Erde into a one-act ballet, premiered at Covent Garden in May 1966 with the young Anthony Dowell and Marcia Haydée. The singers, Minton and Vilém Přibyl, stood at the side of the stage. It would have been difficult at that time to foresee the extent to which she would become such a sought-after singer of Mahler; this really started in 1970, when Minton followed Solti to Chicago. The Chicago Tribune’s Thomas Willis wrote in April: ‘The men sitting next to me had driven all the way from Schenectady to hear the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s Mahler concert last night. They clapped their hands practically raw for Yvonne Minton’s Songs of a Wayfarer.’
Her performance of Das Lied von der Erde in May 1972 with René Kollo and the Chicago Symphony under Solti was hailed by Willis as ‘wonderful in every sense … a performance of a magnificence heard so seldom in the concert hall’. In the years that followed, Minton became a leading exponent internationally of Mahler’s song cycles.
While the above five composers formed the backbone of Minton’s career, she was also much sought after in 20th-century operas: at Sadler’s Wells in Prokofiev’s The Fiery Angel; in Tippett’s King Priam and The Knot Garden; as Geneviève in Pélleas et Mélisande, under Boulez and others; as Judith in Duke Bluebeard’s Castle in Cologne; as Countess Geschwitz in Lulu with Boulez; then, in the final months of her career, as the Countess von Helfenstein in Hindemith’s Mathis der Maler at Covent Garden and, lastly, in March 1996 as Madame de Croissy in Poulenc’s Dialogues des Carmélites at Nantes.
Already by 1982 her career was slowing down. Her return in June to La clemenza di Tito at Covent Garden had Harold Rosenthal lamenting that she was ‘in sad vocal form; she is going through a bad vocal period and has serious intonation problems’. In October 1983 there was one last role before an extended break from Covent Garden—Charlotte in Werther. It would be ten years before Minton was to reappear there.
It seemed that her vocal health had deserted her. This was an artist who had boasted that she had never had to cancel a single performance through ill health. Part of the problem seems to have stemmed from chronic lack of sleep, and Minton believed that shifting hormone balances in her body had a profound influence on her. She found that, for the first time in her career, she was unable to support her voice. ‘I had two choices,’ she said. ‘Either stop and retire or retrain my body and mind.’ She chose to retire from the stage, following which she taught at Trinity College in London and in Marseille. Her fortunate students will no doubt want to join me in wishing her a happy 80th birthday. Yvonne Minton’s recordings of Mahler’s song cycles with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, c. Georg Solti, are reissued this autumn on Decca Eloquence.
Opera, December 2018