Jean Allister may not have enjoyed the public profile of her contralto peer Kathleen Ferrier, but in the two decades until her retirement in 1975 she was a much-in-demand singer who demonstrated versatility and vitality in both the opera house and on the concert platform in equal measure.
Born in Ballymoney, Co Antrim on February 26, 1932, she trained with Norman Allin at the Royal Academy of Music where she first came to attention singing Mistress Quickly in a student production Verdi’s Falstaff in 1954 and, later the same year, in Mendelssohn’s Elijah at the Royal Festival Hall.
She enjoyed fruitful relationships with the Three Choirs Festival, Gilbert and Sullivan For All (with whom she also toured to the US), the Handel Opera Group, the Mozart Society, English Opera Group, and Glyndebourne Festival Opera, appearing in the first production by its touring arm in 1967.
She sang in a number of important British premieres, including Frank Martin’s In Terra Pax (1960) and Requiem (1975), and John Gardner’s The Visitors (1972). She made her Covent Garden debut as Herodias in Richard Strauss’ Salome in 1971 and gave her last performance on stage with English National Opera in Janacek’s Jenufa in 1980.
Away from the opera house, her recital repertoire was wide and diverse, ranging from Schutz and Monteverdi to Mahler and Henze. Between 1959 and 1970, she appeared in 15 Proms concerts and in the mid-1960s hosted Music and Song for BBC Northern Ireland. Important recordings include Dido and Aeneas with Benjamin Britten conducting, and Stravinsky’s Mass conducted by Colin Davis.
In her retirement, she taught at the City College of Music in Leeds. She was twice married and had one son by her first husband, the tenor Edgar Fleet. She died, aged 80, on July 11.