A true contralto with a wide vocal range, she has excited the attention of many contemporary composers. In 1999 she created the role of Stella in Elliot Carter’s opera What Next? for the Staatsoper unter den Linden conducted by Daniel Barenboim with further performances at Carnegie Hall and in Chicago with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. She has also performed this work with the Netherlands Chamber Orchestra and the Royal Flanders Philharmonic Orchestra both under Peter Eötvös, the London Sinfonietta under Oliver Knussen, and the Ensemble Intercontemporain under Kent Nagano. She created the role of Irma in Eötvös’s opera Le Balcon at the 2002 Aix en Provence Festival and toured with the production in Europe in 2003/4. Since 2002 she has performed Boulez Le Marteau sans Maître throughout Europe with the Ensemble Intercontemporain under the direction of Boulez himself as well as with several other ensembles and conductors, most recently at the 2012 BBC Proms under Franz-Xavier Roth and members of the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra. She recorded the work with Boulez on Deutsche Grammophon to much critical acclaim. The recording won a Grammy Award. As part of the celebrations of the composer’s 80th birthday she performed Le visage nuptial under his direction with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in Chicago.
In Britain she has forged a special relationship with the composer Michael Nyman and has recorded his film scores on the soundtracks of The Diary of Anne Frank, The Claim, The Libertine as well as performing in his operas Noises, Sounds and Sweet Airs and Facing Goya the lead role of which was written for her. She has toured the world with the Michael Nyman Band performing such works as his Six Celan Songs, Prospero’s Books and Cycle of Disquietude.
She works frequently with the composer Joby Talbot and sings on his soundtrack to the film Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and the television series The League of Gentlemen.
Hilary has made a considerable name for herself as a fine interpreter of the Baroque repertoire and sings regularly with many of Europe’s leading early instrument orchestras. These have included Christopher Hogwood and the Academy of Ancient Music, Paul McCreesh and the Gabrieli Consort, Christophe Rousset and Les Talens Lyriques, Thomas Hengelbrock and the Balthasar Neumann Ensemble and The English Concert directed by Andrew Manze. A warm association with William Christie and Les Arts Florissants led to a recording of Handel’s Orlando with Erato, in the role of Medoro, and as the Sorceress in Deborah Warner’s production of Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas in Vienna followed by performances throughout the world. She works often with The King’s Consort and has recorded two CDs with them in the Hyperion Series of Vivaldi’s sacred music. Also with The King’s Consort, she performed Michael Haydn’s Requiem Mass and Missa in honorem Sanctae Ursulae at the BBC Proms in 2006. She performs regularly with Christian Curnyn and the Early Opera Company and has recorded the role of Rosmira in Handel’s Partenope and Juno/Ino in Semele for Chandos. Hilary took part in the first performance in Russia of Handel’s Messiah on period instruments
Operatically, Hilary is destined to play statuesque Handelian heroes such as Giulio Cesare or the god Mars (Legrenzi’s Il divisione del mondo ) but occasionally has fun with such roles as the dominatrix Mescalina (Ligeti’s Le grande macabre) or the amazon Hippolyta (Britten’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream) or even the bearded Baba the Turk (Stravinsky’s The Rake’s Progress). More mature females include the earth mother Gaea in Strauss’ Daphne and Mrs Sedley in Britten’s Peter Grimes (for Glyndebourne Festival Opera). She has played the role of the Washerwoman in Rob Zuidham’s Rages d’amour at the Nederlandse Opera in Amsterdam and sang Hippolyta for the Teatro Real, Madrid. In 2006 she sang in the first performances of George Benjamin’s opera Into the Little Hill in Paris and has since performed it in New York, Amsterdam, Frankfurt, Liverpool and Lucerne. She will continue to perform this opera throughout 2013 at such venues as the Wigmore Hall in London and the Gulbenkian Foundation in Lisbon. She made her début for the Opera de Paris in Mother Goose in 2008 and as Countess Geschwitz / Lulu for Kokkola Opera in 2009.
Hilary has a great love of the works of Elgar and has been fortunate enough to perform The Dream of Gerontius several times under the baton of the late Vernon Handley with whom she also sang Sea Pictures.
Recent engagements have included concerts with the Los Angeles Philharmonic and at the Aldeburgh and Holland Festivals. She has performed Geneviève/Pelléas et Mélisande at Teatro Real Madrid, the Liceu Barcelona and Frankfurt Opera. She also performed Juno/Semele at the Salle Pleyel and the Sorceress/Dido and Aeneas for the Early Opera Company. She created the role of Miss Prism/The Importance of Being Earnest in concert performances of Gerald Barry’s new work and will reprise this role for the Linbury Studio in London in June 2013 before embarking on a tour of Ireland with the production.
Hilary’s many recordings include Handel’s Messiah with King’s College Cambridge, Handel’s Lotario (Idelberto) with Alan Curtis and Il Complesso Barocco, A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Hippolyta) with the LSO and Sir Colin Davis, Rossini’s Petite Messe Solonelle with TKC and Six Celan Songs by Michael Nyman.
© Hilary Summers